This is the kind of pub everyone would like to be their local, with an alarmingly well-priced menu of sophisticated but never fussy gastro-pub fare, matched with a beverage list that favours organics and artisan making as much as the kitchen does.
Whitney Ball and Tom Westcott had some serious restaurant credentials before they took the lease on the Hobart Hotel some two-and-a-bit years ago. The couple’s last stint before self-employment was at the revered Franklin, with Ball managing the front of house and Westcott on the pans. The move to a pub that has long been known for loud music, karaoke and general raucousness was certainly a break from the narrative, though Ball was somewhat more familiar with the inner workings of a public house. Not that the duo was going to carry on the rowdy legacy of the establishment, even if they were emphatically going to maintain the pure pub-ness of the place.
Built in 1842, the building has operated under different monikers over the years, with Tom McHugo’s name added by the pair in homage to days past (he was the proprietor back in the first half of last century). Today, their focus is on the local, with produce suppliers’ names chalked up at the entrance, and an overwhelming island presence suffusing everything from the food to the wine to the beer and the spirits.
While the beer taps – a couple of Two Metre Tall handpumps and nine regular fonts – only flow with Tasmanian brews, the wine list extends to the mainland as well as internationally, with a cant towards the sustainably farmed and lo-fi, think Limus, Rory D’Meure, Latta and Sonnen. The list is compact but ever-changing, offering approximately 65 bottles across both working and reserve lists, with 15 available by the glass. The lists are quite fluid, with at least half of the by-the-glass listings changing weekly, while the bottle offer rotates organically.
“We approach our wine list with a similar ethos to the food, as we will always choose organically farmed grapes with a minimal intervention winemaking philosophy where possible,” says Ball. “We choose to support Tasmanian and Australian producers by the glass for the most part, and we offer some imported gems as part of our cellar list.”
Westcott very much takes a nose-to-tail philosophy with the menu, only receiving whole carcases and using all the parts, including the offal, with tongue and blood sausage features of the menu. This approach is born out of paying respect to the animal, and a belief by Westcott that real cooking is about making use, that resourcefulness is key. This carnivorous feature hardly dominates, though, with an equal focus on dishes highlighting organic vegetables from tiny local farms. And the principle of wasting nothing is one that permeates everything at Tom McHugo’s.
“We are environmentally conscious and compost absolutely everything we can in a bid to minimize waste,” says Ball. “We use all aspects of the animals we butcher and vegetables we receive, use various methods of preservation to ensure there is no wastage and endeavour to constantly rethink our whole model as to how we could have a softer environmental impact.”