South Australia has been at the forefront of culinary development in Australia since the early seventies when the then Premier Don Dunstan started the ball rolling by publishing a cookbook and admitting that being interested in food and cooking is an OK thing to do.
Blessed with some of Australia’s foremost wine areas, a ground-breaking spirit for expression in the arts and an innovative and flexible government, South Australia is the place for fabulous produce, glorious markets and committed food professionals. It is the home of celebrity chefs such as Cheong Liew, Phillip Searle and Christine Manfield, home to wines like Penfold’s Grange, Wendouree’s Shiraz and Grosset’s Polish Hill Riesling, the working base for food and wine writers Maggie Beer, Gaye Bilson and Phillip White, and with the University of Adelaide, home to the Research Centre for History of Food and Drink, now offering a Master of Arts degree in Gastronomy, coordinated by the inimitable Dr Barbara Santich.
So where does a visiting foodie or wino start to explore the treasures of this state on a short visit?
Let’s start in Adelaide, the capital of South Australia also known as the City of Churches. Talking of churches, let’s go and worship at the temple of culinary fusion: Cheong Liew’s ‘The Grange’ restaurant inside the Adelaide Hilton. Cheong is credited with being the father of east meets west cuisine and his ever astonishing pairing of flavours and ingredients never cease to amaze. An absolute master of technique he follows his heart to come up with totally unique and powerful flavour and texture combinations that enchant, surprise and convince that fusion can and does work. Try his degustation with or without matching wines, sit back and let the magic begin…
Renowned sommelier, “Maitre Licoriste” (and architect in residence) Nick Stock, with partners Paola Coro, Roberto Cardone and George Kambitsis, opened The Apothecary 1878, Adelaide’s funkiest wine bar about a year ago. Situated in two heritage-listed buildings at the seedier end of Hindley Street, it offers style, comfort, warmth, a terrific wine list, (with 30 wines by the glass) a great selection of top Cognacs and Pastis and fabulous, simple bar food to the people in the know. Massive apothecary fixtures, imported from England, inspired the name and lots of polished wood, exposed brick and wrought iron complete the picture over three levels, including a very private courtyard. Although Nick Stock has now left the Apothecary 1878 the place rocks!
If you hunger for Mediterranean food, then visit Chef Camillo Crugnale who is cooking exciting Italian food at the refurbished Enoteca, the restaurant inside the Italian Club. His menu quotes Fellini: “Life is a combination of magic and pasta”, and if you look at his wine list you know what he means by magic.
Adelaide’s Chinatown is a treasure trove. The concentration of great Chinese regional food is amazing and you don’t have to spend hours trying to explain that you will enjoy the ‘real food’ and don’t want to order off the ‘guailo’ menu. It’s all right there. Spleen, gizzards, beef tendon, tripe, brains, kidney, stuffed intestine, liver, calf’s head, pig snout and pigs’ ears, duck tongues and pigeons happily coexist with barramundi, ribs, crispy chicken, tofu and red dates. The Peking Duck at Ming’s Palace, a Yum Cha at Ding Hao or Chef Lau and ‘Buddha jumped over the wall’ at T-Chow are a must try for any visitor.
Many of Cheong Liew’s disciples and apprentices have made it to the top of the culinary tree in Australia and overseas, but one has stayed nearby at Petaluma’s Bridgewater Mill Restaurant in the Adelaide Hills: Chef Le Tu Thai. Bridgewater Mill is a particularly tranquil, flower-rich and peaceful spot its majestic, slowly rotating water wheel and the gurgling noises of the nearby brook set the pace and frame of mind. His food is classically French based with a Mod Oz twist. A simple double baked cheese soufflé is lifted to extraordinary heights by its lightness and the perfectly balanced addition of roast capsicum, eggplant and pesto. Enjoy the ‘old world’ atmosphere and make sure you try the superb range of Petaluma and Bridgewater Mill wines.
Whilst in the Adelaide Hills I suggest you make a small detour and visit Stephen George, wine maker extraordinaire at Ashton Hills. Stephen owns and runs this smallish vineyard, concentrating on Burgundian varieties, and producing some of the best Pinot Noirs in Australia. His knowledge is amazing and his willingness to share even more so.
