Franklin (not to be confused with Frank!) has ranked highly on Hobart fine dining lists for years. However, reviewers have always tended to recommend the seafood and other meats so we figured it wasn't really for us. Then in the past year a couple of vegetarian friends added their voices to the pro-Franklin crowd - that had us more interested, and we secured an early reservation at the bar on our Saturday night in town.
Franklin inhabits an ex-Ford car showroom and they've maintained an industrial look with lots of polished concrete and a scattering of leather and animal hide mats. Somehow they've managed the acoustics well so that guests can enjoy a positive buzz across the room without echoing music or competing conversations. The kitchen is completely open and visible; those of us at the bar had front-row seats to its workings. The centrepiece is an enormous Scotch oven (pictured above).
We'd mentioned that we were vegetarian in our online booking, and our waiter was well prepared with separately printed vegetarian menus to take to our table. We couldn't quite deduce from the descriptions how much we should order, but decided to request four of the six available dishes and hope for some dessert room. As is often the case at fancy restaurants, Michael ordering a G&T just in time to enjoy some fancy bread and butter.
The grilled eggplant ($16) was little more than a taster, a savoury finger-length each garnished with salted turnip and lovage seeds.
The just-barely-warmed tomatoes ($16) were more abundant, tossed with what I think was a buttermilk dressing (not listed in the name), cloaked in red basil leaves and seasoned with native pepper. I was glad I'd saved some of my bread for sopping up the juices from the bowl.
The toasted Chinese cabbage agrodolce ($19) also looked a little meagre on the plate. Nevertheless, the sweet and sour sauce dressed the leaves well.
Our most anticipated dish was the wood-roasted pink eye potato galette ($21; see the making-of in the top photo!). Thinly sliced potato rounds are layered to form the galette, and once they emerge from that formidable oven they're scattered with fresh green herbs, walnuts and finely grated cheese. It was a worthy finale to our main meal.
We had plenty of room for dessert! For me the night's highlight was the monochromatic malted barley parfait with toasted rye and plums ($14). As the kitchen manager described to us, the malted barley gave a chocolatey, coffee-ish flavour to the icecream wedge. The crunchy rye sprinklings were a complementary flavour and great contrast in texture.
The baked tarragon cream ($14) was no slouch either, with a herbal flavour that's rarely tasted at dessert and some gorgeous berries keeping it all summery-sweet.
We had a really nice evening at Franklin. As at many high-end restaurants, we got the sense that the menu's not really meant for us vegetarians, while still enjoying the options on offer. I thought the servings were small for the prices charged, but ultimately we left feeling satisfied and not stuffed. The capable service likely smoothed over my misgivings and I especially appreciated that, since we were sitting right beside the pass, the kitchen manager directly served and described many of the dishes for us directly.
All the other online reviews we've seen of Franklin are very meat-focused and almost unanimously positive! See Living Loving Hobart (twice), Fork + Foot, Jacqui's Food Fetish, Get Forked and Fly and FINEEATING. There's a more mixed account on foodie mookie.
28-30 Argyle St, Hobart
(03) 6234 3375
vegetarian menu, full menu
Accessibility: Entry includes a shallow, wide ramp. Interior furniture is generously spaced, a mixture of low tables with mini-stools, standard tables with backed chairs and a high bar with stools. We received full table service. We didn't visit the toilets.