Barilla Bay Restaurant

Licensed $-$$$
1388 Tasman Highway, Cambridge
03) 6248 5454
Open: Lunch Thursday to Monday 11.30 to 2.30, dinner Friday and Saturday 5.30 to 8.00.

The downstairs retail outlet at Barilla Bay has one of the most extensive displays of fresh and value-added Tasmaniana in the state. In a sign of the times, I’m told that around 85 percent of their customers are Chinese. Accordingly, everything from price tags to their promotional brochures are in both English and Chinese.

Tucked away in its own corner however is something rather special – a stall selling various guises of dried candy abalone. The product of a special, long drying process, the Japanese have been producing candy abalone for about a thousand years and historically supplying it to China’s ruling Mandarin classes and more lately to that country’s hordes of multi-millionaires. For the Chinese, and Japanese too I understand, dried abalone is the top of the already highly valued and priced abalone tree.

CandyAb, the business, started up after Japan’s Fukushima nuclear meltdown and now processes and markets its product from Barilla Bay’s Cambridge site.
In colour, texture and flavour, it is miles removed from what we recognize as abalone. Where cooked fresh abalone at best can be softly chewy, this is as tender and smoothly textured as a fine foie gras. Where abalone is pale white or creamy coloured, this is dark with a rich mahogany-coloured centre which the Chinese call “candy heart” and value highly. And where the culinary use of fresh abalone, even in Chinese cooking, is as a textured vehicle for sauces, this has its own very distinctive rich and powerful flavour, similar to, but without the fermented saltiness, of Mediterranean bottarga. Which is not a very useful description, I know, but it’s the best I can do. Suffice to say it’s unique and is on Barilla Bay’s upstairs restaurant menu at $149.00 per 70 – 80 grams making it the most expensive restaurant dish in Hobart.

Coming back to earth, the menu features a full page of fresh and cooked oyster options running from natural with various toppings, through crumbed and fried to different oyster shooters and a seafood chowder. As you would expect at an oyster farm at a time when the molluscs are at their seasonal best, the oysters were no doubt beautifully conditioned and briny. But fresh scallops were on the specials menu and they arrived nicely plump and sauced.
The only complaint at this stage was the $8 charged for two slices of bread, which we thought was a bit steep, and a decidedly substandard dipping olive oil which was a surprise given the excellent oils being produced nearby.

For our mains, listed as ‘substantials’ on the menu, my wife chose the New Orleans-inspired crumbed oyster slider consisting of 12 panko-crumbed and fried oysters in a panini with celeriac remoulade, wasabi mayo, rocket and tomato. She said she enjoyed it but I thought the panko-crumbed bullets were a travesty. But that’s me. The only cooked oysters I’ve ever enjoyed were the tempura oysters served at Milton Vineyard last summer where the batter was beautifully light and crisp while the oyster inside was just warmed.

More pleasing, especially given the weather, was a rib-sticking lamb, pearl barley and root vegetable stew. Thick and nicely flavoured it, along with a beef, oyster and mushroom pie, were the comfort-food choices among more modern options like spiced pork belly, grilled salmon, chilli prawn and bok choy pasta, panko-crumbed fish of the day and vegetarian pappardelle.

Barilla Bay is not, nor does it pretend to be haute cuisine. But the service and wines are fine and, if you go with a middle-of-the-road meal in mind, you won’t be disappointed in the food, the prices or the delightful water views.

Natural oysters $16/$26; salt and pepper calamari $22.00; oyster slider $26.00; desserts $12.00

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