Tasmania for foodies

The day-long Tasmanian Seafood Seduction tour is the ultimate indulgence for anyone who loves seafood: Cruising on an 11.5m long Naiad boat, checking out fish and oyster farms, and then eating course after delicious course of seafood, most of which is plucked out of the water just before being served.

It is an intimate tour, with no more than 10 people on each one. However, the company will take groups of up to 12.

Our guide is Mr Robert Pennicott, 49, an energetic former fisherman who now runs a thriving business offering tours of the waters and islands he knows like the back of his hand. Assisting him is Ms Kate Wilson, 47, a former chef.

Together, they show why Tasmania needs to be on every foodie's radar, highlighting its terrific seafood, cheeses, wines, ciders and other produce.

If the price of the tour seems steep (A$685, or S$730, a person), it is because passengers are plied with so much food and drink, all of it excellent.

Our group of 10 can barely keep up, and Mr Pennicott makes good on his promise that nobody leaves the tour hungry.

The journey begins at Hobart's Constitution Dock, where we board a bright yellow and blue cruiser. Ms Wilson takes coffee orders and we head to Bruny Island Ferry Terminal on a cold, sunny morning.

While she stops off to get our java, Mr Pennicott steers the boat, which can go up to 100km an hour, towards the Alum Cliffs, pointing out rocks covered in striking orange and grey lichen and showing us the home of what might be a contemporary caveman.

Cameras click away as we spy his lair, complete with a clothes line on which a pair of jeans, a towel and a shirt hang.

Then it's back to the terminal, where we collect Ms Wilson, bearing trays of coffee. The cappuccino warms me up instantly and I am ready for what is to come.

We head down the Derwent River and into the D'Entrecasteaux Channel, to the Tassal salmon farm.

Huge netted pens, about 110m in circumference, hold up to 40,000 salmon each. These are harvested when they weigh 4kg.

The sight of the fish leaping from the water is quite something and I cannot wait to taste them.

But first, we stop by the Get Shucked oyster farm, where Ms Wilson hauls up two long baskets of oysters, dumps them into a pail and Mr Pennicott starts shucking them.

This is most definitely the life, I think to myself as I slurp oysters at once briny and sweet, and sparkling wine. We have round upon round of oysters, none of us quite believing our luck.

In the meantime, Ms Wilson prepares a platter of goodies for a mid-morning snack.

There are two chest refrigerators on board, one filled with wine, cider, beer, juices and water, and the other stuffed with food.

Out of the food fridge come blocks of cheese, small sweet strawberries, marinated olives and slices of cold smoked Tassal salmon.

The strawberries have a sweet, concentrated flavour that I have only tasted in berries from Japan.

The cold smoked salmon has a firm, springy texture and a good flavour. I like it better than the hot smoked one, which is also laid out for us to dig into.

Then the boat is on the move again, heading south. It stops a little ways away, off a rocky shore and Mr Pennicott changes into diving gear.

Into the water he goes, emerging with four sea urchins and later, four abalones. His company has licences to fish for them.

Along the way, we spot wildlife - eagles flying overhead and a trio of seals. We are the only people as far as the eye can see.

Although I am a dedicated city person, being out there on the water, with great company and food, lulls me into pure contentment.

After a short cruise, we stop at a secluded beach and this is where the serious eating begins.

First up, Mr Pennicott slices a whole side of salmon and plates the sashimi, complete with shoyu and wasabi. We eat with our hands, and I have my fish sans condiments because its sweetness is enough.

The texture is firmer than a lot of farmed, flabby salmon too.

Then he sets up a stove in the "kitchen" part of the boat and cooks a bucket of black mussels with nothing more than white wine. We cluster around the bowl and rip the mussels from their shells, sighing with pleasure. More beer, more wine, more cider follow; this is a feast that I wish can go on forever.It does.

Up next: live crayfish, which are like large lobsters but without the pincers. Mr Pennicott slices one up raw and the platter of crayfish sashimi makes the rounds.

I have it plain and dipped in shoyu and wasabi and again, prefer the shellfish as is.

The other crayfish is boiled and then sliced and served in the shell. It is just as delicious, and I excavate the head for the green goo, for me the best part.

Both Mr Pennicott and Ms Wilson make sure they extract every bit of meat from the shellfish, cracking into the knuckles and legs. I get a fat column of leg meat, warm and tasting of the sea. It is one of the most delicious things I have eaten in my life.

In between eating, we observe the sea urchins and abalones, marvelling at how the spikes on the sea urchins move, the different colours they come in, and the way the abalones swivel around and around, very much alive. All city slickers should watch this at least once.

Ms Wilson makes a circular hole in each of the sea urchins, exposing the spiny creatures' gonads.

Yes, uni is not roe, it is the reproductive organs of the sea urchins. Some are a dark orange, some lighter and brighter and some have a red tinge.

They taste different too, sweet and creamy or a little gritty and more briny.

Out comes a frying pan onto the stove and Mr Pennicott asks if we want our abalone with chilli and garlic, or just plain, fried in butter.

We opt for the latter and he does a curious thing. The shelled abalones go into resealable bags and he whacks them hard with a meat mallet.

Then, the shellfish go into hot butter to cook.

Soon, they are cut into chunks and served in the shell. The edges are crisp and instead of being tough, the abalone is succulent and juicy.

If I ever get my hands on fresh abalone, this is the way I will cook them.

By now, we have possibly eaten our weight in seafood.

The kitchen is packed up and we head back to the dock as the sun sets. There is not a lot of talking.

Some of us have naps.

I think about this pristine part of Australia and feel privileged to have sampled its bounty.

Two Hong Kongers on the cruise say that their friends had told them not to miss Seafood Seduction when they visit Hobart.

That is good advice.


Operator: Pennicott Wilderness Journeys

Price: A$685 (S$730) a person

Duration: 9am to 5pm, tours run daily

Bookings: Dock Head Building, Franklin Wharf, Hobart, Tasmania 7000,

tel: +61-3-6234-4270,

e-mail: info@pennicottjourneys.com.au,

website: www.pennicottjourneys.com.au

This article was first published on Feb 22, 2015.
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