SA is rich with exciting options for whatever you feel like eating, but Nigel Hopkins says these reliable stayers are places you can always be sure of top-notch nosh.
Happy meals: SA’s best restaurants
Chef David Swain and front of house and “everything else” Sharon Romeo had the original Fino at Willunga. Despite the awards and general acclaim sometimes they had to ask themselves “where are the customers?” They don’t have that problem at Seppeltsfield. The place is packed, not least because of the terrific cooking from Swain’s kitchen, which draws on a regional Barossa pantry arguably richer and better developed even than that of the Fleurieu. Look for dishes such as Coorong mulloway with charred corn, local lamb with parsnip and roast onion or a simple dry-aged steak with celeriac and kale. Like the rest of Seppeltsfield, Fino is a treat – though these days it’s flat-chat busy.
Parwana Afghan Kitchen became so popular for its authentic regional Kabul-style cooking that it had to expand next door, rather like its customers’ waistlines. Expect rustic, regional favourites such as morgh korma, a chicken curry with Afghan spices, or mantu, steamed dumplings filled with carrot and sauteed onion. The rice dishes, the palaws, are at the centre of everything, fragrant with cardamom, laced with pistachios. Menus rotate every two days. There’s no wine list but the issue of having alcohol in a Muslim restaurant was solved by allowing BYO and charging corkage that provides food cooked for the Salvation Army to feed the homeless.
If well-published British chef Yotam Ottolenghi were to come to Adelaide, Peel Street is where he’d go to eat, but he would also have to join the queue. Chefs Jordan Theodoros and Martin Corcoran dispense his sort of food – ravishing, fresh, full-flavoured dishes, strongly Mediterranean but with a healthy dash of Middle Eastern energy and spice. Look for dishes such as banana blossom chicken with chilli jam and coconut salad, crisp fried snapper with cauliflower skordalia, or baby heirloom carrots with labneh, halloumi and a cumin and orange dressing. Sitting at the bar provides great kitchen theatre.
Thai chef Nu Suandokmai’s re-emergence with his own restaurant, Lantern by Nu, has been welcomed not only by those who fondly remember his original Gouger Street restaurant Nu Thai, which he opened in 2000, but anyone who craves the sort of authentic cooking most commonly found in Thai street markets. Here Nu has gone right back to his roots with the sort of recipes his mother taught him at the family farm north of Bangkok. It’s all good but it’s hard to go past a crispy beef salad or green papaya salad followed by pad Thai with chicken or his jungle curry, helped along with an icy Chang beer.
There’s a special charm about a restaurant that doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not, and at Ruby Red Flamingo it brings totally delicious but simple Italian home cooking, in this case under the highly-experienced chef and co-owner Enzo Zerdini. A mixed bag of slightly retro seating, colourful walls and bold blackboard menus, this is a fun place with friendly service, great hospitality and so well loved by locals that getting a table requires patience. The maccheroni eggplant with smoked scarmorza has never been off the menu, nor the gnudi spinach and ricotta dumplings. At full throttle, the place is noisy, energetic and chaotic.
Africola never fails to amaze and is such a joyful place in which to eat, still with a sense of the slightly crazy, out of place African shebeen it was at the start. Given its firm vegetarian and seafood focus these days, it’s hard to imagine it was born with dishes such as whole roasted cow’s head. You can still feast on peri peri chicken with its hot, spicy boom!chakalaka sauce, a much-loved signature dish, but now the focus is on dishes such as wood oven-roasted whole cauliflower with tahini and agrodolce, or snacks such as a crispy chicken skin sandwich. Any dish involving eggplant is always good.
So, you want to splash out, the big spend, something to celebrate or the realisation that life’s too short? Where better than a place where you can have a wonderful meal paired with really excellent wines, that’s very good value for money – followed by one of the most comfortable beds in the state in which to sleep it off. Well, Appellation definitely merits serious consideration. New executive chef Daniel Murphy, only the third in the 14-year history of Appellation, is highly talented – try his shaved slow-roasted pork on a black garlic emulsion with pickled fennel, cavolo nero and roast garlic chips to confirm this. And then retreat for a comfy nap in one of The Louise’s luxurious suites.
You have to admire a place where you can match a 1920 vintage Chateau Mouton Rothschild at $11,000 with a $26 burger with frites. The Crafers Hotel continues to grow as one of Australia’s most interesting pub dining destinations, not least because of the access it gives you to co-owner Ed Peter’s extraordinary private cellar. The menu has recently been given a more determined French flavour, though it’s always had beef bourguignon and duck confit among its regular dishes, and all the usual pub classics remain – just that the chips are now called frites. If you’re up to it you could add a half bottle of Chateau Guiraud Sauternes at around $1400 to go with the apple and blueberry tarte tatin.
Still in the Adelaide Hills, in what used to be a rather dowdy pizza joint, the Summertown Aristologist brings together the combined talents of winemakers Anton Van Klopper (Lucy Margaux) and Jasper Button (Commune of Buttons), manager Aaron Fenwick (ex Magill Estate, Orana) and head chef Oliver Edwards. With a minimal, ever-changing and evolving menu featuring hyper-local produce, Adelaide Hills low or zero sulphur natural wines, house-milled and baked bread – with a bright red Berkel meat slicer dominating the kitchen as if to reinforce the point, the Aristologist is helping to redefine modern gastronomy in this part of the world. Finish with house-roasted coffee from the 1960s lever-action Gaggia.
Few places are as comforting on a cold winter’s evening than Jasmin, which, for well over three decades, has been famed for its cooking under the eagle eye of Anant Singh. The main menu doesn’t change much, but what’s on offer has been tried and tested by its many loyal customers. The beef vindaloo, one of Mrs Singh’s signature dishes, is enough to make most people’s eyes water and have them reaching for soothing spoonfuls of raita. It’s not all about heat, of course; there are milder curries, including a beautifully smooth Malabari beef curry. And if whole panfried garfish or lamb cutlets from the tandoor are on the specials list, grab them.
31 Hindmarsh Square, Adelaide
124b Henley Beach Road, Torrensville
9 Peel Street, Adelaide
4 East Terrace, Adelaide
4 Main Street, Crafers
1097 Greenhill Road, Summertown
0477 410 105
Lantern by Nu
120 Selby Street, Adelaide
Ruby Red Flamingo
24 Tynte Street, North Adelaide
730 Seppeltsfield Road, Seppeltsfield
Appellation @ The Louise
Corner Seppeltsfield and Stonewell Roads, Marananga
Magill Estate Kitchen
Andre’s Cucina & Polenta
La La La
This story first appeared in the SALIFE Food & Wine List 2019.