by Nigel Hopkins
The top 10
Adelaide’s restaurant and bar scene is suddenly exciting again. In the 1990s, the city led Australia with innovative, adventurous dining, but then the inspiration stalled.
Adelaide still had the best food market in Australia – in fact one of the best in the world, with the Adelaide Central Market. It still had one of the best “eat streets”, Gouger Street, which remains a mecca for polyglot dining. It had great coffee houses, such as Lucia’s in the central market.
But in the past year, driven partly by new, relaxed licensing laws which has brought a swarm of new wine bars and cafes, Adelaide is glowing again as new chefs and restaurants hit winning formulas and rake in the customers.
Here are the best of them – and some old favourites.
Orana and Street-ADL
With a spate of new bars and restaurants opening in Adelaide this summer, the standout newcomer has to be owner-chef Jock Zonfrillo’s extraordinary 25-seat restaurant Orana, with its streetfront cafe-bar sibling Street-ADL. Its site was previously occupied by the landmark Universal Wine bar.
The exciting newcomers are the culmination of 10 years’ research by Scottish-born Zonfrillo, who migrated to Australia in 2000 and took to it as if he’d discovered his spiritual home. And he set about discovering the real taste of Australia.
For diners at Orana that has led to two tasting menus (lunch $150 including wine, dinner $155 food only/$295 with wine). The more casual Street-ADL offers more native flavours and ingredients on its wall-mounted, neon-lit menu.
Go-to dish:kangaroo backstrap paired with mountain pepper and sow thistle.
One of the most keenly awaited openings last year was chef Jordan Theodorous’ new restaurant in a precinct rapidly becoming known as ‘‘bar central” as smart new bars take advantage of South Australia’s revised licensing laws.
Peel Street has a pared-back, semi-industrial style with exposed beams and brick walls, and a long polished concrete bar where lunchtime “on the concrete” specials are displayed.
It’s full flavoured, gutsy, simple cooking governed by the seasons. It looks casual, just like the atmosphere at Peel Street but food that tastes this good doesn’t come easily.
Go-to dish:mulloway fish pasty with sauce tartare and iceberg lettuce.
Ruby Red Flamingo
The once-sedate oasis of fine dining The Manse has undergone a startling transformation into an ultra-hip Italian, casual but clever diner. Outside, the 140-year-old former Baptist manse looks much the same, but the inside has had a total makeover with a mixed bag of slightly retro seating, bare tables, colourful walls, bold blackboard menus, dishes to share – and all at prices even less than when the place was called The Fish Manse 20 years ago.
The result is a lot of fun with chef Enzo Zerdino giving a fresh face to many Italian classics, sold as either small or large dishes, while partner Lauro Siliquini keeps control of the mayhem as the customers flood in.
Go-to dish:maccheroni eggplant with smoked scarmorza and ricotta salata – but you won’t want to miss the spaghetti with blue swimmer crab either.
Press Food and Wine
The instant and continuing popularity of Press is due to the fact that it’s run by some of the most experienced operators in town: restaurateur Simon Kardachi (Melting Pot, Melt) and his partners who include wine writer Tim White in charge of the wine list and highly experienced chef Andrew Davies.
Downstairs is clever industrial chic aimed at the lunchtime crowd while the quieter upstairs dining room with booth seating and freestanding tables is for more leisurely dining.
The butcher’s block standing inside the front door sends a message about Andrew Davies’ no-nonsense style of cooking, with a slick and finely honed menu divided into sections such as “raw”, “offal” and “from the wood grill”.
Go-to dish:porterhouse, oyster and chestnut mushrooms.
After a two-year break for extensive renovation, Magill Estate restaurant reopened last year under executive chef Scott Huggins, until recently at Tokyo’s three Michelin-starred Nihonryori Ryugin. Huggins has shown with his first five- and eight-course degustation menus (five courses $135/$235 with wine, eight courses $185/$435) that he intends to be a big new force in Australian gastronomy.
