It was Hobart’s best kept secret and the gamblers most ambitious bet to date. A cavernous multi-floored restaurant built in the heart of the CBD without a whisper of anyone noticing, works undertaken at night and behind boarded up windows. The old Mercury building has been transformed into perhaps the most exciting dining venue in Australia.
The entrance has no traditional signposting but bears the scribbles we were told to look for. A pair of gentlemen stand outside looking confused but the door opens when pulled and they follow us inside.
MONAte (‘it’s pronounced mon-aye, like the painter’ is the mantra repeated by successive employees) is a large and disorientating series of halls, rooms, and corridors. A verbally non responsive waiter leads us through them with gestures, shuffling with a hunched back. We pass beautiful hydroponic gardens before being subjected to a slaughter room. A choir sings in one hall empty but for them, the walls a bright sterile white.
Cameras, even smart phones, are banned here and must be left at the door. It’s refreshing to just enjoy the moment without trying to record it. As reviewers though we were allowed supervised photographs of the food that had to be approved by the Chef before publication.
The identity of the Head Chef is purposefully a mystery we’re told although rumours tell me it’s a number of high profile chefs that have collaborated. It certainly explains why so many have been spotted in the state lately. This theory makes sense as the food is staggeringly inventive and varied, it’s hard to believe one mind could have created it all.
Textures of Autumn presents as what appears to be a bunch of leaves on the plate. Inspecting further we’re greeted by the wafts of aromas of freshly mowed lawns mingled with dried herbs and tobacco. It’s a dish to be eaten with our hands, we’re informed, and the leaves crackle and crunch when picked up. The flavours are incredible, it’s Autumn on the palate invoking memories of the season.
The food is challenging but the rewards are there. A heady mix of butter and bear blood is warming and comforting, providing courage for the rest of the evening.
Sex and death are common themes. Animal genitalia (goat, ram, stag) can be purchased slow roasted. It’s charged by the gram with a sniggering waiter informing us that size does indeed matter. It’s death where things get really interesting though.
A meal of raw chicken has the potential to kill or at the very least make you very sick and a waiver is required to be signed before it is served to you. The saving ingredient here is a glistening paste made from the worlds hottest chilli, known as Ghost Chillli. It is piped onto the plate in the exact amount needed to kill all the bacteria in the chicken. If you aren’t able to finish all of the maddeningly hot sauce then a race to the hospital across the road is highly recommended. It’s a great dish.
A lot of money has been poured into this place. No expense has been spared with the ingredients being flown in from around the globe. It’s a locavores nightmare.
There’s a lot more on the menu. Everything we ate was cooked to perfection and was as if God himself was talking to us through our palates. Alcohol is forbidden in this restaurant lest it dull the senses of diners and even other drinks are carefully regulated.
MONAte has what it takes to be a game changer in the culinary world and place Tasmania as a must visit destination for gourmands. Whether the locals are ready for it is another matter but it’s worth travelling outside our comfort zones to experience this.