Describing a restaurant as a safe pair of hands is a damp squib of a compliment if ever there was one. So much better to liken it to the kind of friend it would be, or better still, what kind of lover.
If The Gorge Restaurant in Launceston were a swain, it would be worth swooning for. Competent, occasionally surprising, and with a full service offering from the brush of a hand on the thigh under the table at dinner to a cigarette shared companionably after the event, quite a long time later, propped up on fluffy goose down pillows against a padded bedhead in a swanky hotel.
The Gorge has been having its Casanovan way with diners for decades and like our Venetian friend is probably regarded as a bit long-in-the-tooth by some. However, such skilled and dependable hands should not to be sniffed at. Especially when hungry.
Set in the spectacular park-like grounds of the Gorge in a natural basin in the North Esk River, the restaurant is housed in a lovely old historic building that makes one fantasise about being a Victorian lady swooshing around the place with a bustle.
On the outside, it’s classic elegance with a cottagey feel. On the interior, it’s deeply classic stuff. The scene is set the minute you step in the door, with decor that may not be heart stopping, but speaks of an old-fashioned quality and charm. Tablecloths are thick and creamy, silverware is long-serving and heavy, and the gleaming windows give out onto sylvan treetop views.
There’s none of your poncy modern stemless glassware here; the wines are poured into generous goblets with a restaurant insignia heavily etched on the side. The lighting and ambience reminds me curiously of the inside of a London route-master double-decker bus in winter – warm, cosy and golden, full of banter and chat.
While the menu hasn’t changed since the last time I was here two years ago, the place has enough tricks up its sleeve to make tumbling into bed with it a highly pleasurable romp. One of my party is disappointed but if you order an entree as your main then disappointment is probably coming your way. The rest of us are too busy to be sympathetic, hoeing into our twice cooked duck with sticky rice, our slow cooked beef cheeks with mash and jus and baby carrots, our seafood steak with local scallops.
The wine list is several satisfying pages long in a typeface from ten years ago, a comprehensive tour of the region, nothing too out-of-reach premium, but brimming with quality boutiques like Holm Oak and Sharmanns. To be picky, in company with tastes running individually from local Pinot Noir to designated driver to not knowing or caring as long as it’s white, a couple more options by the glass would be welcome.
The service is impeccably timed, obliging and personal, warmly smiley and unfailingly polite with a couple of interesting piercings. Rather like an early boyfriend who has wooed your father with chat about the property market and got your mum making him a cup of tea.
Since we’re middle aged females, we deny ourselves desserts. A low-carb and sugar life is an ascetic one. Too late for me, however. I’ve already indulged on a previous visit with my Other Half , and can vouch for the sumptuousness of the warm, chocolate hazelnut brownie, the fluffiness of the fairy floss and the velvety firmness of the panna cotta which we fed to each other with gleeful abandon and complete disregard of the GI count.
At the close of the evening, The Gorge is a keeper. If you set up home together and made it permanent, there’s a smidgen of a chance you’d find things predictable after a few years. But there’d be no denying that things were always done with a knowing assurance and an understanding of what a hungry woman wants. You could always depend upon your appetites being satisfied.
A version of this post appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of Tasmania 40 South magazine.