P6 T7743

Where to stay

The Louise A handsome line of 15 guest suites set amid sprawling Barossa vineyards, adjacent to Appellation restaurant. Doubles from £160 per night. Seppeltsfield Road, Marananga, Barossa, 00 61 8 8562 2722, thelouise.com.au (See also Where to Eat)

Jacob’s Creek Retreat at Moorooroo Park Extravagant garden setting, with four suites in restored stone farmhouse cottages, given a modern twist. Doubles from £200 per night, with degustation dinners available. Nitschke Road, Tanunda, Barossa, 00 61 8 8563 1123, moorooroopark.com.au

Southern Ocean Lodge Elite luxury lodge, secluded from all other habitation, with five grades of suites overlooking the Southern Ocean, a spectacular lounge and plunge-pool deck, and sumptuous spa facility. All meals, drinks and in-room treats are included in the tariff. From £2,260 per couple for a two-night minimum stay. Hanson Bay, Kangaroo Island, 00 61 8 8559 7347, southernoceanlodge.com.au

The Australasian Discreet private hotel in cleverly renovated historic pub with modern touches. Five guest suites, each decorated differently, with contemporary mod-Oz dining for house guests in a spacious dining room. Doubles from £170 per night. 1 Porter Street, Goolwa, Fleurieu Peninsula, 00 61 8 8555 1088, australasian1858.com

Travel Information

Currency is the Australian dollar. South Australia is 9.5 hours ahead of GMT (10.5 hours during Central Australia Daylight Saving Time, from October to March). It has a temperate, Mediterranean climate with mild winters and dry, hot summers. Temperatures during summer (December to March) range from 29-40°C, while winter (June to August) temperatures range from 15-23°C.

GETTING THERE - Qantas (qantas.com.au) flies daily from Heathrow to Sydney, with feeder flights to Adelaide.
Malaysia Airlines (malaysiaairlines.com) flies from London to Adelaide via Kuala Lumpur.

GETTING AROUND - Hertz rental cars (hertz.com.au) can be collected and returned at Adelaide airport, from £30 a day. 24-hour support. GPS units
(recommended) cost £8 a day. Car hire is recommended to cut your own trail through the numerous food and wine districts that ring Adelaide. Fuel costs about £0.75 a litre./Exceptional Kangaroo Island (exceptionalkangarooisland.com) is an excellent local guide company to take you over rough roads to myriad gourmet and scenic destinations in 4WD comfort.

RESOURCES - Tourism Australia (australia.com) is a comprehensive resource to planning your trip to Australia.

South Australia (southaustralia.com) Resources for planning a trip to South Australia.

FURTHER READING - Barossa Food by Angela Heuzenroeder (Wakefield Press). A warm portrait of the Barossa region’s Germanic food heritage, from the 1840s to historic recipes used by contemporary cooks.

Where to eat

Appellation Restaurant Where regional fare meets fine-dining sophistication. £70 for three courses; 10-course tasting menu with wine pairing for £165. The Louise, Seppeltsfield Road, Marananga, Barossa, 00 61 8 8562 2722, thelouise.com.au (See also Where to Stay)

d’Arry’s Verandah Restaurant A surfeit of choice in a clever regional menu, with d’Arenberg wine options. From £40 for three courses. d’Arenberg Winery, Osborn Road, McLaren Vale, 00 61 8 8329 4848, darrysverandah.com.au

Fino Place your trust in chef David Swain to cook what’s fresh and best at this multi-award-winning restaurant. Five-course shared menu for £40 per person. 8 Hill Street, Willunga, 00 61 8 8556 4488, fino.net.au

Fish Flash fish and chips and other local seafood prepared as take-away by a chef who cares. From £8 per portion; from £12 for specials. (Open October-April.) 43 North Terrace, Penneshaw, Kangaroo Island, 00 61 8 8553 7406, 2birds1squid.com

Flying Fish Café Seafood cooked with style, presented beside the sea. From £45 for three courses. 1 The Foreshore, Horseshoe Bay, Port Elliot, Fleurieu Peninsula, 00 61 8 8554 3504, flyingfishcafe.com.au

Food Glossary

Long slender fish with a beak-like jaw, often barbecued or grilled.
King George whiting
Pristine, slender ocean fish, deemed the favourite local catch for its delicate flesh and gentle, sweet flavour.
Lachs schinken
Pork loin eye meat prepared in a traditional German brine recipe and cured in a smokehouse fuelled by redgum timber.
Ligurian Bee honey
Kangaroo Island, a bee sanctuary since 1885, has the world’s last remaining pure strain of Ligurian bees, noted for producing outstanding, rich honey.
Freshwater crayfish, propagated in dams, with sweet, textural white meat.
Unfermented white wine grapes used as a tart-tasting acid substitute in cooking, or as a refreshing summer drink with soda and ice.

