Food writer Paul Wood has travelled the globe in search of the perfect meal but, like the rest of us, this past year has given him a chance to focus all of his attention back on his 10 favourite local places to eat – and one new one to try.
My 10 best restaurants: SA’s culinary champions
My Grandma Ben
MasterChef may have had many winners over the course of its TV history, but when it comes to breakfast and lunch it’s us, the dining public, who benefit most from the production – especially here in SA. Jessie Spiby’s ode to her environmentally-sensitive and thrifty Grandma “Ben” is a sustainably-focused kitchen tucked into Plant 4 at Bowden. Jessie’s kitchen team is dedicated to reducing, reusing and producing everything from scratch. They trade produce for pickles with neighbours and make the most out of every ingredient, but the resultant menu is anything but frugal.
With an aim to nourish, My Grandma Ben’s menu is a hearty selection of thoughtfully prepared fare, with dishes such as peach and hazelnut waffles or kimchi pancakes sure to get your engines firing. My go-to is any dish that features Jessie’s (practically famous) pickles, including duck rillettes, stracciatella, or carp pastrami on toast. For those of us who want to learn more about sustainable eating, My Grandma Ben also offers workshops that cover everything from pickling to preserving.
The Salopian Inn
On the outskirts of McLaren Vale, The Salopian Inn is one of the region’s oldest restaurants. Over recent years it has certainly changed with the times under the watchful and dedicated eye of one of SA’s best chefs, Karena Armstrong. Armstrong’s extensive global travels are obvious through a menu that starts in Asia with her signature dumplings and lands in her own backyard, with produce sourced direct from the Inn’s expansive gardens incorporated into all of the dishes.
A culinary artist who spins an edible story, Armstrong has also been an advocate for cultural change in kitchens and is a dedicated regional champion. You can feel the love in the venue and through the food, with star dishes often featured including locally caught whiting or her family’s favourite roasted and confit Nomad chicken. And on the sweeter side of things, you just can’t go past the Salopian’s ice cream sandwich with dark chocolate parfait, meringue, honeycomb and espresso.
My travels have taken me to Tokyo, Kyoto and beyond, but outside of these cities filled with ramen, yakitori and sashimi I’ve never had a truly authentic Japanese experience. That was, until ShoSho opened its Izakaya Noren in Hyde Park just over a year ago.
Ease your way into things with edamame crisps or a salt and vinegar prawn katsu, and never go past their flaky shallot pancakes stuffed with Laughing Cow cheese. Hit up the raw bar for some sashimi-style favourites, then focus your attention on their more robust meaty mains, and always – I repeat, always – leave room for dessert.
ShoSho has absolutely hit the mark in bringing Japan to Adelaide and I expect it will remain in my list of favourites and keep my ramen addiction at bay. That is at least, until that travel bubble opens, and Tokyo is on the menu again.
If you haven’t been to Fred Eatery for breakfast or lunch you’re really missing out. This designer’s delight is tucked right into the town of Aldgate and is easily one of the best cafes in the Adelaide Hills. While the regular menu is full of traditional brunch favourites – such as French toast with banana, caramelised yoghurt, maple syrup and roasted almonds or Fred’s take on the Reuben sandwich – it’s the addition of their less expected Asian breakfast or lunch delights such as the Malaysian bang bang or sticky black chicken that really steal the show.
If you like their style, head next door to Fred’s homewares store. Owners Aaron and Todd have an eye for design and, after a few too many customers tried to walk out of the cafe with everything from flatware to furnishings, they decided it was time to give back to their community and open Fred Living.
Since the original Fino moved from Willunga to the Barossa, hospitality legends Sharon Romeo and David Swain have gone from strength to strength and now they’ve packed up part of their team and landed right in the middle of the city. Fino Vino offers a more casual, but still refined approach to the food and experience the Fino brand has become renowned for. Their newest venue truly tells a full South Australian story, with everything from ingredients to the fit-out showcasing a different part of our state.
Romeo heads up the front of house and she stocks a brilliant bar with beverages and wine brands. In charge of the stunning open kitchen, Swain operates a tight ship and it shows through the quality of each dish as it lands. While choosing between favourite dishes is a challenge with such a superb range of options, I can never leave without devouring their school prawns cooked in chilli and garlic, charred tommy ruffs with lemon and capers, or their signature barbecue chicken delivered with sides and accompaniments. Fino’s crema Catalana has been on the menu since day one, and for good reason – it’s the finest version of this classic dessert you’ll try this side of Spain.
Tucked away in a quieter part of the city on Halifax Street, you will find Herringbone: where they always get it right. Cooking with an earth-to-table approach, their generous dishes are consistently delicious, often surprising and always delightful. You’ll always find house favourites such as their smoked pork terrine or ocean trout gravlax on the menu – a fish dish I rate as one of my favourites with its salty, sweet and spicy flavours that always take me back to the shores of Scandinavia. Never turn down Herringbone’s gnocchi – unless, that is, you’re too full from devouring the signature slow roasted lamb shoulder, or baked pumpkin with marinated chevre and cafe de Paris butter that could give any meaty main a run for its money.
