Launceston may be changing rapidly, but it hasn’t lost its charm

Winemakers, "climate changers" and food tours on foot; all eyes are on Tasmania’s second city, and with good reason.
The gardens and lake at Josef Chromy Wines.

The gardens and lake at Josef Chromy Wines.

Andrew Wilson

Kim Seagram moved from Canada to Launceston for love and stayed for the “rock solid” community. “The city is dynamic and changing fast, but the character of the community really hasn’t changed at all,” says Seagram, who arrived as a new bride in 1992. “We aren’t afraid of a bit of hard work to make things better for everyone.”

She and her Tasmanian husband, Rod Ascui, have become serial entrepreneurs; among their projects is the destination restaurant, Stillwater, located in the city’s restored colonial-era flour mill, focusing on provenance long before it became commonplace. The city and surrounding region are now full of winemakers and artists, chefs and distillers, furniture designers and artisan makers of butter and craft beer, chorizo and cider. They’re drawn by northern Tasmania’s farming and winemaking heritage, still-affordable property, burgeoning tourism, an influx of migrating “climate changers”, and the same sense of community that drew Seagram nearly 30 years ago. Here are a few ventures at the vanguard of new Launceston.

Unique Charters

Solitude is guaranteed on Swan Island, a private island off the north-east tip of Tasmania. On a helicopter tour devised by Unique Charters, arrive to find a picnic laid on one of the island’s pristine beaches, or stay the night in the lighthouse keeper’s cottage. Or design your own tour: skirt Ben Lomond on a ride along the spectacular east coast to Freycinet Lodge, where a waiter and private table on the jetty will be ready for lunch.

The company is run by old friends and experienced pilots Peter Barron and Bruce Hume; the latter is also a jeweller – “I make rings, and then I found people wanted ideas for special ways to propose,” Hume says. The company arranges rare experiences – beach lunches, hilltop drinks – via scenic flights at remote locations including the Bay of Fires, Cradle Mountain and Flinders Island.

Unique Charter’s helicopter at Bridestowe Lavender Estate, 45 minutes’ drive north of Launceston.

(Photo: Adam Gibston.)

Design Tasmania

Located at the entrance to manicured City Park, with its ornate Victorian rotunda, Design Tasmania is a light-filled exhibition space and shop promoting the state’s vibrant design credentials in ceramics, metal, wood, glass and wicker. The showpiece is a permanent collection of more than 70 pieces of contemporary wood design, including Tasmanian design hero Kevin Perkins’s acclaimed Cape Barren Goose cabinet made from Huon pine and silky oak, and a forest bench made from blocks of Huon pine set in an undulating myrtle frame by American-born Tasmanian émigré Peter Adams. Canny design fans head to the shop to pick up handcrafted homewares, textiles and jewellery from bijoux gifts to heirloom investments.

Cnr Brisbane & Tamar sts, Launceston,

Prestige Tours Tasmania

Close proximity to Tasmania’s oldest and most dynamic wine-growing region demands exploration – and a designated driver. David Cooper is a calm presence behind the wheel and a source of local knowledge on a drive into Tamar Valley’s cool-climate wine country.

There are 31 wineries listed on Wine Tasmania’s triangular Tamar Valley Wine Route. My first stop is a woodfired lunch by chef Matt Adams at Timbre Kitchen, overlooking the vineyards of Velo Wines. Then it’s a leisurely spin north-west past old apple orchards to Holm Oak Wines, with a rustic cellar door and stands of English ash originally planted to make tennis racquets. And then to Moores Hill, Tasmania’s first off-grid winery. Prestige Tours Tasmania conducts full- and half-day tours for couples and small groups to Tamar Valley wine country as well as tours to Cradle Mountain, Wineglass Bay and the Bay of Fires.

Bread + Butter

From churn to croissant to café, the butter doesn’t need to spread far at this inner-city café-bakery. Olivia Morrison’s butter business grew from a Saturday-morning conversation at the city’s Harvest farmers’ market. “I was looking for something different after working in IT in Sydney and moving to Launceston,” she says. “I thought, where’s the best local butter?”

