For first time visitors to Hobart, a visit to Mona is pretty much a rite of passage. Thus, on my inaugural visit to the island state, we dutifully lined up at their gold camouflaged catamaran MR-II to make the smooth, twenty-five minute journey to the Museum of Old and New Art.
Opting for Posh Pit ($55/person) tickets allows you to booze along the way – and, as booze and art do interact very well together, who were we to argue?
Sinking into padded velour lounges in the boat's retro-themed burgundy and gold lounge bar, we’re each presented with a glass of the 2017 Moorilla Praxis Sparkling Riesling.
I advise you to sip the first one slowly, because you're not allowed a second drink until the ferry service gets underway, and don’t even think about double-parking. Once you’re motoring, the veteran blokes at the next table (whose wives and kids are back in cattle class) inform us that you can get in four drinks each way if you put the effort in. We switch to the 2017 Moorilla Alter Ego Carbonic Riesling as it’s less acidic, punctuating glasses with forays into the trio of accompanying canapes.
Like the imposing internal architecture, arrival at Mona, is a bit alienating. First there are a multitude of stairs for us lowly plebs to climb up in order to worship at the privately owned temple of David Walsh. Secondly, when you do eventually get up there, directional signage is pretty woeful.
Museum Entry ($28/person) is only charged to us mainlanders, though everyone needs to buy extra tickets ($10/person) to access certain artworks, like Event Horizon by James Turrell. While the American artist’s work, which melds art and science together to fool the eye with light, is quite spectacular, it’s probably more life-changing for those who don’t spend time in nightclubs regularly. You’ll find it (eventually) in a new $32 million-dollar purpose-built wing of the museum called Pharos, after the island Lighthouse of Alexandria in Egypt, a pun on the fact this wing is also housing light.
On the way there, you’ll pass through another of Turrell’s works, Beside Myself. This one doesn’t cost any extra money for you to enjoy, along with hoards of other people if you are foolish enough to time your visit during school holidays like I did.
There's a third Turrell housed in a huge white sphere plonked right in the middle of the new wing's attractive waterfront bar. It also requires a ticket, something that is sadly impossible to obtain on the day we visit. With the time it took us to find our prebooked experience in Event Horizon, even using the iPhone software you download on arrival, I start to worry about the time it's going to take to locate the restaurant we booked for lunch.
Being lost in the world where there are no signs near the art explaining what you're looking at, and near complete darkness, gets frustrating. People listening to the spoken art descriptions with headphones on, keep walking into me as they have their solitary experience with art, leading me to ponder about the loss of the social aspect of going to a museum or gallery to see art together.
Along with the lack of useful directional signage, there's also no tracked path through the exhibits so you can easily see them all. That's how I keep finding myself trapped in overcrowded dead ends. While there are plenty of black clad staff on the floor, it feels like they've been trained to be deliberately obtuse, answering with a single pointed direction before fading into the background of the darkened spaces. I don't know if art's supposed to feel this alienating - something for you to ponder as you stand in a pitch black room smelling excrement produced by Wim Delvoye's Cloaca Professional (2010).
While I appreciate the imposing rock walls, including inside the hollowed-out access tube you can view via the hydraulic glass elevator, I find myself relieved to leave Mona and ascend the hill to The Source. As a feminist, I kind of wish I hadn’t seen God’s parking space (reserved for David Walsh) and the one next to it reserved for his partner, Kirsha Kaechele, dubbed “God’s Mistress” on the way there.
A few minutes later I’m seated in the dimly lit glass box restaurant staring at what I think look like a bunch of smooth white penises enclosed inside our table. The waiter tells us they’re the wedding rattles from Walsh's wedding.
I focus on my wine, trying not to wonder if the animal skins in the neighbouring tabletop were taken Clan of the Cave Bear-style from their marital bed.
And how good is wine? The list here is actually astonishing. We narrow down pages of excitement to the 2017 Meadowbank Chardonnay ($85) from the Derwent Valley. It's made by famed local winemaker, Peter Dredge. This wine starts with green apple and moves on to subtle oatmeal, but it’s tight and precise like a Chablis, rather than a big overblown Chardonnay.
This makes it perfect with Tasmanian Pacific Oysters ($45/dozen). We take nine, ordering them in each of the three listed ways: au natural, nam jim, and finally with a smoked mayo. that kills the oysters beautiful fresh sea taste.
Squid Ink Tostada ($10) talks a big game with crab, avocado, tomatillo and caviar. It eats well, so long as you’re not too interested in really tasting the glistening black roe, because it gets lost in a wave of coal charred tostada.
Cured Kingfish ($25) summons an English high tea with medicinal gin and cucumber sandwiches by teaming delicate gin-cured fish with dill, sour cream, grapefruit and cucumber.
Equally light and delightful is the chlorophyll-rich cold side dish of Peas, Beans and Pickled Pomegranate ($12) all bound together by mint oil. I’d steal this idea for home if I could be assured of finding the same snapping fresh greens, which included lime green broad beans and crisp sugar snaps in the mix.
To balance all the healthy stuff, we indulge in Fried Chicken ($26) teamed with Tasmania’s standout scallops, caramelised nicely in a pan. The two proteins interplay beautifully against shallots, pine nuts and lemon myrtle, adding up to a dish that looks simple but is greater than the sum of its parts.
We end on Wallaby ($26), delicately seared and teamed with watermelon, for a lovely dish that makes me fall in love with this more delicate cousin to the iron-rich kangaroo all over again (despite it being the fourth time I’d eaten it on this trip). Rounded out with almonds, crisp panko crumbs, smoked oil and marrow, it’s a tasty combinations that makes me very happy I chose to come to Mona.
We end the afternoon under John Olsen’s The Source, which is on the ceiling between The Source restaurant and the swish bar where you can (pay) to taste the Morilla wines growing around the museum. It’s actually one of the better art mountings I’ve seen all day.
Happily ensconced on a comfortable bar stool with a great view, the estate wine tasting is a success because I end up purchasing the 2014 Muse Moorilla Vineyard Pinot Noir. The deep red wine sings with cherry, wet stones and earthy forest floor.
By this time, it’s time for us to join our pre-booked ferry queue, waiting in blazing Hobart sun to descend the long cement stairs to our return booze cruise. On this trip I alternate between Moo Brew’s pilsner and their pale ale, but fall short of our neighbours’ cracking four drinks each way benchmark. We get cakes as canapes to soak up the excess liquid, then roll off onto the wharf.
The Source Restaurant
Ether Building, 655 Main Road, Berriedale
Ph: (03) 6277 9904
Heading to Tasmania? Does My Bomb Look Big In This? has you covered...
The Taste of Tasmania: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 & Part 4.
Breakfast (Hobart): Born in Brunswick, Dandy Lane, Room for a Pony & Macquarie St. Food Store.
Lunch (near Hobart): Willie Smith's Apple Shed & The Dunalley Store.
Dinner (Hobart): The Source, Franklin, Frank & Templo.
Beyond Hobart: Freycinet Marine Farm, Harvest Launceston & Mudbar Restaurant.