Van Bone restaurant, a labour of love on the east coast of Tasmania around 45 minutes from Hobart, is set to be the state's next big thing.
You could call Tim Hardy a gypsy surfer. It’s his love of the board – right now a reshaped 1960s single-fin kneeboard – that has taken him everywhere from the far west of Australia to the Mentawai Islands in Indonesia. In the beginning, cooking was secondary, something he “fell into” and allowed him to pick a temporary home where the waves were good.
Hardy and his crew – fiancée Laura Stucken, an interior designer, and old friend Joe Nalder, a builder/gardener/ general whiz – have just opened Van Bone, a restaurant with serious ambitions in Bream Creek on the east coast of Tasmania. It’s unlikely you would have heard of Bream Creek (although the location is as charming as the name). It’s a dot on the map about a 45-minute drive east of Hobart and its claim to fame is that Abel Tasman anchored in nearby Marion Bay in 1642. But for the Van Bone trio, its appeal lies in the extraordinary views across Marion Bay to Maria Island; the bucolic, get-away-from-everything vibe; and the artistic community full of producers who make wine, catch lobsters and grow the freshest tomatoes, cucumbers and beetroot.
The 20-seat restaurant, a rammed-earth masterpiece that Nalder and Hardy helped to build, sits on a hill and embraces the landscape around it. Today, the touslehaired chef is beaming because he managed to get some Boomer Bay oysters straight off the boat. His hands are “full of thorns” from picking the season’s last blackberries. “We don’t have to go far to get great beef, seafood and wine,” says Nalder.
The original idea for their collaboration was much less grand. When the three of them were working in Margaret River seven years ago, they set their sights on returning to Tassie, where Hardy and Nalder grew up, and dreamt of a picnic-style set-up with foraging on the side. “It became a bit bigger,” says Nalder laconically. Van Bone’s minimalist interior is striking, thanks to Stucken’s eye and experience designing Fremantle’s Bread in Common and the dining room at Pumphouse Point at Lake St Clair in Tassie. “It’s small in scale but it’s a dramatic space,” she says, pointing out the Tasmanian oak walls, concrete floors and industrial steel accents.
The torched Tasmanian oak tables – with drawers that hold each guest’s cutlery – were created by Launceston designer Simon Ancher, while the crockery is by local potter Tim Holmes. “We want to celebrate Tasmanian design and materials,” says Stucken. “It really adds to the sense of the place.” And, chips in Hardy, “it means we can tell their story through our story.”
Outside, they’ve planted more than 50 species of natives. “We’re setting up the garden to create the menu,” says Hardy. There’s corn and pumpkin, kale and Brussels sprouts, cabbages and carrots, edible flowers and herbs, as well as a small orchard of apples, figs, hazelnuts and berries. “The goal is in three years, we’ll be 65 to 70 per cent self-sufficient,” adds Nalder, who’s responisible for the garden.
But it’s the woodfired oven that’s the heart of Van Bone. “It’s an absolute beast,” says Hardy, grinning. “Everything will roll through it, whether it’s a piece of beef or a vegetable. They’ll be rolled across the fire or they’ll get a kiss of smoke.”
He’s even using it to make his own salt – putting a tray of seawater in the oven at the end of the night and allowing it to crystallise, making “really big salt flakes”.
Hardy’s ethos draws inspiration from the restaurants he has cooked in, including Vasse Felix in WA and the now-closed Garagistes in Hobart. At Brae in Victoria, he witnessed chef Dan Hunter’s dedication to the farm-to-table approach. In Sweden, at two-Michelin-starred Daniel Berlin Krog (“it was like an 18th-century barn”), he worked alongside chef Berlin, a keen forager who tried to source 80 per cent of the produce from within a five-kilometre radius. “He was the one who said to me, ‘If you want to do something, you can do it.’”
Hardy is constantly changing Van Bone’s 12- to 14-course set menu, which starts with “snacks you can eat with your hands”, says Stucken. The small courses may include a crisp piece of saltbush from Cremorne, where Hardy and Stucken live; a wafer-thin slice of Dutch cream potato topped with flavours of the sea” (such as dehydrated sea lettuce and wakame); and that Boomer Bay oyster dabbed with green blackberry that’s been fermented for 18 months. More substantial dishes range from delicate southern rock lobster with garden carrots to wood-roasted duck with kohlrabi. “I’m making a big effort to go and meet the suppliers,” says Hardy, who’s stocking all-local wines and beers, too. “It’s special having that connection to the farmer.”
And the connection to the land. “This area is like a magnet,” he waxes. “I missed home and taking my surfboard on a walk through a forest.”
Which brings us to the name of the restaurant. Van is for Van Diemen’s Land. And Bone? It’s a nod to an infamous surf break in Marion Bay called the Boneyard. The restaurant may mean that Hardy is now setting down roots but surfing, it seems, will always be on the menu.
Image credit: Adam Gibson.