“People seem to be able to go with the flow a lot better than they used to because more people understand the importance of seasonal produce.”
We travelled down the Huon on a Spring afternoon to chat to Isabel, chef and co-owner of the Red Velvet Lounge in Cygnet. Since taking over the iconic café, Isabel Sykes and Joe Pickett have created a warm, cosy space, serving a seasonal menu of vegetarian and vegan dishes using locally-sourced produce.
The new RVL is all about showcasing the best produce that the Huon region has to offer. In fact, it’s the very reason Isabel and Joe chose to setup in Cygnet. Isabel remembers moving to the area and trying veggies from local grower Alex Taylor, who was selling them at the Cygnet market.She says she’d never tasted veggies like that before and decided to open a food business in area. Alex, owner and operator of Golden Valley Farm, now supplies about a third of their ingredients.
Having strong relationships with their suppliers is really important for Isabel and Joe, and being able to see where the food is made is something special. The kitchen is big and looks out over a paddock and into the café at the front. While cooking, the two views are an everyday reminder of the journey from paddock to plate.
The kitchen backs onto a garden, where fresh herbs and edible flowers are picked for each dish. Spring is a challenging time for fruits and vegetables, but they can dress their plates up more with flowers and pea tendrils coming back into season.
Isabel’s favourite spring veggie is cauliflower and she says that sometimes when they’re delivered to the café they’re still dewy on the base where they’ve been cut, they’re just that fresh.
“We’ve got a trade system with heaps of people who come in and swap their produce. That used to be a bit of a burden when we weren’t as on top of the business stuff but now pretty much anyone that walks in the door with bags of some kind of fruit, we’ll just take it and do something with it.”
Having a seasonal menu does come with its challenges so staying flexible is crucial. For Isabel seasonal cooking is about making a menu dynamic and interchangeable. Their first menus were a challenge because putting a lot of detail into them meant they didn’t have the flexibility to swap out when availability changed.
This applies to the catering side of the business too, because Isabel and Joe don’t always know what vegetables they’ll have that day, but they find that customers appreciate the challenge. “People seem to be able to go with the flow a lot better than they used to because more people understand the importance of seasonal produce,” says Isabel. “It feels weird as a chef to put out tomatoes in the middle of winter. The food just tastes so much better if it’s in season,” she adds.
Isabel and Joe’s approach has been a resounding success that taps into what makes the Huon area special and they’ve translated that into every aspect of their café. Despite being a vegetarian restaurant in a small town, the café is comfortably full most days. We put the RVL’s success down to Isabel’s creative and colourful menu, which, as well as highlighting local produce, also features lots of house-made goodies. A customer favourite is their vegan donut waffle featuring house-made sorbet made with blueberries from Harris Creek Blueberry Farm in Charlottes Cove.
“Doing vegetarian in a small town is quite bold, it probably took the town a couple of months to feel comfortable with this space, which is owned by the town in so many ways.”
Red Velvet Lounge is open Wednesday-Sunday for breakfast, lunch and snacks. Thursday-Friday night for dinner and live music. For more details visit redvelvetlounge.com.au
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