The theatrical interior redesign is vastly different to the previous austerity of this gorgeous pavilion-style building and it will appeal to many.
As you’d expect at this price, the matched wines are a treat, with the eight-course menu including the fabled 2008 Grange.
Ask for a peek in the kitchen. Out the back there’s a custom-built Molteni stove, said to cost the best part of $500,000, a vast square of ovens, cooktops, hotplates, even a charcoal grill, of which there are only four in Australia.
Go-to dish:cubed Port Lincoln tuna with chopped baby asparagus and an egg yolk, dusted with crumbed dehydrated olive.
This is the sort of place the locals don’t want anyone else to know about – it’s so inexpensive and so good.
An unassuming family-run restaurant, it’s become so popular because of its authentic regional Kabul-style cooking that it had to expand.
Menus change every two days, featuring different styles of rice, with banquet menus available for larger groups.
Expect rustic, regional favourites. There’s no wine list but the issue of having alcohol in a Muslim restaurant was solved by allowing BYO and charging corkage that’s donated to charity in the form of food cooked for the Salvation Army to feed the homeless – at least 150 a week at last count.
Go-to dish:ashak – leek dumplings with lamb and yoghurt-mint sauces.
When Andre Ursini opened his restaurant many assumed his menu would be all about polenta. How wrong they were. Ursini, who hates being identified as a finalist in a well-known television cooking show, would rather be known for good, old-fashioned Italian classic dishes that sometimes, not always, include polenta.
Packed most nights and often noisy with enthusiastic customers, Andre’s Cucina puts on a food show that has made it one of Adelaide’s most in-demand restaurants.
To get the best of what’s available on the day you have to look beyond the printed menu to the extensive wall-mounted ‘‘consigli’’ menu where the real seasonal treasures will most likely be found.
The chef’s choice Menu Fisso is great value for money at $59 for four to five courses.
Go-to dish:hand-rolled cavatelli served with house-cured pancetta, cavolo nero, broccoli, garlic and chilli.
Impeccably furnished with mini-spots that make the tables glow mahogany red, and surrounded by Tom Gleghorn paintings, this basement restaurant is an elegant cocoon of comfort that proves you don’t have to have a grand street presence to be sought out and successful.
The menu doesn’t change a great deal, apart from a few seasonal specials, but what’s on offer has been tried and tested to the nth degree by its many loyal customers.
Although now in her 80s, the indefatigable founder, Anant Singh, remains the guardian of her recipes and continues as the guiding light for her highly experienced kitchen crew.
Go-to dish:chicken tindaloo, described as a “fiery curry, a must for those who find the beef vindaloo mild”.
Nano Ready 2 Go
Stefano Capoccia and his wife Filomena have shown you don’t have to be on the main street to attract the crowds. Nano, tucked off Rundle Street in Ebenezer Place, is big, bright and very Italian with all the right elements for breakfast, fast or slow.
Terrific pizzas and focaccias, everything baked fresh that morning, friendly staff, great coffee and orange juice pressed in front of you. Minimal wine offering but it does the job.
Everybody goes there. You might even see politician Nick Xenophon talking on two phones at once. Breakfast (and lunch) keeps going until 3.30pm.
Go-to dish:pasta of the day, such as linguine arrabiate.
It would be a shame to be in Adelaide, surrounded by some of Australia’s best wine regions and not enjoy a glass or two of something sensational. The new wave of wine bars includes places such as Udaberri, Clever Little Tailor, Proof and Cantina Sociale, and they’re great. But as a wine bar-restaurant, the well-established Apothecary stands alone.
Not the biggest wine list but it is comprehensive and carefully thought out, with an ever-changing list of wines by the glass that always provides new tastes and challenges – and at very reasonable prices. Flexible menus allow bar grazing on marble-topped cafe tables as well as formal dining.
Go-to dish:pork belly and spelt ragu with braised cavolo nero.