The venue is simple but stylish and Herringbone’s focus has always been on the food and dining experience. A table in their covered and heated courtyard is the best spot in the house, but the dining area has the best views of the open kitchen where chefs are always hard at work delivering some of the most delectable dishes in town.
Of all the places we can’t currently get to in the world, I miss France the most. More specifically, the narrow streets and delicious laneways of Saint Germain. Thankfully, we have our own little slice of Paris right here in Adelaide.
When it comes to food and getting the full Francophile experience, I can never hit up the East End without stopping for a bite or trois at Hey Jupiter. Sitting outside on typically Parisian cafe furniture will have you feeling as French as French can be and the menu is absolute perfection. The impossibly compact kitchen works to deliver quintessential dishes such as mussels in white wine with saffron and cream, or beef tartare with its melange of accompaniments, but I always come back for the breakfast cassoulet with pork belly and duck confit, goats curd and smoked ham hock, or a traditional croque monsieur. And if the French staff and service don’t round out the perfect Parisian experience, the Champagne and cocktail lists certainly will. Breakfast martinis, anyone?
This new wine bar and eatery opened quietly but confidently just a few months ago and has quickly gained its well-earned reputation as one of the best suburban venues around. Located at the “other end” of The Parade in Beulah Park, Bar Lune welcomes guests with open arms and a delicious menu that starts with simple snacks such as kingfish sashimi with creme fraiche, shiso and pickles or grilled Goolwa pipis with a divine XO butter sauce and then progresses through a charcoal infused main section.
While every dish to date (and I’ve dined there often) has been nothing short of spectacular, highlights include wood-grilled wagyu rump, barbecue squid with chilli sambal and confit duck orecchiette. But it’s really the people behind the venue that make it such a success, delivering great service with quality food and a true sense of community that has been lost in other places that have tried to do the same.
They say that life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away, and the wild and wonderful people behind the Aristologist sure do live by a similar culinary ethos. In a restaurant world filled with the over-complicated, the over-promoted and, worse still, those that wheel out the same dishes every day, this humble establishment high on the hill counts its moments by the week.
The team constantly make changes to their simple but always superb menu as the seasons ebb and flow. Each week brings new bounty direct from their very own garden, complemented by supplies from neighbours and friends in surrounding towns. As its name suggests, the Aristologist emulates art with a dose of science through preparation and cooking to deliver outstanding dishes that always land at their communal dining table with a true sense of place.
Mt Lofty Ranges Vineyard
He’s worked everywhere from the Ritz to Michelin-starred Rhodes 24 in London and now chef Adam Bowden and his small team keep the fires warm at our very own Mt Lofty Ranges Vineyard. Initially this was the wine brand’s humble cellar door, but extensive renovations and an ever-evolving menu now has this venue placed easily amongst the state’s best restaurants. It has some of the best views, too.
A long lunch is the best way to enjoy the food, wine and hospitality at Mt Lofty Ranges; their tasting menus are consistently fantastic with dishes that change with the seasons. In summer, you can expect vibrant seafood and vegetable-focused dishes and things get hearty as the cooler months set in when they showcase some more meaty meals such as slow cooked beef cheek or Forest Range chicken.
In his typical style, Bowden prepares meats in different ways for each dish and he’s an absolute whiz with desserts. Mt Lofty Ranges Vineyard knows its wine, too. Owners Sharon and Garry focus on producing delectable drops with a focus on regional champion varietals such as chardonnay and pinot noir that are always a perfect match.
One to try: arkhé
Chef Jake Kellie’s culinary CV includes heading Michelin-starred restaurant Burnt Ends (Singapore) and the highly-acclaimed Estelle (Melbourne). Kellie has pulled together a team of some of SA’s best hospitality heavyweights in a venue with a moody, modern vibe with high-end fixings and furnishings – plus a huge open kitchen made entirely of timber.
Chefs work over an open fire pit to prepare a menu that focuses on making vegetables the star of the show as much as the meaty dishes Kellie is well known for. Get excited about snacks such as potato crumpets with taramasalata and trout roe, or smoked pig trotter empanadas. The entrée menu includes a freshly-made warmed goats milk curd, slow-roasted tomato and hojiblanca olive oil and mains make the most of South Australian ingredients such as Southern rock lobster with a burnt citrus butter sauce, or a 65 day dry-aged Mayura station rib eye. With the Palmer Group partnering to deliver the project, the drinks list is sure to sate those of us with a thirst for good wine and spirits, too.
This story was first published in SALIFE FOOD+WINE+TRAVEL 2021
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