Food and Travel Review

Winemaker Graeme ‘Charlie’ Melton takes a deep whiff of his glass, closes his eyes and talks effusively about his new wine sourced from a single Barossa vineyard. ‘It has providence,’ he explains while pouring glasses of Charles Melton Richelieu Grenache for a few travelling English cricket fans visiting his winery cellar door near Tanunda, in the heart of Barossa wine country. It’s an easy 60-minute drive north-east of Adelaide, South Australia’s capital city.

Charlie is excited that this wine captures an essence of place, of Barossa’s rich earth and big skies – and he doesn’t even own the vineyard. Local wine legend Bob McLean planted these special vines as his retirement project. They’re perched atop craggy Mengler Hill, about five miles east of Charlie’s Tanunda winery. No previous Barossans had dared harvest grapes here, at an elevation of 1,600 feet on tough granitic soils, yet now neat rows of carefully tended bush vines flank giant gum trees – probably 500 years old and resolute survivors of several bushfires. Eschewing current fashion to plant vines in such a traditional way, Bob’s labours have enabled Charlie’s new wine to make a very specific statement about South Australian quality.

With expansive vines and farms established soon after English settlement in 1836, rural life across South Australia’s vast hinterland – stretching more than 1,500sqm from the western Eyre Peninsula, running east across the state to the big Murray River, and south from the Flinders Ranges through the Clare Valley, the Barossa, Adelaide Hills, McLaren Vale and Fleurieu Peninsula to the southernmost Limestone Coast – remained fixed for generations on broadacre crops and colossal export volume. More than half of Australia’s wine is produced in seven South Australian regions; 5.4 million tons of wheat and barley are cropped annually. Changing seasons bear the colours of the produce: flaxen grains dominate in December and January’s summer sunshine, ruddy autumnal vine leaves after vintage in late April, and verdant green pastures through August’s winter rains. Traditionally, these places have been geared for primary industry, not tourism. Small towns are scattered, the lands largely flat, with farm fields and vines stretching as far as the eye can see.

However, a fraternity of artisan producers has emerged and prospered in the past decade, focusing on small and specific crops, and their delicacies are becoming a star attraction within South Australia’s grand gourmet picture. When travellers traverse the regions stretching across a 60-mile radius from Adelaide, they now experience a luxurious continuous picnic, served directly from farms to the fork and glass.

Small producers complement each other rather than compete, ensuring strong connections from the farmer to the maker, to the chef, to the taster. Different regional personalities are evident in areas only 25 miles apart. For example, a 150-year-old recipe sourced from the Barossa’s German pioneers is responsible for the outstanding lachs schinken cured by butcher Graham Linke in Nuriootpa, Barossa. In the Adelaide Hills township of Hahndorf, 15 miles east of Adelaide and a picturesque 30-minute drive south from the Barossa through rolling farms, orchards and forests, Udder Delights cheese cellar presents sharp-tasting goat’s curd from a herd raised on lush pastures at the neighbouring hamlet of Lobethal. Another 40-minute drive further south, a bold South Aussie take on bouillabaisse by chef Leigh Irish – bursting with whole blue swimmer crabs, giant prawns and scallops – is served overlooking the Southern Ocean at Flying Fish Café in Port Elliot on the Fleurieu Peninsula.

Regional identity is being amplified loudest at farmers’ markets held each weekend in small towns throughout the regions. Francesco Virgara sells his fresh vegetables at Victor Harbor Farmers’ Market in the southern Fleurieu Peninsula as fast as he can unpack them from his truck. An expectant mob of locals and seaside holidaymakers gathers in the Grosvenor Gardens public park for the al fresco market’s 8am start, urging the 30 stallholders to start selling so they can snare the best of the fresh bounty. ‘Picked yesterday. In your hands today,’ announces Francesco with a beaming smile as a long line of customers start grabbing bunches of his carrots, beetroot and cavolo nero. Francesco arrived from Calabria only seven years ago and started growing a diverse plot of vegetables at McLaren Vale. Many are rare heirloom varieties, some requested by local chefs and regular market customers. ‘We don’t have to be the same as everyone else. Here, we can be special instead.’

