While Hobart has soaked up a good deal of the spotlight over the last little while, Launceston is home to one of Tasmania’s most iconic restaurants, the pioneering Stillwater. Occupying the historic Ritchie’s Mill – an 1830s flour mill – at the entrance to the Cataract Gorge on the banks of the Tamar, Stillwater has long been the poster child for championing Tasmanian produce.
Kim Seagram (yes, that Seagram family) had been ascending the ladder of corporate hotel management in Canada when she met and married Rob Ascui, a Tasmanian businessman. Ascui had previously planted the pioneering Lalla Gully vineyard, 30km north of Launceston, and he ran a café in the old mill before the pair launched Stillwater in 2000 to showcase the best that Tasmania grew, reared, fermented and distilled.
Twenty years later, and much has evolved, but the core principles have remained the same – pristine Tasmanian produce cooked with a contemporary mindset, matched to local wine, beer and spirits. “Our chefs are influenced by a range of cuisines and cultures and treat the produce with respect and care to let the incredible flavours shine through,” says front of house manager Bianca Welsh.
Integral to Seagram and Ascui’s business has been to bring their key staff into the fold, with executive chef of over a decade Craig Will, as well as Bianca and her husband, sommelier James Welsh, all co-owners of the business. This approach has ensured that Stillwater has maintained its high standards as well as grown, where many a restaurant of its age might begin to falter.
Stillwater has long been the prime restaurant in Launceston, but it’s more expansive than that, too, with breakfast and lunch served seven days a week, with simpler takeaway fare available from either. There are also two private spaces, a dining room and cellar space, with both accommodating a dozen or so guests.
Dinner is where Will flexes his fine-dining muscle. It’s a set-course affair, with two or three courses available, and a tasting menu on request. And while dining is at the heart of Stillwater, dropping in for a glass of wine and some snacks is just as welcome, with some bar seating and a cosy wine bar offering more casual options.
In keeping with the overall philosophy, the wine list leans to Tasmania first, shining a light on what it does best. But James Welsh’s 200-strong list has its fair share of benchmarks from the mainland and around the world. So, if Champagne, Barolo or Burgundy is in your sights, then he’s got you covered.
Stillwater has also recently remodelled the upstairs rooms to house seven (aptly called Stillwater SEVEN) stylish and deeply luxurious king rooms, all with waterfront views. Chris McNally runs the hotel, and in keeping with Seagram and Ascui’s principles, he’s also a co-owner. If the dining room is a homage to Tasmanian food and wine, the accommodation pushes deeper again, with each room well-stocked with not just local wine, spirits, beer and snacks, but everything from the hand-crafted furniture and fittings to the books stacked on the bedside tables are pure Tasmanian, too.
COVID-19 conditions: Stillwater is almost back to normal. Aside from social distancing requirements and meticulous cleaning protocols, trading hours are a whisper off normal and the offer is slightly reduced due to a smaller capacity, but it’s the same old Stillwater.