Panoramic coastal views, a passionate community and fresh food direct from the region in which it is served are all hallmarks of the dining experience St Helens eateries are now serving up.
Those visiting St Helens after being away for a year or two could be forgiven for thinking they had taken a wrong turn with the number of new and updated cafes, bars and restaurants that have sprung up in the past six months.
Seven new establishments now complement St Helens’ existing establishments, putting the town firmly on Tasmania’s list of culinary must dos.
With a soft launch in October and its official opening in December, NRMA St Helens Waterfront Holiday Park is a hit with holidaymakers, but its restaurant – Parkside Bar & Kitchen – has been gaining accolades from tourists and residents alike.
Park managers Ryan and Sally Pendergast wanted their restaurant to shine, so contacted Glengarry chef Darren Brander and asked him to come on board.
Initially hesitant as he had taken a position in Darwin for six months, Brander agreed to be a kitchen and menu consultant, but once he stepped into the kitchen he was sold.
“As soon as I saw that kitchen I wanted to work in it, because you don’t see many kitchens like that,” Brander said.
“We’ve got such a good kitchen. It’s got all the bells and whistles so you might as well utilise it,” he said.
What we are trying to do is become a destination restaurant, rather than to have to live with the seasonality of everything, because if we do well and the food is good people will come.Stefaan Codron
Brander sources Tasmanian produce for seafood, cheese and share platters and a la carte meals, as well as classic fare, like parmigiana, steak and chips and pizzas.
Most of the produce comes from within the North and North-East regions, giving diners a taste of everything Tasmania as to offer, and all the food is made on site.
“The concept when I first started was we don’t want to be a pub and we don’t want to be fine dining. We want to be in the middle. We know we’re a restaurant in a caravan park so we know we’ve got to cater for children, but with a great view,” he said.
Sunday afternoon live entertainment will soon join the park’s offering.
Furneaux Restaurant and Comptoir opened in July, with owners and chefs Johanthon Wong and Stefaan Codron enjoying their first summer in Tasmania after moving down from Brisbane.
The pair put their own stamp on French and modern Australian cuisine, with Codron handling the savoury side, like Canard a L’Orange, and Wong playing with sugar for delectable sweets, such as Strawberry Romanof.
“Five years ago we started to think about it and every time we came here we started buying stuff. The first year we came to Port Huon and we bought a block of land. The next time we came we came to St Helens. As soon as you drive in the bay opens up and we bought a house in Scamander,” Codron said.
“That’s when we started to decide we might as well look for a restaurant, because that was our ultimate dream.”
To test their new market the pair planned a degustation to see what their customers would like and put the favourite dishes on the menu.
They do this each season.
“What we are trying to do is become a destination restaurant, rather than to have to live with the seasonality of everything, because if we do well and the food is good, people will come,” Codron said.
Furneaux also offers high tea on Sunday afternoons.
The newest eatery in St Helens, Wharf Bar & Kitchen, opened its doors on December 27 and is just a few weeks into trading.
It is owned by Tanya and Peter Robinson and Renae and Jobi Watts, with chef Luke Smith overseeing the new kitchen installation and tweaking the menu based on fresh offerings.
Smith came to St Helens from the Victorian snowfields with his own kitchen team, eager for the opportunity to set up a restaurant from scratch, where he can introduce new flavours to Tasmanian palates.
“We are focusing on our oysters. We’ve partnered up with Lease 65 and we’ve really focused on flavours and getting people to try something,” Smith said.
“It’s all about educating people and we’ve got a few ingredients, like Nam Jim, that people haven’t tried yet, but they’re not committing to a whole meal.”
“We sell our oysters in three so you can get four different flavours to make up a dozen.”
With its absolute waterfront location, coupled with fine dining and takeaway options that feature the best Tasmanian and mainland produce, Wharf is bound to win a following fast.
“We don’t want to step over the mark and scare the locals with something they’re not ready to try yet, so we’re trying to take them on a journey for the next 12 months,” Smith said.
“After six or nine months and they’ve comer and every meal has been pretty good, we’ll start changing a few ingredients. Once that starts to happen we can head down the direction that we want to take the building in three to five years,” he said.
East Coast Tourism chief executive Ruth Dowty said dining in St Helens had been frustrating at times, with little on offer on week nights for many years, but that was no longer the case.
“With the range and quality of dining options that have opened, people will want to visit the area just for the food alone,” Ms Dowty said.
“The new restaurants are making local produce the hero of their dishes and by doing that, they are creating a foodie hot spot that is completely unique.
“Hopefully this burst of activity is just the beginning of the East Coast emerging as one the state’s foodie hot spots,” she said.
Other new St Helens dining options include Ninas Restaurant and Bar, using fresh meats from North-East pastures and fresh seafood from Tasmanian waters, and The Social Tasmania, which sells street food and tapas in a relaxed setting.
When you have exhausted the St Helens menu, nearby Scamander has some new establishments too.
Fearless Freddy cafe opened in December and supports the region’s producers.
It is already popular for casual dining for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Swims is a repurposed shipping container, where toasties and muffins are served with Villino Coffee.
This quirky coffee spot was set up by enthusiastic owners Sean Bradley and Caitlin Sherrey-Dadd, who have cemented their spot in the community in less than a year.
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