Have a Taste of Tasmania at This Hotel Inside a Former Flour Mill
Locally sourced ingredients create fine cuisine—and wallaby wings—at this former flour mill.
Sourdough is born from a starter, a culture of flour and water nurtured over time. The same can be said of Stillwater, a historic flour mill in Launceston, Tasmania that—after some careful preservation over many years—has risen to become one of the island’s best restaurants and hotels.
Ask any Launceston local where to find Stillwater, and they’ll point you to the black corrugated building with a red roof beside the Tamar River. It’s a bonafide local icon that’s become a go-to for Aussie breakfast (yes, they make a mean flat white), lunch, and a fine-dining dinner that lingers in your mind like the fog over nearby Mount Barrow.
Situated in the north of Australia’s southernmost state and surrounded by lush green cow pastures and wallaby-filled forests, Launceston is Tasmania’s second-largest city. You can drive to the capital of Hobart in about three hours. But “Lonnie,” as the locals call it, feels more like a movie set of a charming small town.
Stillwater was originally constructed in 1832 as grain storage for Cataract Gorge’s main mill, where you’ll still find Stillwater’s stone-clad wine room today. But after a massive flood toppled the original mill, a new one was built next to the granary in 1836, along with a cottage. Over the next two decades, the mill pumped fresh water into Launceston via a series of timber chutes.
Then, in 1876, David Ritchie purchased the mill, using it to produce white flour and rolled oats. But disaster struck in 1943 when a major fire destroyed the roof. Since then, it has switched hands, been abandoned, become an art gallery, and been abandoned again. Finally, this iconic heritage building was purchased from the Tasmanian government in 2000 to become Stillwater restaurant. It’s been a community staple ever since.
Launceston-born executive chef Craig Will bought Stillwater twelve years ago, along with three other business partners: its sommelier, front-of-house expert, and hotelier. In 2019, the luxury accommodation Stillwater Seven was added to its top two floors.
Comprising—you guessed it—seven rooms, Stillwater Seven's history reveals itself in the knots of the original timber beams framing views of bobbing tug boats on the Tamar River. While each room is different, they include dark, moody colors set against rich woods, bold mosaic-tiled bathrooms, and local artwork that honors the building’s history. “We are very proud to say that some artists that used to hang in the gallery space when it was a gallery between 2001-2018 now hang in our suites, and we still sell their works,” says hotelier Chris McNally.
The restaurant’s heavy focus on Tasmanian food carries into Stillwater Seven, where a warm loaf of sourdough is delivered to guests every afternoon, a nod to the building’s mill origins. Each of the bespoke suites has a (Tasmanian) devilishly tempting mini-bar curated to guests’ tastes, as informed by a pre-stay questionnaire. It comes stocked with items like Tasmanian whiskey and wine paired with toffee fudge, chocolate-covered rhubarb, Lavosh crackers, and almonds—all sourced from a 150-mile radius.
And when breakfast time rolls around, a day at Stillwater starts like most others in Australia—with coffee. There’s a heavy focus on its buzzing day trade of families coming in from a morning hike around Cataract Gorge, or suit-clad professionals meeting for a business lunch.
While staying in one of the plush suites above the restaurant, I had free rein over the inventive à la carte breakfast included in each stay. The latest seasonal menu included my pick, a sweet coconut panna cotta topped with a melange of fresh local berries, nuts and edible flowers picked from Will’s home garden. More local products graced the lunch menu, where wild wallaby wings caught my eye instantly. According to Will, there’s only one hunter in the state who traps wallabies, and they get delivered straight to Stillwater.
“All of our food is sourced within our little bubble here in the Tamar Valley. We want to showcase what we do down here so well, whether it's meat, seafood, vegetables, whatever it might be,” says Will.
Luckily, that’s not a problem in Tasmania. Will has fostered relationships with area farmers, fishers and producers for years (and, in some cases, decades). A former chef at Stillwater is now the local fishmonger who champions small fishermen with even smaller catches. “On Saturday morning, he picked up a heap of calamari and had it back in his shop two to three hours after it was caught,” says Will. “It’s pretty rare to get things that fresh.”
And then there’s the phenomenal horseradish that gets mixed into the restaurant’s bitey horseradish butter, its stems pickled for oyster mignonette. This standout product comes from Shima, one of the only wasabi farms Down Under. It’s located about an hour north of Stillwater, where the region’s cool climate and volcanic soil provide optimal growing conditions.
“Keeping it simple has always been my philosophy,” says Will. “Let the produce speak for itself. Just make sure you’re getting the best quality products.”
As the sky’s light starts to dim, so do the lights at Stillwater. The air cools over the gorge, and dinner service begins. Honoring Tasmania’s ethos, the table settings are unpretentious yet exceptional. Paper napkins are replaced with cloth ones, and bread plates with butter knives appear on its handmade wood tables.
The restaurant expresses itself as modern Australian with Asian touches mixed with a bit of French technique. This amalgamation is evident in dishes like Rannoch Farm quail with sweet and sour gochujang, roasted sesame and kohlrabi remoulade, and house gnocchi with nori roasted local mushrooms and pine nuts in a brown butter sauce.
While a reservation for dinner at Stillwater is booked out for months, guests staying upstairs can get a fast pass with Tasmania’s best room service.
“Food is an integral part of life in Tasmania. Good food comes naturally to us, and I think that is really apparent in the offering we have created at Stillwater Seven,” says McNally. “Launceston—named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy in 2021—is home to so many incredible winemakers and producers, and we want our guests to leave with a real sense of that.”