The evening brought with it a howling wind from the coast, and an eerie feeling descended upon the now-empty gardens of historic Hawley House. Inside, an international group of guests sat quietly, waiting. A retired longcase clock in the hall offered no insight into the time. The drawing room door slowly creaked open. Dinner was ready.
I would not have been entirely surprised to see Hercule Poirot walk in and announce who, out of our small gathering, was capable of the most calculating of murders. Hercule would feel at home at Hawley. Instead, however, I got a stony, taxidermied gaze from a giant crabs mounted on the wall. I stared instead at the box of Cluedo on the sideboard.
Hawley Beach House is a country residence sitting on the 150-hectare Rubicon Estate near Port Sorell, about 15 minutes’ drive from Devonport. The history of this house can be traced to 1878, and like so many historical homes, it takes many years to bring a once neglected property back to life. The resurrection began in 1948 when Colonel and Mrs Houghton moved in, and Hawley House remains the Houghton family home, as well as a restaurant and boutique accommodation, reception and conference spaces.
Dinner guests enjoy pre-dinner drinks beside a lid-lifted grand piano waiting patiently for someone to play. A chilled glass of sparkling or beer is presented very soon after we sank into some comfortably worn club lounge chairs and sofas. This is followed by dinner in a semi-formal dining room complete with wine cellar to the side and windows looking out over the garden. The dinner arrangement is a set price entrée and main course, with an option of dessert as extra.
The food, we are advised, is based around free range and home grown ingredients, and presents as exactly that. My entrée of roaring forties blue cheese, caramelised onion and prosciutto tart with reduced Balsamic glaze was honest and home cooking at its best. The pastry had been in experienced hands and the side salad was a large bagful of mixed leaves and edible flowers that had been growing in their rambling veggie patch only a few hours earlier.
The large serving of Atlantic salmon and lemon caper dill mash and beurre noisette came with more salad greens plus seasonal veggies that I suspect had just been wrenched with from the nearby patch as well.
Mr Bowers enjoyed a generous offering of chicken breast with thyme, brie and bacon served with a champagne sauce which also came with salad greens and vegetables.
This is the sort of meal you crave after a full day’s hiking or out on the water in the kayak when muscles ache and a comfy bed calls, or just rewarding a slow walk on a stunning beach directly over the road. This house provides genuine warmth and friendliness from its staff and family occupiers, including dogs to greet you on arrival, a cat to share the verandah sun with in the morning over breakfast, and a small menagerie of birdlife that calls this property home.
Hawley House has a friendly feel to it. Just stay clear of Colonel Mustard in the library holding the candlestick.