She started the Tasmanian Butter Co three years ago, making hand-churned cultured butter from Tasmanian milk and selling at the markets. Her business grew, and she opened her warehouse café last year. She uses her butter in pastries, cakes and pies, and to accompany bread baked on-site. Morrison makes about 120 kilograms of butter a week, and plans to shift production to the warehouse to create a café-bakery-factory. Her newest venture, meanwhile, is a dedicated cheese shop called, naturally, Cheese.

Bread + Butter, 89 Cimitiere St; Cheese, 112-114 George St, Launceston,,

Black Cow Bistro

Though it’s all about beef, the ambience here is anything but steakhouse. Low-lit, small and sexy, this former corner butchery (and sister eatery to Stillwater) uses its art-deco façade, whimsical murals, mood lighting and a wall of banquettes to glamorous effect. The beef is exemplary: dry-aged, mostly grass-fed and sourced from farms in north-west Tasmania, then carefully handled and expertly char-grilled. Best in show: a 40-day Cape Grim rib eye on the bone with freshly ground wasabi, also grown in the north-west. Sides, too, are a cut above: house-made kimchi, baby carrots glazed in leatherwood honey teriyaki, steamed beans with yuzu dressing.

70 George St, Launceston, [](|target=”_blank”|rel=”nofollow”)

Black Cow Bistro.

(Photo: Adam Gibson.)

Taste Walk Talk

Primary-school teacher Brock Kerslake turned a love of food, wine and Launceston into a new career when he started his city-guide company, Taste Walk Talk, in 2016. “Launceston is a small, very walkable city,” he says, “full of interesting buildings, quirky stories and terrific food.” He introduces his small-group and private tours to venues such as Bryher (91 George St), where Alison Bergner and Tristan Morrison focus on baking, pickling and preserving. Crowd-pleasers include black-pudding Scotch eggs, and strawberry streuselkuchen made with a recipe from Bergner’s grandmother.

Saint John Craft Beer Bar (133 St John St) is a popular pitstop, with 14 beers and ciders on tap, more than 170 bottled beers, a food truck and an expanding top shelf of locally distilled liquor. Among them are Abel Gin Co’s complex Essence and Quintessence gins, distilled using native Tasmanian botanicals by sparkling winemaker Natalie Fryar and business partner Kim Seagram. Kerslake introduces me to distiller Justin Turner and his Three Cuts Gin; his new Turner Stillhouse at nearby Tamar Ridge opened last month for tastings, tours and DIY gin distillations. And along the way Kerslake shares stories about the city’s streetscape, spanning Georgian, through Victorian and Federation to mid 20th-century architecture.

Geronimo Aperitivo Bar and Restaurant

Outcrops of pendant lights, a concrete bar and a sleek fit-out of this former office-supplies shop set the scene for aperitivo-friendly share plates focused on the local and seasonal. Choose from the G&T menu, perhaps Hartshorn Distillery Sheep Whey gin spiked with Tasmanian pepperberry, and team with Spring Bay mussels atop chickpeas and Mount Gnomon chorizo, or moreish fried polenta dumplings studded with sweet corn and chives. A list of technique-heavy desserts proves Geronimo has staying power beyond aperitivi. A case in point: fragrant saffron-poached pears with saffron sorbet, nettle cream and cinnamon meringue.

186 Charles St, Launceston,

Harvest Launceston Community Farmers’ Market

There’s frost on the breath and swing dancing underway as 50 or so farmers, brewers, butchers, bakers and cheesemakers do brisk business in the liveliest place in town – an inner-city carpark on Saturday morning. A true community initiative, the Harvest market started in 2012 with 24 stallholders. “When we started we had no idea how important the market would be – for growers, for the community, for relationships across the city,” says volunteer committee member Kim Hewitt. “The market has saved some growers, gave others the chance to test new ideas, and allowed many to grow well beyond the market. And it’s an important place for everyone to meet and connect.”

Ethical pig farmer Guy Robertson is a regular stallholder, selling his Mount Gnomon charcuterie and flipping bacon-and-egg rolls. Apiarist Tristan Campbell will likely be talking about his hives in west Tamar, Martin and Sophie Grace will be selling their Lentara Grove olive oil, and the folk at Provenance Coffee Co will be brewing coffee.

