Taking over Princes Wharf 1 for a total of seven nights during the festival, Winter Feast remains one of the most recognisable and accessible elements of Dark Mofo, a 13-day arts and music festival held in Hobart each June. It’s a night market if you want to paint a less inspired picture, but really it’s so much more than that; an intoxicating (in more ways than one) medieval-inspired community feast with longer-than-long tables streaking from one end of the high-ceiling space to the other. Candles battle against an eery blood red glow that illuminates dozens upon dozens of hanging crosses – the festival’s most salient motif – while a band squeezes into a small alcove perched above a pop-up Asahi bar.
Okay maybe the more soulful textures that the band threw out on the nights I attended were kind of jarring to the atmosphere – as a means of comparison, two years ago the band played folksy Games of Thrones-esque jingles which, as you could imagine, sounded especially ominous when you’re enveloped in red lighting – but all the chit-chatter in the air was louder anyway. Aside from that niggling oversight, Winter Feast once again nailed its status as one of the most – probably the most – unique and exceptionally detailed food and drink events in the country.
Organisation was on point too. Yeah it was a bit frustrating waddling around given how incredibly busy it was – especially inside – but once you set your sights on a dish it’d be in your hands within a matter of minutes. Queues and shortened supply are often the main concerns with events like these; Winter Feast had no such logistical nightmares.
I’ll rewind to the entrance; the ostentatious gates with pillars of fire shooting up in a pattern, set against an enormous glowing red sign reading “DARK MOFO”. It’s a spectacular introduction to quite possibly the most dizzying array of food you’ve ever laid your eyes upon, showcasing just about every inch possible of Tasmania’s famously abundant produce and the vendors who use it so well. There were also a few guest chefs from the mainland, like Fred’s talented Danielle Alvarez who was doing up home-style plates of slow-roasted crispy-skin hogget with servings of wood-grilled potatoes slathered in wakame butter and chimichurri ($20 very, very well spent), or chefs from Sydney institution Chat Thai, collaborating with Matthew Evans and his popular Fat Pig Farm. Both were guests of the area that dominated the busy outside area, which was the most substantial improvement from my visit in 2015; this was of course alongside locals serving up everything from German-style pizza and Okonomiyaki to beef brisket and the absolutely divine campfire inverted polly waffle. The latter was a dessert cooked over fire, featuring toasted marshmallows sitting on an eclair that was full of creamy chocolate mousse, courtesy of the one and only Alistair Wise of Hobart’s famous Sweet Envy.
Of course Bruny Island Cheese Co. boasted one of the most popular stands inside, unsurprisingly attracting the masses with their menu that featured the likes of fondue and mac ‘n’ cheese, both given a kick-up with Tasmanian truffles. Then you had the muscle of hot gin punch with star anise from double-gold-winner Poltergeist, $2 freshly-shucked oysters from Get Shucked, mulled ginger beer spiked with vodka from Henry’s Ginger Beer, slow-cooked bulgogi beef rolls from Shoebox Cafe, and donuts from Lady Hester – my favourite flavour: chocolate, fennel seed and salted caramel.
Gone are the artists dressed as life-sized carrion crows running around scaring diners – perhaps it was too much for children – but that doesn’t mean much when you’re devouring an enormous Chinese-style pancake and washing it down with a mulled cider. Simply put: Winter Feast is rightfully one of Dark Mofo’s biggest draw-cards, and multiple visits are a must.
This is taken from our full feature on Dark Mofo 2017 over on our Arts website. For the full version please click HERE.