It’s a very exciting time for Tasmanian foodies, with a handful of fantastic new venues opening their doors to the public over the last few months.
Emerging from a giant ‘Stackings at Peppermint Bay’ shaped hole for which we all still mourn, restaurant manager Ben Lindell and head-chef David Moyle have stuck with a successful recipe and pooled their resources in establishing this exciting new venture inside Hobart’s old Mercury newspaper building.
Seafood is front and centre on this menu, the wines predominantly European in origin, and the aesthetic is unashamedly modern.
The former, understandable and perhaps even inevitable given Tasmania’s proximity to pescetarian delights and David’s affinity for the ocean’s bounty.
The latter, a breath of architectural fresh air that will set the standard for years to come. Where Frank is the brash, weirdo cousin with a penchant for lighting fires, Franklin is the older sibling, exuding an air of mature self-assurance that can only come with time, and a vision moulded by life experiences doled out randomly by the kiln of life.
The ‘middler’ (what do you call the second item in a list of three?), a very unusual departure from the Tasmanian norm. Our wines are great, so why not make them a feature? Some may lament their absence, but I found it refreshing to be educated in some of the lesser known wine varieties, and to experience a food and wine matching that drew on the broadest possible palette.
We had no preconceptions, with our only intent being to sample as diverse a range of dishes as possible. In this the predominantly tapas-style menu proved to be perfect, with each dish small enough to easily be consumed comfortably by one, yet large enough to be shared as well.
First up was an odd one for both of us, periwinkles ($11)! Surprisingly meaty, with a light and salty flavour as pure as the southern seas. Don’t let their evil appearance put you off, they may look like little gargoyles but are a lot of fun to extract with the toothpicks provided, and are well worth the effort!
Next was a dish of raw fish ($9). I neglected to take notes and my memory is a little hazy, but I think it was kingfish with saltbush herbs. Delicious.
And now we come to what I claim to be the dish of the evening. Surprising as it may sound, this beef heart mortadella ($8) was simply divine! Rich in flavour, smooth on the palate and nowhere near enough on that silver platter! Now if this had been a typical Tasmanian restaurant with Tasmanian wines on offer, that probably would have been the end of the story. Yet in this instance we enquired as to the best wine to drink together with this fascinating dish. The response was an odd one, being the 2010 Dinavolino Vino Bianca from Emilia-Romagna, Italy, comprising three grape varieties we had never tried previously; Malvasia, Marsanne and Ortrugo.
On it’s own the wine wasn’t anything special. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it was downright nasty! Acidic and apple cider-ish with very aggressive citrusy and spicy notes, if I’d opened a bottle at home I would have promptly put it aside and opened another! Yet when consumed together with the mortadella it became clear that each was made for the other, a symbiotic relationship with each supporting the other admirably. I never would have made the connection on my own, and so all the praise must go to the extremely knowledgeable staff at Franklin for being able to provide that inspired recommendation.
Earlier in the year we had tasted some sensational sweetbreads from San Telmo Argentinian restaurant in Melbourne, so we were keen to see how the Franklin version ($18) stacked up. Very well it turned out, with the deep, wholesome and funky flavour offset by the tart olive crumb really nicely.
At $52, the wood roasted pigeon was second in price only to the wood roasted abalone ($86!!). Perhaps Huon Pine is the fuel of choice?
Perfectly cooked though, pink in the middle and seriously crunchy little feet to munch on!
Both desserts were a fantastic way to finish our meal. I’d never tasted roasted strawberries before, but was pleasantly surprised by the lightly caramelised flavours that resulted. Likewise, the smooth and creamy lemon and bay leaf icecream was the most luxurious of ways to close the meal out. An unusual, yet very satisfying combination of flavours.
If you love food and the joy that it can bring to both your taste buds and the people around you, then you owe it to yourself to book a meal at Franklin. It doesn’t matter if it’s only a single dish at the bar, or a multi-course sit down meal, you’re going to participate in an experience to remember!
It isn’t just the food either. The biggest compliment both my wife and I could give Franklin actually concerned the service we received on the night. It could not be faulted in any way whatsoever. Even before we arrived, as it was our 15th wedding anniversary the staff had acceded to our request for a table for two (I believe couples are normally seated at the bar) without a question being asked. On arrival we were immediately attended to by one of the lovely wait staff, and from that point on our needs were not neglected for an instant for the entirety of the evening. It shouldn’t be unusual for a diner to experience such service, but unfortunately it is, and for that reason I actually watched in fascination for a few minutes to see what it was that set them apart from almost every other venue in Hobart.
From a staging point near the bar, halfway between our table and the front door, a couple of staff were constantly scanning the numerous tables to look for the slightest hint that something was amiss. This didn’t stop them chatting with each other, but at no point did their own conversation override their concern for their patrons. As an example, at one point in the evening I was keen to ask a question regarding a wine matching. With only the slightest lifting of my eyes from the table and a minimal turn of the head I found myself immediately locking gazes with our server, with the resultant attendance immediate and as friendly as ever. A black art if ever I saw one!
The other aspect of the service staff that must be complimented is their meticulous knowledge of not only the menu, but the individual ingredients for each of the dishes, including their flavours, place of origin and the most appropriate wines that could potentially be matched with each. They had quite clearly eaten each dish as part of their training (no mean feat considering that the menu is constantly changing!) and could therefore speak from a position of knowledge. A significant investment has clearly been made by Ben and David in this respect, and it has paid off handsomely.
Now it must said that before eating at Franklin, as is our usual routine, we had checked the various sources of social media to gauge the general opinion of the venue. Two potential criticisms stood out from that assessment, the service and the price.
The service I have well and truly dealt with. I honestly can’t understand how so many of recent times have had such poor experiences. Unreasonable expectations? Tall poppy syndrome? I don’t know the answer but it is curious.
The claims of poor value for money are also a furphy. Sure, there are a couple of dishes over $50, but with three quarters coming in at under $20, considering the supreme quality of these dishes and the skill with which they have been constructed, you have no grounds for complaint. Yes, if you limit yourself to only a couple of dishes the chances of a Franklin food baby are slim, but that’s not the point of a restaurant like Franklin. This is an exercise in quality, restraint and finesse that is provided by very few venues in not just Hobart, but Tasmania as a whole.
Criticisms? As strange as it may sound, none. Some may not like the implied request for a tip at the end of the meal, but it didn’t detract from the experience for us.
Without a doubt Franklin is at the pinnacle of fine dining in Hobart, and I strongly recommend that you place yourselves in the immensely capable hands of Ben, David and the team for one evening of pure pleasure!
Their electronic social presence is minimal, with bookings taken online. You can find their website here – Franklin.
The bar is open from 4:30pm Mon-Thurs, with dinner sittings commencing from 6pm.
Flavours – 10/10
Menu – 10/10
Ambience – 10/10
Service – 10/10
Value – 10/10
Overall – 10/10