In the next episode of Local vs Mainlander (winter edition), Matthew Evans and Poh Ling Yeow discover the Tamar Valley which is renowned for some of Tasmania’s best wine. Whilst visiting the vines at Velo wines, they meet the head chef of Timbre restaurant (Matt Adams). It’s here they experience how cooking with fire brings a distinctive quality that makes something different, just like a Tasmanian winter.
There’s a wisp of smoke from an outdoor grill. The scent of beef, good beef, charring over coals. There’s mist in the air, and the moody, brooding presence of the Tamar River. Welcome to Timbre, the restaurant set in the vines at Velo Wines.
There are wine regions, and wine regions. Some are hard to conceptualise, perhaps defined by soil or by a political boundary. But The Tamar, rightly famed for its grapes that go into Australia’s best sparkling, has a distinct aura. A flavour in the air. The river gives it a clear heart, where neat pin rows of vines are scattered along the valley’s sides. Over 20 vineyards call the Tamar Valley home, the original heartland of Tasmania’s premium wine industry.
Specialising in the famed grapes of France, the region has proved itself at the forefront of a new style of wine distinctly different from the mainland. In fact, the whole island is punching way above its weight in terms of quality. Yes, you can ripen cabernet in some of our microclimates, and even Shiraz, producing a more elegant style than most are used to from hotter regions. And of course, the rightly prized chardonnay and pinot noir are cracking from here. Cool climate, clever winemaking and near perfect ripening conditions every year, all add up to a damn good region to bottle.
Velo Wines is home to Tasmania’s oldest cabernet vines, being carefully nursed into middle age by Rod Thorpe, a former chef and now viticulturist who made his name at Moores Hill. He’s producing fruit of impeccable quality, and the results are in the glass. Sure, buy the wine if you’re not able to visit. But you only get a fraction of the picture if you don’t actually come.
We arrived early, caffeine deprived, and the coffee was textbook. Velo is right next to the highway on the Tamar Valley Wine Route, an easy find on any driving tour of the region. And it’s worth finding it, if for nothing else than for Timbre’s signature dish. Matt Adams probably could be doing fine sugar work, or exquisite truffled amuse bouche at a high priced fine diner. But instead, this over-talented chef has honed and re-worked the humble jaffle and lifted the toasted cheese sandwich to even greater heights. The secret is in the soda bread, the mix of cheese, and the fierce heat of his wood-fired oven. In fact, much of what Matt does is over a fire, using local produce dropped off at the restaurant door by enthusiastic home gardeners. The name, Timbre, is a reference to sound, the complexity and nuance of sound, which Matt mirrors using wood as a cooking medium and flavour as the driver. Matt likes to refer to cooking over coals, fire and smoke as controlling the chaotic. And control it he sure does.
The menu in winter may boast flatbread with chicken liver pate and crab-apple. Or perhaps knobbly Jerusalem artichokes with spicy nduja (like a salami), and even lamb neck cooked long and slow with olives and celeriac. It’s the food of the region, of the season. Cooked with consummate care, and without airs and graces, it’s the kind of food you’d go a long way out of the way to find. But if you’re on the Tamar Valley Wine Route, you won’t have to.
When we approach Timbre Kitchen, chef, Matt Adams greets us on a sunny deck overlooking Velo Wines. He’s cooking a lovely bit of steak on a barbeque that’s been knocked up out of an old metal drum and explains to us why fire is his medium of choice. I wander into the restaurant and find it fresh, unfussy and welcoming. It smells green, like eucalyptus and it’s bright with the morning sun. Pale timber floors illuminate the spacious room further and I notice small personal touches like the wine barrels in the corner housing racks of local wines; colourful home sewn napkins being ironed at the bar; the trunk an uprooted old vine secured to the wall, making a statement about the history of the vineyard.
I can see right through to the kitchen where the chefs are stoking the wood fired oven before service and I learn it’s the main source of heat here, which I find really admirable because we’ve not quite harnessed the skills required to use our pizza oven Jono built a few years ago. It stands in our yard all beautiful, a bit like someone who’s all dressed up with nowhere to go. With two very positive experiences, at Fat Pig Farm and now at Timbre I’ve made an assertive note to self – learn to wrangle fire when back in Adelaide!
I can see using fire and coals certainly lends excitement and vitality to the food and service. I’m keen to taste Matt’s signature dish and surprised to discover it’s a cheese toastie! At first I think it’s coleslaw sandwiched between 2 slices of house made soda bread but it turns out to be a variety of grated local cheeses, spring onions and then of course, it’s cooked over fire until it’s deliciously rich and gooey. I dream of what I would make…. a homemade sourdough of rye buttered and dipped in a mixture of grated parmesan and thyme on one side. I’d grill this so the parmesan forms a crust, then flip the plain side facing upwards and layer it with a mixture of gruyere for flavour, mozzarella for stretchy, stringy goodness and then finish with an indulgent shaving of fresh truffles.
While we leave Matt to cook lunch, we take a walk through the cabernet and pinot noir vines with Rod Thorpe. Velo Wines is a boutique affair, set on a modest plot and marks the gateway to the Tamar Valley Wine Region. It’s clear he’s absolutely besotted with his craft, his voice filled with affection as he shows us, literally vine by vine, what he’s had to do to steer this previously neglected crop into record yields. I’m fascinated by the sensitivity in which each vine must be nurtured and trained and it affirms to me nothing of quality ever happens quickly. In fact it seems you must be taken through the whole gammit of emotions – fear, trepidation, grief, and sacrifice before the universe rewards you with treasure. It is clear Rod has oodles of the kind of resilient faith and patience required. He tells me he recently offered to prune a neighbouring vineyard after the owner had taken ill for fear of the property falling to neglect and I just want to give him the longest hug. We need quiet heroes like this who don’t guard their knowledge and wisdoms but share it for the love of the craft.
We finish the day with a feast cooked by Matt, everything on the table has travelled very few miles and the vitality of flavour in each mouthful proves it. I point out a salad of delicately sliced apple. The flesh is the most arresting blush of pink and Matt tells me it was brought in by a local customer. It’s something that seems to happen a lot in Tassy, this sort of natural exchange. As we pull away from Velo Wines I consider the imperative role food and wine plays as a social glue here in Tasmania. How remarkably well this state does so, because it’s geographically compact and the community small – it just always feels kind of villagey wherever you go. There are so many secrets to living the good, honest life here to be learnt by the mainlanders. As per usual, Tasmania you’ve been amazing.
Don't miss the next installment of Matthew's and Poh's Local versus Mainlander four-part video series from June to July 2019.
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