Visiting MONA was top priority for our Hobart trip; we took the ferry over on our first full day in the city. I'd heard many favourable things about this privately owned art gallery and its intriguing origins, but nothing came close to preparing me for it. MONA is astounding. Like nowhere I've ever been. Like nothing I imagined could really exist. Like Willy Wonka built a contemporary art museum, staffed it with arts students in black T-shirts and started selling golden tickets to anyone and everyone for $20 apiece. I loved it.
The MONA grounds include a cafe, a wine bar, a brewery and a fancy restaurant, The Source. We were high on holidays and figured we'd give The Source a go, stopping by at 10am to reserve a lunchtime table. When we mentioned that we're vegetarian, we were told frankly but politely that the menu's not really designed for us. Nevertheless, the waiter confidently rattled off what we might be able to eat, made an extra note on the reservation list and promised to notify the chef that we'd be coming.
The meal started well - their warm sage and rosemary rolls were spectacular. I can't remember ever enjoying bread more!
As an entrée, we were offered an onion veloute from the dinner menu ($19) - a small, satiny serve of liquified sweet caramelised onions.
Our second entrée of peas, grapefruit, ginger and mint ($21) appears on the standard lunch menu. I liked the flavour combination - and the butter pooling at the bottom of the bowl! - but the peas were over-abundant and over-cooked for my taste.
As a main, the chef made a nicoise-style salad of vegetables ($30) off menu. The produce was lovely, cooked delicately, and served with more butter.
As a second main, we ordered an upsized version of their rhubarb, beetroot, goat's cheese whey side ($12). Though I've never eaten them together before, the crimson sweet'n'sour combination of beetroot and rhubarb was excellent. The whey didn't make much impact.
After all those vegetables, I was up for dessert. Michael and I negotiated two dishes to share, and then when our waiter described their current special dessert ($17), built around fresh raspberries, I spontaneously tossed one of them aside.
I'm glad I did, because this was special indeed. The plate featured three orange marshmallows: dense, fragrant and not at all gelatinous, interspersed with a mousse-like chocolate ganache and pools of pistachio. The fresh raspberries around the edge were dunked in their own coulis, and it was all sprinkled with freeze-dried raspberries and pop rocks. Everything worked, in any combination that I collected them on my spoon. The portion was very generous and could happily be shared between two generous people.
We didn't find ourselves regretting the second dessert, though! The coffee floating island with lemongrass anglaise and bitter chocolate ($15) didn't look as impressive, yet was. The flavour pairing of coffee and lemongrass was exquisite - completely counter-intuitive, perfectly balanced, and surprisingly refreshing on a summer day.
There is much to marvel at at MONA, not least the desserts at The Source! The staff addressed our dietary requirements with good grace (prior notice and a reservation no doubt helps) but not the same level of creativity that we saw in those last two plates. If we ever make it back (rest assured, I'm already pitching a January 2013 trip to Michael), I'll be tempted to pack sandwiches, then sneak into The Source for sweets.
The Source Restaurant
655 Main Road, Berriedale, Hobart
(03) 6277 9904
veg courses $12-30
Accessibility: The Source is located one floor above ground level and is accessible by a wide staircase; I believe there is also a lift available. Tables are generously spaced across the floor and there is full table service. Toilets are spacious and located on the same level.