French-born Australian chef Philippe Leban knows a thing or two about the importance of premium food ingredients. While his personal style in cooking is centred around a keen focus in traditional French technique, born of his time training in France under multi-Michelin star heavyweights Alain Passard and Hélène Darroze, his dishes first appear to paint a greater picture of the produce used, rather than of his wonderfully honed skills creating them.
Current owner/operator of Hobart’s creative micro foodie gem A Tiny Place, Philippe created the café/restaurant as a tourist calling card, designed to educate its diners of the amplified tastes and utter freshness of its local cool climate delights. Philippe speaks passionately of his favourites: deep sea Jack Mackerel, Maria Island scallops and a selection of heirloom and other world varietal tomatoes including San Marzano, Siberian and Black Russian, grown by organics obsessed farmer and vigneron Nigel Mobbs in the Coal River Valley.
A Tiny Place is unique in that it bridges the gap between a tourist attraction and foodie haven. Over the past three years Philippe has been building up the business, which he says has recently seen a 200 percent increase in diners. With stable growth and positive awareness, also born of Hobart Airport and tourism promotions earlier this year, Philippe says he’s now ready to pass on the business to a new owner – ‘hopefully an adventurous chef with a desire to extend the restaurant’s culinary excellence,’ he says. ‘It was always my plan to establish A Tiny Place and then sell – to create a solid foundation and positive reputation, then pass the reins to new talent. Creativity in venue design is one of my big passions and I have future concepts that I’m excited to develop, however I need to make sure A Tiny Place is continues with a new chef owner that can carry on its legacy before I move on.
Located within a Colonial cottage at Battery Point, the building’s architecture and its historic surrounds are a serious attraction. Rows of brick cottages with sandstone footings line the narrow streets. Neo-classical French gas lamps dress the sidewalks and on crisp mornings, horse drawn carriages drive visitors around the district, stopping at the restaurant door as the sun illuminates its lively blue façade painted with decorative louvred bright-white window shutters.
A Tiny Place’s interior comprises three small dining spaces with just a handful of tables. While the spaces might seem overly intimate, there is a great advantage to this. The tiny scale encourages diners to pop their heads around the corner, to take a peek at the kitchen, or to talk directly with the chef.
‘Small groups, travellers and the food curious just love this place,’ says Philippe. ‘There’s an openness, and a natural progression here. Diners are initially intrigued with chalk-drawn wall art, polished antiques and the general historic charm of the building; but after a little while turn their focus to the kitchen – starting to ask questions about the food ingredients and design. The more they ask the more we share. I could see cooking classes, or produce market days becoming a big part of this business’s future given the intimacy. There’s a surprising amount of creative scope here, regardless of the size limitations – but then again, it’s the tiny size that’s part of the magic.’
Philippe’s spring menu features dishes we feel are handcrafted masterpieces. They feature carefully handled ingredients plated with finesse. After this year’s mid-year trip to Vietnam exploring Ho Chi Minh City’s truly extravagant hidden back street eateries, he’s added a list of delicate Asian textures, flavours and fragrances to his creations – without overplaying their inclusion.
A dodine of duck, tunnel boned and compressed with giblets, liver and black fungus is lightly aromatically spiced, featuring star anise and the added texture of water chestnuts. Adding to the magic, a golden raisin purée is topped with a quenelle of faux foie gras ice cream – a creation that tastes so authentic, it induces instant amazement, smiles and laughter. A poached chicken salad is cleverly ‘reverse-brined’ – poached for 27 minutes in stock and then left to cool in a brining liquid. The result is ultra-succulent meat that glistens pure white – it’s incredibly moist. Paired with grilled spring onions, fried lemongrass and oyster mushrooms gently pickled in rice wine vinegar; a paste of green peppercorns, kaffir lime, salt and grapeseed oil adds lightly warming and sweet aromatics. Served slightly chilled, the dish makes for a light and delicious spring/summer meal.
While Philippe says he’s proud to share dishes featuring his own French culinary background, he’s adamant that the concept of A Tiny Place – Colonial architecture combined with unique regional produce and boutique wines selected from around Tasmania and Flinders Island, has ultimately made it a success. As one of Essentials’ favourite Tassie discoveries we can without hesitation wholeheartedly agree.
A TINY PLACE
20 Francis Street,
Battery Point, Tasmania
Tel 03 6225 6771