The Seven and a Half Floor – Introduction
Note: We are going to leave this story here, but need to stress that it was always to be a one year exercise and the one year has now come and gone. Luke has moved on to other projects which we will endeavour to write stories about as they occur.
Catching the lift and then climbing the short set of stairs to the top of the otherwise unremarkable office building creates a sense of anticipation. Once you arrive and stand on the patio outside this hidden retreat you can see why our friend and clever chef Luke Burgess has chosen this retreat for his temporary restaurant.
Dramatic views over Hobart, indoor and outdoor spaces including the shared table, a wood fired barbeque and a wine selection curated by Luke all add to the ethos of the event.
The events here are by booking only and are advertised on the Web. If you like the sound of the food and wine offerings which we will describe below then you are likely to find yourself in congenial company as their is a shared camaraderie among those who assemble to enjoy the food and wine here.
The Seven and a Half Floor – Background
Luke arrived in Tasmania in 2007, attracted by the promise of fresh, cold-climate produce and a change from his native Sydney where he had cooked at a succession of restaurants including Tetsuya’s where his friend Rodney Dunn also worked before moving to Tasmania to establish Australia’s best cooking school, The Agrarian Kitchen at about the same time.
We met Luke soon after he arrived when he was cooking at a small venue called the Lower House on Hobart’s waterfront. The food he served us immediately caught our attention. Soon after, he and his then partner Katrina opened a venue south of Hobart very close to a vineyard owned by Dirk Mure.
As a result, there was a realisation among us that we shared common interests. We had been urging Tasmanians to turn to organic produce for many years through our weekly ABC radio program, Luke and Katrina were assiduously seeking out produce from small, organic producers, Dirk was moving his vineyard towards biodynamic and natural production and we had just started importing biodynamic and natural wines from France.
Thus began a close relationship with Luke, Dirk and Katrina joining us often to taste the wines that we had arriving from France and Dirk’s wines taking on new life and excitement from the biodynamic treatment in the vineyard and the hands-off approach in the cellar.
The next phase began in 2010 when Luke, Katrina and their friend Kirk Richardson opened what was to become an internationally-recognised restaurant in Hobart called Garagistes. The restaurant soon became an important destination for both the food that highlighted local, organic produce and the wine selection that was entirely natural. In fact Garagistes was the first restaurant in Australia to implement an entirely natural wine list! And, of course, they were able to secure a supply of Dirk’s delicious d’Meure wines which were the only natural wines being produced in Tasmania at the time.
This is not to say that all was plain sailing. There were some who were critical of the wine list because they wanted more Tasmanian options. However, here was a restaurant that was providing the public with clean, fresh, delicious organic produce on the plate and they were determined to do the same in the glass, despite the wine community not understanding the dangers of using systemic sprays on the vines.
Garagistes soon garnered accolades as the leading Tasmanian restaurant and more and more people were jumping on planes to spend a weekend in Hobart as a result.
When the restaurant finally closed, Luke spent a number of years travelling to further his skills and knowledge about both food and wine, cooking in restaurants in Sydney, France and the United Kingdom as well as working with producers to gain a better understanding of great produce.
And so we come to the present day and his boutique ephemeral restaurant mentioned above called Seven and a Half. What to expect?
The Seven and a Half Floor – The Food and Wine
People can only book to share the table of ten in the eyrie called Seven and a Half by using the booking system on the Internet.
We have been fortunate enough to have had a few meals here and can thoroughly recommend both the food and the matching wine and sake offerings (even though some of the wines might be from our portfolio).
So lets talk about five of the dishes that we have been lucky enough to experience recently, even though you might expect to have more than this fir a particular meal.
The first dish we need to mention was made from kohlrabi, a relatively underrated vegetable that became the hero of the dish. It was braised whole in an elderflower and crayfish stock, cut into discs, fried in a tapioca batter, and seasoned with sansho pepper. Every step in the preparation of this dish added either flavour or texture that made it a memorable experience. The decision to use tapioca flour for the batter was also clever in that it added crunch but with that unique texture only found with this flour.
Next dish was another stunner made from ingredients that were available at the time. Garfish was served with white asparagus, fermented (and seasoned) with white Kampot pepper and anise hyssop, the garfish prepared as if for sashimi, salted, then bathed in olive oil overnight. It was served with the complex juices from fermenting the asparagus and dill oil.
This dish was interesting because it brought together a couple of important “cooking” processes that were complementary. The first is a non-cooking process of allowing the fish flesh to age slightly as it takes on additional flavour and the texture also changes to create a much more intriguing sensation. The other process involved the fermenting of the asparagus which “tightened” the vegetable and increased the flavour. We were lucky enough to try some a few weeks later and it was still perfect!
The next dish was also amazing. A dish of lobster with golden beets was served in a broth rich in sotolon, from fenugreek and curry leaves. This was accompanied by a wine from Jurançon producer Domaine Lajibe. It was their rare Haure, made from the Gros Manseng grape variety which is a white wine that had been slightly oxidised during maturation in the same manner as many Jura wines on the other side of the country. The clever thing here was that oxidation of wine tends to produce the chemical sotolon in the wine which was the same chemical found in the fenugreek and curry leaves that the broth had been infused with. The interplay between the two was a taste sensation.
Next was another savoury dish served in two components. On one plate were the hoods of calamari grilled whole on wood, then cut for serving inspired by bistecca. The other plate had a black garlic and squid ink sauce in the centre and and was served with Queen May butter lettuce and grilled king oyster mushrooms.
The mushrooms and lettuce provided a nice foil to the richness of the sauce and the calamari. This was a great dish.
And the final one we would like to highlight came as a surprise at the end of the meal so we were able to guess that it was a dessert. The photo below will show you why we had to guess!
As you can see, the dish was covered so we had to lift the lid to find out what we were in for.
Since it was the height of the strawberry season we were not surprised by the choice of the main protagonist. The strawberries had been grilled, finished with glaze based on morello cherry juice topping a parfait based on a sabayon made with apricot sour beer and impossibly yellow egg yolks. Wow!
The photos and descriptions of Seven and a Half should be enough for you to realise that Luke is a chef who is able to turn whatever is perfectly in season into both a visual treat and a totally satisfying flavour combination.
Bookings are no longer available.