If you’re planning to head to any destination festival these 5 tips may help you avoid dreaded food fomo, or resorting to a fast food fix in a city jam-packed like overhead luggage on a Jetstar flight.
Dark Mofo is a cultural/arts festival set in Tasmania’s capital city of Hobart, run by the eclectic, often controversial and quite mass appealing Museum of Old and New Art (Mona).
The festival turns the otherwise sleepy town into a winter escape for mainlanders. People (many thousands) flock to the city to experience a celebration of the winter solstice, some sensory battering in the form of large scale electric light displays, ritualistic, controversial, and untamed performances and a damn free-spirited time that would be quite hard to imagine in a mainland capital.
Last year (2017), the festival saw a 43.7% increase in visitors, with the numbers still being crunched for this year, if the the crowds were anything to go by it was even bigger.
That means it’s really freaking busy. It means that kitchens are even busier.
Tip number 1: Go mid week
If you can wrangle yourself a little extra time off, then arriving on a weekday before the extremely busy Friday to Sunday festival days, and staying on after the festival closes can potentially have you avoiding some of the crowds, lines, and frustrated impatience at all of the above.
Every Tom, Dick and Harry is going to go to the Winter Feast. It’s one of the highlights of the festival. Thousands of seats fill the wharf shed and surrounds that have been transformed into a spectacle of neon, fire and candle light, performance art and most importantly food and booze.
Even though the lines are NOTHING like the perpetual hell of the lines at the Night Noodle Markets in Melbourne, where you’ll wait an hour for one bloody bao (yes I’m still dirty on it), it pays to avoid the overcrowded weekend queues.
No more than 10 minutes per vendor on the Thursday meant a smorgasbord of snacks were procured. I wandered around gleefully sipping mulled wine, munching on cricket tacos from Pacha Mama, whilst waiting for a squid on a stick. The Winter feast is my kind of festival food.
Tip number 2: Ring around
Staying back on the Monday after the festival meant being able to sneak a walk-in spot at The Agrarian Kitchen and Eatery.
Even though the online reservations were full, a cheeky phone-call to the Eatery uncovered the possibility of getting a spot. The place had been and was fully booked over the weekend.
Was it worth the risk? Yes. Driving 35 minutes from Hobart and showing up early for lunch on a Monday was entirely worth it. I could write an entire other piece on this shoulder of local lamb alone, I probably will do after I come down from the meat sweats.
In fact, giving some of the supremely popular restaurants a call uncovered the appropriate time to rock up, in the hopes of gaining an elusive walk up. Not assured, but reassuring, it can pay to get off the internet and go a bit old school.
If you’ve followed that link to the Agrarian eatery, you’ll understand why a 35 minute drive from Hobart up the Derwent Valley was a no brainer. A two hatted restaurant, with local produce, exceptional service, reviews and recommendation, which brings up the next tip…
Tip number 3: Go regional
You’re more likely to be attending Dark Mofo events under the cover of darkness. This leaves plenty of daylight hours to get out and explore.
Get in a car and drive. Tasmania is bloody gorgeous wilderness dotted with little towns and little pubs, and if you’re used to hauling arse for an hour to work and back each day in Melbourne or Sydney you’ll be thrilled with the close proximity of adventure.
Some eateries and boozeries outside of Hobart were involved with the festival, such as Willie Smith’s Apple Shed and Spring Vale Winery.
With record crowds being set year on year, there is infinite opportunity for regional kitchens to get involved and drive traffic out of the city and into the surrounding areas. You might even find yourself considering a tree-change for a slow life outside of the rat race, to start growing an orchard and living in a hut… but I digress.
Tip number 4: Book or beware
We didn’t book shit before going to Dark Mofo. Call it naivety, arrogance or simply a happy go-lucky approach to being disorganised, but not a single food reservation was made prior to the trip.
Being a Melburnian, the idea of booking ahead for a restaurant has become almost passe in the wake of the mildly wanky “no-bookings for less than 4 people” policy many notable restaurants have adopted. The thought of being able to book a table for two is almost a foreign concept or fable told by to the grandkids…
“I once booked a table for two at ChinChin at 7pm on a Saturday” – a bedtime story by Grandpa.
This is not the case in Hobart. Blessedly, they have not joined the wanky wave of unbookable exclusivity and in fact it’s best to get onto booking any favorites you may have to avoid disappointment.
You can do it online. Just don’t be a jerk and bail.
NOT booking anything comes with an obvious risk. You miss can out on the really popular stuff. Highly reviewed Hobart restaurants like Franklin Bar and Fico were completely booked out for days in advance (though see tip 2 to get lucky).
If you have the ability to plan ahead, go ahead.
Tip number 5: Go for lunch
Akin to tip 3’s point of attending the majority of Dark Mofo events under the cover of darkness, it’s more likely to be able to munch where you wish during daylight hours. Though they be short and cold in a Tasmanian Summer.
Being mid-week and lunchtime meant easily nabbing a spot at the popular Small-Fry for lunch. It’s a hole in the wall type place, that if situated in a Melbourne alley would have hipsters lined up down the street. The food was fresh, the interior inviting, and the faces extremely friendly.
The black pudding, you know I can’t say no to a black pudding, was hearty enough without weighing me down afterward, and the coffee was perfect. I can only imagine how busy the place was during peak festival Friday time. Bedlam.
Having never been to Hobart before, I was astonished by the quality of the food, the friendliness of the people and a little shocked by the frigidity of the weather. Dark Mofo pulls in a quirky mixture of hipsters, art boffins, metal heads, and every sub-culture in between into a melting pot that somehow blends into easy-going fun and frivolity.
There’s a lot to do, it’s busy as hell but you can still get a great feed even if you’re as unorganised I apparently am.