Beasts without feasts

When you move to an island you become acquainted with wind. Now let me expand on that just a little. When you move to an island, and live in a weatherboard house on a hill, you get to know wind really well. A south-westerly in winter will barrel down my hallway, sending leaves and twigs scurrying along the floor to gather in piles under an all-but-useless door draught stopper.

A grain-filled floral fabric sausage will do zip to hold back Tasmania’s regular 50km/h winds. The Hills hoist up the back whizzes around with such force that, if you’ve left your washing on the line, you’ll be searching for it in next door’s paddock, and find grazing among your unmentionables.

You learn to live with wind but you’ll never learn to love it. Unless you’re a sailor.

Wind was the one thing that the 2017 Sydney to Hobart yacht race leaders, having entered the Derwent River, wanted but didn’t get. Wind is their engine and just at the end it quietly snuck out the back door, as it often does here on a summer evening.

The post-race spectacle of these yachts parked at Constitution Dock is a trip into Hobart worth making regardless of whether you follow the sport or know anything at all about sailing. Not all the boats are supermaxis, but even the ones of lesser enormity give you a sense of the technical and physical smarts that move these beasts along.

Personally, I’m reluctant to step aboard anything without an Acapulco lounge and a seafood buffet – which makes me wonder how you can eat at a 45-degrees angle, or for that matter, what you can eat? Simultaneously hanging onto a dinner plate and dear life would pose a challenge at the best of times, so I guess the importance of food is put somewhere down on the lower rung of race priorities, along with a good night’s sleep.

When you walk around the docks amongst the yachts post-race you see the crews in clean down and recovery mode, relaxing with family, tired legs and bare feet splayed across decks holding the much-anticipated cold beer and sharing a large box of hot pies from a nearby food van. Still no seafood buffet.

There wasn’t a lot of wind at the top of nearby Mount Nelson on this particular day either. This is the site of an 1897 signal station that spruiks wide water views across the Derwent River and out to Opossum Bay and beyond. Mt Nelson doesn’t have the stark moonscape top of her bigger sister, kunanyi, but she does have lemonade scones.

Along with strategically placed picnic tables and viewing spots, and the regular appearance of the essential blue wrens, a good lunch is to be had at the Signal Station Brasserie. The brasserie is located in the original signalman’s house. The signalman was on a pretty good wicket with views like this in exchange for a few daily text messages, via semaphore. He’d have been mighty miffed when they put in that telephone line.

The restaurant atop of Mt Nelson resembles more a house than a dining establishment and is fronted by a glassed-in wintergarden balcony for a glorious view across Opossum Bay and South Arm to Betsey Island.

The main dining area, with its multiple fireplaces, feels home like, as if someone set up a service counter in the centre of your living room just to make things easier.

Our waitress says the walk that leads to Sandy Bay from here is popular but admits she’s never done it, as if standing on her feet serving customers all day long was a feeble excuse for not dashing out for a two-hour trek in between table deliveries.

It probably should have been my reward for the plate of crumbed pork cheek that arrived sitting alongside a sticky gravy style quince puree and pickled salad with hazelnuts and apple, but hike guilt is not my thing. What’s also not my thing is commercial breadcrumbs that have the texture of driveway gravel. I prefer to use leftover frozen scones which make excellent breadcrumbs. I’m not sure they quite do that at Signal Station Brasserie, but they have an old-school understanding of bread crumb quality. Testimony to that was the sight of plate after plate of lemonade scones big enough to sleep on being delivered to the outside tables.

All was well in crumb land and, with no wind today, there was no need to hold them down with a mountain of raspberry jam and a tent peg.

Signal Station Brasserie*
700 Nelson Rd, Mount Nelson
03 6223 3407

Photographer Greg Bowers

*Due coronavirus restrictions, some venues and events may not be running as usual.
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