The restaurants of Sydney and Melbourne get the international attention, but Australians have long known that some of the best food and wine in the country is in fact to be found in Adelaide, the capital of South Australia. While its nickname, the City of Churches, may not sound promising to visitors in search of rich repasts and heady drink, the two-hour flight from Sydney (or the 1 1/2-hour hop from Melbourne) is well worth it.
In Adelaide's case, "quiet" and "charming" are not euphemisms for boring. This is a compact city, on a navigable scale, but one that also offers culinary experiences of metropolitan sophistication. Some of Australia's best producefrom seafood to livestock, fruits and vegetablescome from this corner of the country. This, plus the famed McLaren Vale and Barossa wine districts lying an easy drive away, attracts the talented chefs and passionate restaurateurs who make Adelaide a foodie haven. While pioneering restaurants like Blake's and the Grange maintain their lofty status in the local food scene, there's a lot more to choose from these days. Here are four hot tables.
ASSAGGIO: The veteran chef-and-manager team of Camillo Crugnale and Orlando Bagnara have no truck with the multiculturalism that underlies much modern Australian cuisine. Instead, at this new Italian fine-dining venue, tel: (61-8) 8272 4748, they stick with what they know well. "There are lots of chefs who bring fusion into Italian food," says Crugnale. "We are definitely not interested in this." Expect dishes from several Italian regions, presented in a contemporary style but with their flavors rooted in tradition. The starter of veal with bluefin tuna and caper sauce is exquisite, as is the main course of roasted quail with spicy pancetta, brandied grapes and green chili.
XO SUPPER CLUB: Luring a young and fashionable crowd with its modernist interior and an informal, tapas-style menu, XO Supper Club, tel: (61-8) 8215 0244, may be too much club for some, and perhaps not enough supper for others, but it is one of the city's most fashionable gathering places and a great spot for a casual bite. If you want to avoid the after-work throng, go in the mid-afternoon for a glass of wine and yummy nibbles like blue swimmer crab salad on melba toast, or seared scallop on cauliflower velouté with wasabi-and-lime dressing. Larger dishes include Corinthian sausage with giant lima beans, and a salad of rocket, toffee pear and chèvre.
MAGILL ESTATE RESTAURANT: Laying justified claim to being Adelaide's top table, this superb restaurant, tel: (61-8) 8301 5551, is perched on an elevation overlooking Adelaide's eastern suburbs, and smack next to five hectares of vineyards from which some of the finest Penfolds wines are made. Owned and operated by the legendary winery, the Magill Estate Restaurant is naturally a showcase for Penfolds itself, and its vintage-studded wine list will set your heart racing. As you would expect, staff are expert at pairing wines with the restaurant's European-influenced modern cuisine. Not to be missed.
SOHO RESTAURANT: Two years after its launch, this unpretentious European-style restaurant, tel: (61-8) 8361 9499, has been showered with awards, and it's easy to see why. Located on bustling Melbourne Streetone of Adelaide's main eat streetsSoho offers seating at intimate booths or at long communal tables in a covered courtyard bedecked with fairy lights. Bring your appetite: dishes here are rich, substantial and a world away from the lightness and simplicity one has come to expect of contemporary Australian cooking. A starter of something like roast eggplant-and-garlic pie with couscous, or Soho terrine (a thick, meaty affair of smoked beef, rabbit, knackwurst, pig's neck and the like), might be followed with mains such as pan-seared ox tongue, duck breast or roasted pork tenderloin. The desserts, from the crispy plum tart to the Valhrona white-chocolate cream, will have you begging for mercy.