A blueberry pie at Hobart’s oldest bakery

hobart3It’s the oldest bakery in Hobart, located on a quiet street on top of a hill called Battery Point, a quaint neighbourhood of timber and stone cottages, decorated with wrought iron works, bay windows with stained glass, cute porches, and frontyards teeming with thick rose bushes and robust lavender shrubs. There is nothing sensational to see here, except the Arthur’s circular street of historical, single frontage cottages dating back to the first settlement, the Narryna Heritage museum, and an English-inspired neighbourhood that makes you dream of your retirement home. But yes, there is one address that you must go to, the iconic Jackman and McRoss Bakery.hobart20Jackman and McRoss, bakers of fine breads, cakes and pastries, coming out fresh everyday from the ovens onsite, is a Hobart institution. Some visitors even went as far as referring to this bakery as “the shrine to the old school bakeries” of the past.

My pretty niece Meggy and I woke up early that day, wolfed down a quick breakfast of croissants from a so-so bakery on Elizabeth Street, walked along the waterfront, crossed the Salamanca Place and climbed the Kelly’s steps hidden between two sandstone blocks. On this alley, we saw a violin maker, busy adjusting strings so early in the morning in his tiny atelier.hobart6We were breathless and cold as we reached the plateau of this elevated part of the capital, where battery guns were set up in 1818 to defend the island but is now regarded as a prestigious suburb with historical houses and a privileged sheltered, anti-modernisation lifestyle. That’s the general feel of the island of Tasmania – laid back, slow food, wild nature, gentle folk. And Hobart is lovely, lazy and lingering. In the summer of 2016 when my entire family had to come for a sibling’s wedding in Sydney, Meggy and I decided a sidetrip  in Tasmania, an island south of Australia, where mild summer temperatures and ideal chill requirements are conducive to blueberry growing.hobart12We took a stroll along the sloping, winding streets of Battery Point,  admiring the St. George anglican church, drawing the architectural prototypes of seafarers’cottages in our heads, taking the breathtaking views of Mount Wellington and the Derwent River, and finally, giving in to hunger spells that made us find back our route to Jackman and McRoss.hobart24

It was time for a mid-morning snack. I ordered a blueberry tart, with blueberries looking as if they were harvested that morning, sitting on a cushion of whipped cream, and cradled on a chocolate-lined shortbread crust. Meggy ordered an eclair, which looked like a sandwich of puff pastry and fresh cream, so different from the French version of a pastry cream filling.hobart13On display, the choice was huge: all types of bread, fruit tarts, meat pies and pasties, quiches and sandwiches, and shiny and crusty viennoisserie. And just beside the door, a shelf was filled with Tassie fine food products, jams, honey and tea.

We took a table at the back, near  a huge window and far from the busy take-away counter, sorry to be too early for lunch and sorrier still that we ate those passable croissants for breakfast. The house was full, tourists and neighbours taking a lazy brunch on a weekend. We were full of envy but resisted as we had a full itinerary ahead and a ferry to catch that will take us to MONA, the extraordinary Museum of Old and New Art, owned by David Walsh, a math wizard who made his fortune by mastering the numbers and probabilities while gambling in the casino. It took over four years to blast the innards of the rocky hills of Berriedale, once owned by Italian immigrants and was acquired by a genius of modest background.hobart7The special ferry, with a black lounge interior, departs from Brooke St. Pier for a 30-minute ride to bring you to the foot of the hills. Then, it’s a 99 step climb to reach the grounds that is home to a concert park, a tennis court, a microbrewery, the Moorilla vineyard, a five-star restaurant, a cinema, a cafe, a library of 5000 books, and a humongous underground exhibition site that is a maze of a metal, spiral staircase, a dark tunnel, hanging walkways, and rolling pathways.  Walsh has an extensive private collection, with preference for provocative art. hobart18To cap our afternoon, we went up to the bar for a wine tasting which included more than a few gulps of the “White Cloth,” a 110 AUD bottle from carefully selected white grapes and served by a charming bartender of toyboy material. As we were his last customers, he emptied the bottles and charged us half. I guessed, he fell for Meggy’s charm, which got me excited and suited me fine as I didn’t have to pay for the wine. And though my quinquagenarian beauty had been ignored, I was happy to have a reeling head from free Moorilla wines and a fatter purse for more blueberry pies.

Jackman & McRoss
57 Hampden Road
Battery Point, Tasmania

AUSTRALIA

 

 

 

 

 

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Tea at the Emirates Palace

P1020795 At exactly four o’clock, my taxi swerved into the expansive driveway of the Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi. I stood infront of the massive doors, curious as to what awaits me in this palace built to showcase Arabian culture. But at the excuse of culture, I am here, in all honesty, for tea.

I’m here at the advise of a kind Emirati at the airport after asking him what I can do in an afternoon in this desert city. And aside from the shopping malls and the Ferrari circuit, there is not much for me to visit in this jungle of sleek, imposing, high-rise buildings.P1020792 But the palace is something else. No king, no sheikh, no princess lives here. It was built as a luxury hotel, the second most expensive hotel built in the world. Almost two billion British pounds were poured into construction work but that’s what one would pay for if you find gold and marble in every suite, a private beach and marina, 85 hectares of gardens and lawns, a rugby pitch and a soccer field. The hotel, managed by the Kempinski Group, claims to be “beyond five star.” A self-acclaimed “seven star” could only lead to one’s beating as expectations will be as high as their domes. They did receive the flak for bad service at the café. I ignored the bad reviews, the advise to make a reservation, the dress code that prohibited jeans and just headed off to the Emirates Palace for tea.

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As the valet swings open the door and welcomes you with a bow,  the opulence takes your breath away. The long and wide stretch of marble floorings, an 80-meter high dome dotted in gold, ornate lighting fixtures, and rococo wall fittings with Arabic themes reveal a royal venue. After a languid walk of the hallway, greeted every five meters by costumed hosts and hostesses, you reach the grand Le Café. I felt more like Aladdin than a princess…all that glittered was gold and “iftaḥ yā simsim! (open sesame!)”…all those cakes protected from my reach in a wide glass case.

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People come here for the much-talked about 24-k signature cappuccino with gold sprinkles but I opted for tea and chose the “Jasmine Pearls: a delicate, flowery specialty with tea leaves rolled by hand and flavoured with fresh jasmine pearls.” And to help me finish a teapot good for four, I ordered the signature Emirates Palace Cake, a multi-layer chocolate mousse and fudge cake sprinkled with gold. And gold sprinkles you will find in almost half of the menu, from the 24k camel burger to the golden French fries. Not to mention the gold-snaring bill at the end of this royal visit.

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But I opened my wallet with pleasure because I think its all worth it – the cake and tea were exceptional, the palatial ambiance, Villeroy and Boch chinaware, Christofle cutlery, the shower of gold leaves, and the attentive service (except that the waiters, as per instruction, politely refused to take your picture. Then you have to learn how to take a selfie before your tea gets cold). So, I could never understand someone who thinks being refused additional hot water to further soak his tea is bad service. He should have brought his own kettle.

Just before leaving, I tried to look sad and one of the waiters took notice. Worried that I was unhappy with the service, he asked me how was my tea. And I said “perfect, but I have no selfie.” He hesitated, looked where the video surveillance cameras were, angled himself against a huge pillar, and clicked.

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