Cheese, pepper and saxophones in Hobart.
MENU HIGHLIGHTS Sea urchin spaghettini; cheese sablé biscuit; parmesan panna cotta
AMBIANCE Jazz bar; ask them to turn down the music
WOULD I GO BACK? Certainly
I visited Fico twice in the space of three days I had in Hobart. It’s two hatted (for 2020, by the Good Food Guide) and it’s excellent.
Make sure you order a pasta dish, because it’s their signature skill. Also ensure you like strong cheese and pepper, which are the dominating flavours of most of the dishes.
On my first visit, I went for the amazingly inexpensive $85 tasting menu. There were three snacks to begin with, and it was hard to pick a favourite. The quail egg was only just runny on the inside, and the cheesy sablé biscuit was ordered again on my second visit (as were the lardo-wrapped breadsticks).
We thought the bread would be a bit of a wanky course, since we only got one piece each, and it was served with ‘fig leaf oil’. However, it turned out to be warm and toasted; and the leaf-infused oil was spotted with balsamic.
A very peppery, parmesan panna cotta made its way to the table next, and I was a huge fan. It was so soft, and extremely rich in parmesan flavour. Luckily, I’m a cheese lover.
I enjoyed the hare ragu more than the super al dente tortelli, filled with cheesy potato. I prefer my pasta less chewy, but I still reordered this dish on my second visit ($30 for eight tortelli), because potato, pasta and ragu are hard to hate. The hare ragu was not distinguishable from an ordinary ragu, apart from being less fatty.
The pork was easily my least favourite dish. It was out of place with the unusual, super tasty, well-executed dishes that had appeared so far. It was far too dry, and needed double the jus. The accompanying ingredients should have been quadrupled in quantity to add flavour and moisture. The belly wasn’t crunchy, nor thick or juicy enough.
Immediately preceding the pork was a disappointing risotto. The flavour was too simple – it just tasted like cheese sauce, although apparently flavoured by tomato, with ‘tomato stock’. At this point in the degustation, Fico had used hard, aged and rich cheeses in almost every course. If you’re going to go hard on cheese, you need to mix up richness, type and texture. The risotto needed some greens (or protein), and a softer or lighter cheese (perhaps ricotta or chèvre). The carnaroli rice grains were very al dente.
Heavy is the dessert that wears the crown, but the singular dessert course – the lemon delice – managed to save the day. It was topped with piped marshmallow, and a torched Swiss meringue supported a quenelle of white chocolate ice cream. The green sprinkles are lemon leaf dust. Not too sweet or creamy.
My second visit saw three newbies. Firstly, a slightly burnt but enjoyable brioche finger, topped with an anchovy. What’s not to like?
My favourite dish of both visits was the sea urchin spaghettini, with fennel and parsley. The cheesy, supremely peppery sauce reminded me of carbonara. Some chef at Fico is obsessed with pepper, and I’m sure many guests would say the dishes are over-peppered. I loved it, but I would always ask for more urchin (and the urchin pieces were too small and not as creamy as fatter pieces would have been).
Finally, steamed mussels ($20) intrigued us because they were served with a ‘flathead mousse’. The mousse was a complete misnomer, because it was dense and baked – having the texture of a quiche or a frittata. It was small but enjoyable.
Not all of Fico’s menu prices are published on their website, but the most expensive main was under $40, which is unheard of for such a decorated restaurant.
I would recommend it to anyone visiting Hobart. I enjoyed the bar seating on our second visit even more than table seating.
Visit dates: 18 and 20 December 2019