Adelaide Hills Restaurants
As you head for the hills to savour the delights of the region’s cool climate wines, take the time to explore the ever-expanding dining scene.
I’ve spent the day down there,” says David LeMire, joint CEO of Shaw and Smith. He points his fork ‘down there’ – a plunging valley of villages and vines in soft evening light. “We’ve bought a new block in the Piccadilly Valley,” he says. “It’s a new frontier for us.”
LeMire has a balcony table in Hardy’s Verandah Restaurant, the three-hatted fine dining restaurant of Mount Lofty House. Perched on the side of Mount Lofty, not far from its 727m peak, the imposing stone mansion was built in 1852 for pastoralist Arthur Hardy, back when it was a full day’s trek from Adelaide to the summer residence. These days, the mansion is a boutique hotel and a mere 20 minutes’ drive from the CBD.
‘HVR’ opened in 2017 and, under executive chef Jin Choi, has been elevated among South Australia’s best restaurants. It’s also the perfect place for an overview of the Adelaide Hills, now regarded as one of the nation’s leading cool climate regions.
“While some regions credit a single variety for their success, I think the Adelaide Hills does a lot of things well,” says LeMire. “It’s hard to go past our Chardonnay. The best of our Pinot is exceptional, and of course our sparkling and Sauvignon Blanc are right up there.”
Above: The perfect spot to take in the Hills - Hardy's Verandah Restaurant at Mount Loftys House
LeMire, a Master of Wine, credits pioneer winemakers of the 1980s like Brian Croser, Geoff Weaver, Tim Knappstein and Martin Shaw for proving that the Hills could grow great wine. “But we’re also a relatively young region, and we’re trying new things. Our closeness to Adelaide means we’ve had a lot of terrific young winemakers coming through, like Brendan Keys and Gareth Belton, Tash Mooney and the sorely missed Taras Ochota. There’s also been great work done with new varieties like Nebbiolo, Grüner Veltliner and Fiano.”
As LeMire enthusiastically dives into HVR’s 500-plus wine list, chef Jin Choi begins sending out dishes. Perfectly matching the views, his plates are light and uplifting: a tiny buckwheat tartlet of avocado is piled with a cloud of finely grated parmesan that puffs in the mouth; a delicate portion of Coorong Wagyu brisket is buoyed by a marinade of soy, Asian dates and apple, and softened by a full 12-hour braise.
Like the wine scene, Hills dining is relatively young.
In the late 80s, this somewhat insular region was home to pub counter meals and three ‘special event’ restaurants: photogenic Bridgewater Mill, opened by Brian Croser; Max Hruska’s ebullient converted farmhouse, Maximilians; and Windy Point, offering a city lookout from the vertiginous suburb of Belair. (All are still serving.)
In the 2000s, the number of Hills wineries and cellar doors began to rocket, and with it came tasting tourism supplemented by light lunches, share plates and (increasingly good) providore cafes.
Then in 2010, The Lane winery near Hahndorf opened a light-filled restaurant under chef James Brinklow. It felt sharp and fresh, a place to drink in languid country views over plates that were truly urbane.
Above: Drink in languid country views at The Lane winery in Adelaide Hills.
Today, the burgeoning food scene means Adelaide’s farming hinterland – never short of beautiful scenery nor great produce – is beginning to feel more upmarket, akin to Margaret River or the Hunter Valley.
Mount Lofty Ranges Vineyard sits within a remote, intimate valley in the sub-region of Lenswood. It’s a properly immersive experience with tables just metres from trellises of Chardonnay.
“You can watch them grow while you’re having lunch,” says owner Garry Sweeney. “I’m not joking. In peak growing season vines will put on two millimetres an hour. Take a photo at the start of lunch and at the end, and you’ll see a difference.”
Three hours go quickly here, especially while pairing the hand-crafted S&G Pinot with an earthy five-course tasting menu featuring Forest Range chicken in sauce Provençale and ‘Zara Grace’ spring lamb with broad beans and wild garlic.
The smoothly tailored restaurant space is fused to an old apple shed made of worn timbers and rusted tin, epitomising the Hills’ 150-year-old food-producing heritage and a growing population of creative people who are discovering its charms. People like Mount Lofty Ranges Vineyard chef Adam Bowden.
“I was a sous chef at London’s Ritz Hotel,” says Bowden. “As you can imagine, it’s a pretty big shift from a kitchen where we had 60 chefs! But I’ve been here three years and love it.”