He and a few other visionary wine makers like Charles Melton, are exploring the Flinders Ranges area, planting new vineyards, rejuvenating old and neglected ones. If you have a couple of days it’s certainly worth the trip north into one of Australia’s most beautiful areas. Salt bush lamb tastes better up here than anywhere else in Australia and I suggest you either visit the Craddock Hotel, a tiny place with oodles of character, or head up to the town of Blinman (Population 19) which comes to life every October when the National Camp Oven Cooking Competition takes over the only street in town. Another worthy place is the Prairie Hotel in Parachilna. A curious mixture of ‘city slick’ and ‘outback crass’ they specialise in Australian Native and ‘Flinders Feral Food’. You can sample Emu, Kangaroo, Wallaby or Camel combined with native herbs, fruits and vegetables sourced locally.
Whilst we are on the subject of bush foods; if you are interested in learning a lot more about native Australian food and culture I suggest a visit to Camp Coorong. Tom and Ellen Trevorrow operate Camp Coorong, an Aboriginal-owned and controlled cultural education centre in Ngarrindjeri country, in the Coorong area of South Australia. The success of Camp Coorong, a large purpose-built complex which hosts more than 100 camps a year, is due largely to the drive and vision of Tom and Ellen. They are committed to achieving reconciliation through educating people about Ngarrindjeri cultural and respecting and celebrating cultural diversity. This enables indigenous visitors to learn about another Aboriginal cultural at the same time as exploring their own. For visitors from the wider community, the Camp Coorong experience is often their first direct dialogue with Aboriginal people. Regular activities include gathering reed and making baskets, visiting the museum/keeping place, sampling traditional foods on a bush tucker trail, visiting post-contact sites on Bonney Reserve and visiting special traditional sites in the region. School groups can have sessions “customised” to their needs.
On your way back down to ‘civilisation’ it pays to stop in the Barossa Valley at the refurbished Salters Barossa Restaurant, where wood-fired oven guru Vince Trotta and wife Wendy are creating a sense of family and fun with a communal dining table and Italian inspired cooking, utilising the region’s unique heritage of smoked meats, smallgoods, preserves and breads. This is a real celebration of the marriage of food and wine.
Also worth a deviation from travel plans is the Rising Sun at Auburn in the Clare Valley. This venerable old pub dining room dishes up terrific hearty food but the real reason for visiting is the seemingly endless wine list studded with untold treasures at prices you can afford.
Heading south towards the beach you may want to stop for lunch at the Flying Fish Restaurant and Beachside Kiosk in Port Elliot with its great, easy-going beachside atmosphere. One of the guests might even play the piano, which is located between the tables and the well-stocked wine wall at the back of the restaurant where you select and order your wines. Sit on the deck outside, go for a stroll on the beach and collect some shells or rocks.
Then head on to Port Willunga to The Star of Greece for dinner. The restaurant is perched on top of a hill offering a terrific bird’s eye view over the sparkling expanse of white sand and rolling surf. The Star of Greece was shipwrecked on her way from Port Adelaide to England off the coast of Port Willunga in 1888 and a red buoy marks the spot to this day. A kiosk was established around 1947, serving drinks to visitors, and it was re-built in the 1960s and totally refurbished in 2002. Today the Star of Greece is a bright, light, Mediterranean style restaurant (and kiosk) overlooking the beach with a seafood-biased menu and a great wine list. A favourite haunt of the Adelaide crowd on weekends you must book or sadly miss out. The menu is short and concise and the specials list (on a large blackboard) offers what’s fresh on the day. The squid is a must have and dutifully, when it’s on, just about every table will have at least one portion. Beautifully tender, salty and peppery, served with a thick and tasty mayo it’s something that begs eating with the hands.
If your love of Cabernets takes you to the Coonawarra then visit the stylish ‘Upstairs at Hollick’ where they are serving contemporary Australian dishes such as the twice-cooked red wine duckling with roast beetroot and orange salad and fresh breads and pizzas from the wood-fired oven. Naturally a great selection of Hollick wines is available, current vintages and museum stock, many by the glass.
Places to see, places to stop, to eat, to drink and to linger. There are so many more than I have touched on here. How can I leave out the Salopian Inn, the Langhorne Creek Hotel, d’Arry’s Verandah, Skillogalee, Russell’s, the Mews at Mintaro or the Hotel in Innamincka?
Well, I have to leave some for next time…
Ashton Hills Vineyard
08 8390 1243
08 8648 4867
08 8339 3422
08 8575 1557
08 8373 3780
08 8648 4212
08 8211 7036
08 8223 2417
Flying Fish Restaurant and Beachside Kiosk
08 8554 3504
08 8231 9970
08 8648 4844
08 8849 2015
Salters Barossa Restaurant
08 8564 3344
The Apothecary 1878
08 8212 9099
08 8410 1413
08 8217 2000
The Star of Greece
08 8557 7420
Upstairs at Hollick
08 8737 2752