Saturdays 8.30am-12.30pm, 71 Cimitiere St, Launceston,

Fresh produce at the Harvest Launceston Community Farmers’ Market.

(Photo: Chris Crerar)


A former tool shop has been transformed into a series of old-Kyoto-style partitioned dining rooms linked by a food train. Launceston design firm Cumulus Studio has cleverly used bright murals, high dark ceilings, graphic frames and digital projections to create surprise and fun. Each table has a tablet to submit orders – sashimi, rolls, nigiri, plenty of vegetarian options – and dispatch is quick and comic.

254 Charles St, Launceston, [](|target=”_blank”|rel=”nofollow”)*

Stillwater and Stillwater Seven

When Kim Seagram opened Stillwater in 2000, she set out to “capture northern Tasmania on a plate”. Nearly 20 years later the entrepreneur and her business partners have extended the same brief for travellers, carving out space in the historic riverfront mill for a boutique hotel full of northern Tasmanian character.

Like the restaurant downstairs, the seven rooms of Stillwater Seven are a showcase of local talent: design by Cumulus Studio, beds by Hobart-based AH Beard, woollen throws by Waverley Mills, bathroom products by Lentara Grove, and walls hung with works by local artists. The showpiece curved bar-pantry in each room is made by Launceston craftsman Simon Ancher from Tasmanian blackwood and filled with produce from a roll-call of star regional producers: Coal River Farm cheeses, Tasmanian Butter Co butter, sourdough and pre-mixed cocktails by Stillwater, Hazelbrae hazelnuts, and small-batch Tamar Valley wines. River views and massive old beams dominate rooms, with mosaic tiled bathrooms and the clever use of rough, blackened timber, a nod to the fire that destroyed the mill’s roof in 1942.

The focus downstairs in the chic-rustic dining room of Stillwater remains resolutely seasonal and local, the likes of Cape Grim beef tartare, Moulting Bay oysters, local smoked-eel croquettes, Bass Strait abalone with smoked oyster cream and Mount Gnomon pork belly for dinner. At breakfast, there’s rye hot cakes with cold-smoked Huon salmon, kimchi and pulled-pork omelette, and a door-stopping Reuben of local wagyu and sauerkraut.

Stillwater and Stillwater Seven, 2 Bridge Rd, Launceston, [](|target=”_blank”|rel=”nofollow”)

Joseph Chromy Wines

“Okay, let’s head to the lab,” says Josef Chromy marketing manager and occasional winery guide Dave Milne, signalling the point at which we become winemakers for a moment. Possibly the only thing more satisfying than popping the cork and pouring a glass of sparkling wine is making the bubbles in the bottle. During the winery’s new Art of Sparkling interactive experience, guests follow the process of sparkling-wine production step by step, from base wine to disgorging and dosage, corking and wiring.

The cellar door of the 61-hectare property, about 15 minutes’ drive south of Launceston, is set in gardens beside a trout-filled lake. On a tour of the winery, Milne sketches the history of the vineyard and the action-packed life of its owner, Josef Chromy, from penniless Czech émigré teenager, to butcher, to winemaker. (Milne’s passion for sparkling wine runs deep – he’s also the founder and organiser of

the annual Effervescence festival, a series of sparkling-wine masterclasses, dinners and wine experiences staged across the island each November).

We’re joined in the lab by assistant winemaker Scott Clarkson, who helps us through a tasting trial to determine our preferred dosage, the volume of liqueur d’expedition (a mix of sugar and wine) that’s added to the wine after disgorging. My preference is extra brut, or bone dry, at six grams/litre, and I hand instructions and a signed label to Clarkson to place on my bespoke bottle. The exercise ends over lunch in the restaurant, a striking glass and steel building with soothing views of vines and hills. Head chef Nick Raitt keeps flavours seasonal and wine-friendly, the likes of boarfish tartare with pickled eggplant, local chèvre and quinoa with a Chromy 2015 vintage sparkling, and sirloin grilled over applewood, with white anchovy butter and fennel cream with a 2017 pinot noir.

370 Relbia Rd, Relbia,

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