Above: Mount Lofty Ranges Vineyard sits within a remote, intimate valley in the sub-region of Lenswood.
During his tenure, he’s forged bonds with local growers, brought a lot of production in-house and applied his classical European background to the monthly, seasonal menus.
“I use a lot of terms and techniques that you don’t see so often – terms like ‘ballotine’, ‘posset’, ‘sauce Provençale’…For example, this month we have ballotine of octopus. I’ve taken a seafood ingredient of Port Lincoln and combined it with flavours of Southern France, including macerated tomatoes, black olive crumb and avocado blitzed with coriander, pickled shallots and fennel.”
For Sweeney, the three- and five-course tasting menu has been a necessary evolution since opening 11 years ago. “This region is changing. It’s no longer about just tasting wines at a counter – it’s about enjoying a beautiful meal or doing a structured tasting.”
Lucy and Darren Golding of Golding Wines near Lobethal agree that Hills cellar doors are reinventing themselves to meet Adelaide-driven demand for a more sophisticated experience. It’s why they brought in De Buys Nortier, an ex sous chef with Daylesford’s Lake House, to build on their popular family-friendly grazing menu.
Nortier set about designing seasonal three- and four-course menus enlivened by pan-Asian techniques and flavours. And in June, the winery’s handsome stone barn and terraced gardens became home to their new restaurant, Gingko.
Left: Dining in the terraced gardens at Golding Wines ; Right: Pan-Asian techniques and flavours are on show at Gingko restaurant in Adelaide Hills.
“I wanted Gingko to have everything made from scratch,” he says. “We use vegetables and fruit grown here on the farm, but we’re also doing our own cured meats, cheeses and bread.”
Nortier takes his cuisine to a higher plane – quite literally – with the ‘Nido Experience’. Accommodating parties of six, the Nido is a surreal cocoon of woven willow located on a hillside overlooking the winery. While the views and breezes work their magic, a personal concierge orchestrates a six-course degustation with wines.
Nortier says he “aims to knock people’s socks off with the Nido”, and part of this is a seasonal egg dish. “For spring we’re making noodles from potato, weaving them into a bird nest and deep frying. Then we sous vide an egg at 63 degrees for two hours, which is cracked into the nest. Finally we add some truffle oil and a bit of fermented asparagus.”
Renewed Watering Holes
Even the Adelaide Hills pubs are stepping up.
Thanks to a deep-pocketed group of Hills-based investors called the Duxton Group, the region has experienced a year-on-year reinvention of old (and rather tired) stone hostelries. One of these is the 180-year-old hotel in Crafers village.
The Crafers does a menu of pub classics with a French twist, designed by ex-Lane chef, James Brinklow. But it also houses one of Australia’s finest wine cellars, comprising 10,000-plus bottles including big hitters like Château Latour, Château Margaux and Lafite. It sets up the unlikely (but not unheard of) scenario of enjoying a three-course $58 prix fixe menu with some of the world’s rarest wines.
Think pan-seared pork with pickled mushroom in bone broth accompanied by an $8,000 bottle of 1928 Mouton Rothschild. The cellar’s pedigree is down to the Duxton Group’s co-owner, wine collector and Hills resident, Ed Peter. And he isn’t done yet.
Left:: The Crafers houses one of Australia's finest wine cellars ; Right: Uraidla Hotel's newest addition 'The Tank'.
In 2016 the group acquired an unlovely pub in the small village of Uraidla to relaunch it as a buzzing hub with a playful soul and a menu to please the most committed locavore. Cut to November 2020 – when Brian Croser AO opens the Uraidla Hotel’s newest addition called ‘The Tank’.
It’s yet another stellar cellar, this time a 3,650-bottle repository fashioned from a century-old concrete water tank deep under the pub. The circular concrete vault is lined entirely with bottles, most of them from the Adelaide Hills – a fact not lost on Croser who planted the first vines in an obscure valley called Piccadilly 41 years ago.
This is a party room, lit by a funky pendant lamp, glittering from floor to ceiling and echoing to a soundtrack of monks giving hallowed praise. Paradoxically for something deep in the earth, The Tank feels fresh, confident and open to the world – an expression of good people doing good things for good reasons.
Or, as David LeMire says while looking ‘down there’ from his lofty table at HVR: “Yes, a wine region is about the vines, about the soil, about the varieties. But it’s also about the people. It’s about people having a crack.”