Adelaide is Leading Australia’s Restaurant Revolution

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Aug 31, 2017

by JO MCKAY

South Australia’s capital is in the grip of a restaurant revolution.

The itinerary looks something like this: brunch close to the CBD; we’re thinking blue swimmer crab and scrambled eggs with toast, chilli and herbs at an urban café. Then perhaps a stroll through the city’s green spaces with a coffee (the beans are roasted nearby, naturally). Next, a cosy lunch of campanelle with pork sausage, chilli, fennel and spinach at a slick pasta bar. Afterwards, it’s on to wine-sampling, cocktails and hobnobbing in the laneways before settling in for a 20-course dégustation that showcases native fare. The following day? Perusing organic produce at the markets; a lazy lunch with a tasting menu featuring locally foraged ingredients and verdant views; and maybe a digestive nap at your five-star before hitting a rooftop for champagne. To finish? A Japanese-inspired feast of smoky Wagyu, katsu sandwiches and delectable chicken hearts that ticks the “contemporary cool” box.

SEE ALSO: A Guide to the Best Bars in Adelaide’s City Centre

So, where are we? You might not have guessed Adelaide. Yet you can have all these food experiences in South Australia’s capital. It’s a city that’s increasingly defined by inventive restaurants and cafés, by epicurean variety and quality, and by small, fashionable bars serving craft liquors and boutique wines. In short, it’s booming. 

Why? Well, partly because Adelaide is close to so many excellent producers. “There are very few places in the world with so many microclimates and regions within a stone’s throw,” says chef Simon Bryant. “The raw ingredients we’re working with are amazing. It’s a privilege to live here, to cook here and to show it off.”

The former executive chef at the Hilton Adelaide, Bryant is now creative director of Tasting Australia, the state’s food and wine festival, which, as a solid barometer of the city’s culinary appeal, drew 12,000 more visitors to the Adelaide hub this year than in 2016.

Paul Baker, who heads Botanic Gardens Restaurant, moved to Adelaide four years ago. “I grew up in kitchens in Sydney where we were getting the best truffles from overseas, the best asparagus from overseas... We’ve got the same quality here.”

Sensational food is in Adelaide’s DNA. In the 1970s and ’80s, it experienced a dining boom, with chefs such as Cheong Liew, Phillip Searle, Tim Pak Poy and Christine Manfield working the pans. But there was a chunk of time when Adelaide didn’t have much culinary kudos. Simon Kardachi, one of the city’s eminent restaurateurs with a suite of eateries to his name – including Osteria Oggi, Press Food & Wine and newcomer Shōbōsho – says the ’90s and noughties saw a profusion of “generic pizza-pasta cafés, order-at-the-counter services, that damaged the restaurant market for five or six years”.

Adelaide’s “big country town” reputation has also sometimes worked against it. But as Jock Zonfrillo, chef-owner of Restaurant Orana and Bistro Blackwood, points out, “The reality is, with a population of 1.3 million people, it’s bigger than Copenhagen and other cities around the world. Adelaide hasn’t been a country town for more than a decade...”

Social and political changes have cemented Adelaide’s status as a gastronomic destination. The small-bar legislation passed in 2013 made it financially feasible for chefs and restaurateurs to open more experimental venues. At last count, there were 86 small bars, which is significant considering that most are in an area no larger than a square kilometre.

SEE ALSO: Adelaide’s 10 Best Restaurants

The $527 million redevelopment of Adelaide Oval has also changed the city, explains Kardachi. “Putting 50,000 people 500 metres from the city, once a week, changes retail, small bars, restaurants, hotels, accommodation, everything.”

“The CBD has exploded,” adds Baker. “Now there’s diversity; you can rattle off lists of great places.” There are so many food-focused enclaves to explore: the east and west ends; Gouger Street, Chinatown and the markets; Waymouth Street; Gilbert Street; and suburbs such as Hyde Park, Unley, Bowden and Croydon. 

Zonfrillo also cites state initiatives – such as the government’s support of his Orana Foundation (which promotes native wild foods and supports Indigenous communities) and Tesla co-founder Elon Musk’s planned giant lithium-ion battery – as contributing factors to Adelaide’s resurgence. These, he says, are proof of the city’s inherently progressive nature, a forward-thinking attitude that appeals to creative types. “Adelaide attracts people who aren’t afraid to do something they believe in. They’re producing amazing things. It’s inspiring.”

Eat 

Restaurant Orana

Jock Zonfrillo wants to “demonstrate the value of native ingredients and how delicious they are”. Dégustations of up to 20 courses at his 31-seat dining room shouldn’t be missed.

Osteria Oggi 

This contemporary Italian establishment serves arguably the best housemade pasta south of Italy. The décor isn’t too shabby, either – this year the fit-out won the World Interiors News award for best restaurant interior.

Botanic Gardens Restaurant

With his diner’s unique location in Adelaide Botanic Garden, chef Paul Baker has a vast and varied kitchen garden at his fingertips. His goal? “To champion the [botanic] garden and showcase Adelaide and South Australian producers.”

The Pot by Emma McCaskill

The first eatery in Simon Kardachi’s restaurant empire has just received a modern update, courtesy of chef Emma McCaskill, formerly of Penfolds’ Magill Estate Restaurant.

The Market Shed on Holland

This Sunday market (1 Holland Street; 0411 201 760) has a community focus, a laid-back vibe and a diverse range of food purveyors. The vegie burgers are always popular and one of the stalls serves local wine by the glass or bottle. This is Sunday done right.

Whistle & Flute

This savvy café and liquor-bar hybrid has a casual menu bursting with Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Asian flavours. It’s the perfect Saturday brunch.

Africola

Duncan Welgemoed’s new North African-inspired menu features more vegies and fish than his previous incarnation and sets a new benchmark for deliciousness.

Shōbōsho

Adam Liston uprooted from Melbourne to helm this Kardachi-owned Asian barbecue house where the ever-evolving menu is packed with Japanese-inspired flavour bombs. Easily the best opening of the year.

The Tasting Room

Vino is one of the bedrocks of this town and the ultimate haunt is The Tasting Room at East End Cellars. Other great places include cocktail den Alfred’s Bar and Five O’Clock Somewhere

Still hungry? 

Follow the cool kids to Sunny’s (sunnys.pizza) for pizza and dancing. Enjoy global flavours at Peel St. Tuck into burgers at Bread & Bone Wood Grill. Have a late-night feast at The Propaganda Club. Try Afghan dishes at Parwana. And get your caffeine fix at Crack Kitchen or Monday’s (mondays.coffee).

Stay

Mayfair Hotel beautifully blends the old and the new: the 1930s building has every modern luxury while retaining its vintage charm. This 170-room property has all the facilities you’d expect of a topnotch stay, including a concierge, gym, valet parking, 24-hour room service and a business centre. Its location – on the cusp of the West End, a stroll from the Torrens River and across the road from Rundle Mall – is ideal for exploring the city’s food and wine offerings. Executive chef Bethany Finn showcases classic fare at on-site Mayflower Restaurant and Bar. She keeps bees on the rooftop and you can taste their honey at the breakfast buffet or in a concoction called The Honey Trap, made with ginger, lime, vodka and mint. It’s the signature cocktail at the hotel’s rooftop bar, Hennessy, which has a glass-topped alfresco terrace and is one of the city’s most glamorous drinking venues. 

SEE ALSO: How to Drive and Dine Your Way Along the Great Ocean Road