words Simon Wilkinson.
photography Matt Turner.
If you want to take the pulse of Adelaide, to get an instant snapshot of how we locals live and what we regard as important, then walk the aisles of the Central Market on a busy trading day. Between the displays of meticulously arranged fruit and veg, the hanging sticks of salami and chillers crammed with creamy curds and golden cheddars, the crowds shuffling slowly through, or stopping to quiz a stallholder, present a curious, mixed bunch. Lawyers and businesspeople rub shoulders with young bohemians. Parents push prams park beside the rickety trolleys of older folk who have been coming here for generations. Children are everywhere. And when the shopping is done, they all sit together for a well-earned coffee.
While Adelaide and its surrounding wine country offer many unforgettable dining experiences, eating well is fundamental to people regardless of where they live or what they earn. “Everyone here has a really close connection to food and wine,” says Duncan Welgemoed, chef and co-owner of Africola, a playground for the city’s movers and shakers and for visiting rock stars. “It’s a different dining culture, and a serious wine culture across all the demographics. People in SA have taste. Diners here are more adventurous and can recognise quality from bulls—. They know what they like.”
Welgemoed grew up in South Africa and his cooking riffs with many of the flavours he remembers from the backyards and shanty bars of his homeland. Down the road at Restaurant Orana, Jock Zonfrillo is a Scotsman with Italian blood whose fascination with native Australian flavours is expressed as a dizzying, multi-course adventure the like of which you won’t find elsewhere. Other chefs, including Paul Baker at the Botanic Gardens Restaurant, Karena Armstrong at the Salopian Inn and even much-loved Barossa legend Maggie Beer, also have either moved to the state from elsewhere or returned home after stints interstate. So what’s the attraction? “Everything is within arm’s reach,” Baker says. “It’s 15 minutes to the Adelaide Hills, 45 minutes to the wine regions. I can go to the Hills, pick porcini and grab a bottle of pinot and be back for service with no problem at all.”
The proximity of farms, orchards and vineyards means networks develop quickly. “A lamb supplier drops a carcass at the back door and asks how he can make the product better,” Baker says. “Your producers are like your best friends.” While South Australian produce – from Mayura Station wagyu to Spencer Gulf king prawns to Woodside cheese – is in demand around the country and the world, it’s at its freshest and best closer to home. “It is as simple as whatever the customers are eating hasn’t travelled as far, so it tastes amazing,” Armstrong says.
Of course, the short distances are also a godsend for visitors. The cellar doors and restaurants of McLaren Vale, the Adelaide Hills, Barossa and Clare are connected by the Epicurean Way, a road trip every food-and-wine lover should have on their bucket list. And with less than an hour’s drive between each destination, it’s easily done in a couple of days. If you must.
“For someone coming from interstate, it is easy to get to all the places you want to see,” says Andrew Davies, executive chef at Osteria Oggi.
A wide range of chefs and cooks has turned adelaide into a mecca for food lovers
Think you know Adelaide? Well it’s time to take a look again. A revolution has shaken up the streets and laneways of the South Australian capital and they have come to life like never before. Smart, young entrepreneurs, encouraged by new licensing laws, have seized on previously neglected spaces, turning them into a mix of bars and eateries to suit all tastes. Restaurants are following suit, taking advantage of the tremendous produce at their doorstep and offering quality and creativity at prices meaning you can eat well night after night. Some of South Australia’s best chefs and cooks could work anywhere in the world. Instead, they choose to stay in and around Adelaide. Here, they explain in their own words why.
Cook, author, Barossa legend
Adelaide has never been more vibrant, with great restaurants, bars and pop-ups that are so affordable and so exciting. There is a buzz in the CBD and it’s all within walking distance. And the Barossa is getting stronger and stronger. There is so much happening. From fine dining at restaurants like Hentley Farm, Appellation and Fino at Seppeltsfield … to lots of new smaller places. In the Barossa it’s all about the rhythm of the seasons. We have everything that can grow in a Mediterranean climate. The Saturday farmers’ market is the heart of it. You can buy everything from pork to chook to yabbies when they are in season, plus all the fruit and veg you need.
We have such a diverse dining and bar scene. What is offered here is unique to Adelaide. And you are 20 minutes from the beach, as well as 20 minutes from the closest wine region (Adelaide Hills), which is arguably the most exciting in Australia. I love the ingredients we can get. Having the connection with the producers is really important. And being close to the winemakers brings a whole different dynamic to the restaurant scene and the collaborations you can do. It’s closing the circle on that community. It’s a different dining culture. People in SA have taste. That gives us a chance to play around. Diners here are more adventurous and can recognise quality from bulls.
The Salopian Inn
When you eat out in Sydney and Melbourne you will see South Australian products everywhere. We grow so much of our own food and it’s such high quality. We’re cleaner and we have a good understanding of quality. It’s also sought after internationally, especially our seafood. In terms of cooking we have realised we need to have a synergy with our producers and in South Australia we do that really well. I can access the farmer and talk with them and get what I want. And that process is easy. The Central Market is the real heart of South Australia. You are seeing all of SA in that beautifully set out space. You can get something from Kangaroo Island or Clare.
Press Food and Wine, Osteria Oggi
Adelaide is the food bowl of Australia. We have easy access to everything and it is all very close. I live in the Adelaide Hills town of Uraidla, where there are some of our oldest market gardens. I can go to a packing shed on my way to work and buy two boxes of leeks. And it’s only 17km from the city. It’s so easy to go and see the producers and see what they’ve got. And they can come down to the restaurant and see what you’re doing. It completes the circle a bit more. And the city has really matured in the past three or four years. People can latch on to a venue that reflects their beliefs and personalities.
Botanic Gardens Restaurant
Everyone works together, from the chefs to the producers to the winemakers who want to know how their wines can be better suited to our food. Good food and wine is part of our culture. Whether you can afford a bottle of Shaw and Smith sauv blanc or Penfolds Grange, everyone has an innate understanding of what good wine and good food is. What we do at this restaurant is unique. It is in the heart of the city. You can walk from your hotel and you are in a tropical oasis. People now come for the restaurant and discover the gardens. There are so many edible plants. There are things that have been here for 100 years and the fruit has never been picked before.
Adelaide is such an easy tourist destination. You can swan around the city without even needing to get in a cab. There are so many more little cool things happening now that haven’t been here before. There are a lot more restaurants and bars worth checking out. The quality is good and things are priced well. And within 100km either side of the city — down south or up to the Barossa — are great wine regions and a food belt.Tourists coming through here (Peel St) comment on how impressed they are. I think Adelaide is often overlooked and people don’t expect much so when they get here it is a pleasant surprise.
I’ve lived in Adelaide now for seven years after working all over the world. I’ve hosted hundreds of friends, family and industry colleagues in this time and every single one has fallen in love with what they all describe as a “perfect sized city’’. With the beaches a mere 20 minutes drive from my restaurant door, the Adelaide Hills less than that in the opposite direction, and continually voted as one of the most liveable cities in the world, what’s not to fall in love with? Our latest nod of recognition is the status as a “Great Wine Capital of the World”. My only question is …. why did it take so long?