Wesley Hart participated in the inaugural Willunga Farmer’s Market in 2002, when two dozen local producers gathered in a gravel car park beside Willunga’s Alma Hotel, about 30 minutes’ drive south of Adelaide, in the Fleurieu Peninsula’s northern plains. Not quite knowing what to expect, Wesley arrived with the two types of potatoes he grew – white spuds, and the unfashionable reds, for which wholesalers would only pay five cents for a pound. Market customers snapped them up at four times this price and encouraged Wesley to provide more varieties. He now produces 21 types, from purple congo to bintje. ‘Every one is popular. They all sell at a premium price,’ he says. ‘Every last one of them.’

Such commercial possibilities inspired Paul Polacco to obtain a diver’s license in early 2010 and harvest scallops and sea urchins by hand in the pristine waters off Kangaroo Island. His partner Lucy Jones sells them at the weekly markets, educating and enticing customers by barbecuing scallops in the shell for sample tastings. ‘People are surprised to see these for sale here because they’re used to only seeing shellfish sold in shops,’ she says, ‘but I think it’s worth us persevering.’ She has good reason to be confident; Willunga Farmers’ Market, which now stretches along the cobblestone town square, attracts an estimated 3,500 shoppers each week. The 60 stallholders from across the Fleurieu Peninsula sell everything from biodynamic beef, venison, lamb and goat, to almonds, stone fruits, olives, blended cereals and fresh bread from wood-fired ovens.

The explosion of interest in artisan producers driven by farmers’ markets in South Australia has been swift and dramatic, giving farmers new confidence to diversify their output – which is celebrated with enthusiasm by David Swain, chef and co-owner of Fino at Willunga. With front-of-house manager Sharon Romeo, David created this restaurant five years ago: a modest stone cottage in the town’s main street, with whitewashed walls and a casual provincial air, putting a localised spin on rustic French and Mediterranean cuisine. Going rural was then perceived as a backwards step for an ambitious chef, though Fino now rates as one of South Australia’s Top 5 Restaurants. ‘I’d argue that the majority of South Australia’s best chefs are now in regional areas,’ says David.

They took a gamble with Fino by not offering diners a menu and encouraging them to trust David’s recommendations, based on fresh produce brought to his kitchen door by local producers. ‘Some diners initially felt threatened, but we persisted,’ Sharon explains. ‘There’s a story attached to our food and we’re proud to tell it.’ Their confidence and poise is evident in such delicious simple dishes as whole pan-fried garfish served with fennel, asparagus and chervil. ‘I put the best of this region on a plate with minimal intervention,’ David explains.

Other celebrated regional food identities built their success through similar hard graft. Maggie Beer, beloved for her best-selling food books and long-running national TV series The Cook and The Chef, started a Barossa farm restaurant in 1978 to promote the pheasants being farmed by her husband Colin. In a simple wooden cabin on farmland outside Nuriootpa in the northern reaches of the Barossa, Maggie wowed diners with her flavoursome provincial and traditional Barossan dishes. It seduced city visitors with its rustic charm and became Australia’s Restaurant of the Year in 1991, though it closed two years later as Maggie diverted her energy to commercial food production. ‘When we made the leap from kitchen cooks to commercial food producers, we were out in a field of our own. It was absolutely crazy but we believed in what we were doing, never sacrificed quality, and it has worked.’

Her most famous farmhouse recipes – pheasant pâté, quince paste and verjuice – are the core output of the Maggie Beer food brand that employs 70 people and sends more than 20 products across four continents. As a niche specialist, she’s the world’s largest producer of verjuice, which is the focus of daily cooking demonstrations at her farm shop outside Nuriootpa. In the kitchen that was previously a production set for Maggie’s television show, customers watch Maggie’s assistants show off the versatility of verjuice as a marinade for poultry, a dressing for salads and roasted vegetables, and for deglazing pans to build a rich sauce. The shop also serves picnic hamper lunches, enjoyed on decks overlooking a dam, with peacocks carelessly roaming the property.

Maggie’s triumphs have inspired other rural artisans to commence commercial food production, and instilled a deep sense of regionality in the cooking of Mark McNamara, executive chef at Appellation, a fine-dining restaurant attached to The Louise vineyard retreat. ‘Barossa food culture evolves but remains attached to food ways of 150 years ago,’ he says. Mark recognises this with Appellation’s kitchen garden, where produce picked in the afternoon becomes the star of meals that evening. Drawing inspiration from classic provincial cooking, Mark’s medley of fresh artichokes, broad beans and asparagus becomes the perfect foil for seared local lamb.

The strength of this restaurant’s exemplary cuisine and 500-bottle wine list is drawing diners to the Barossa, who then choose to stay in The Louise’s plush accommodation. Indeed, escalating regional dining culture has spawned an impressive collection of boutique lodgings, from the Barossa through the Adelaide Hills to the southern Fleurieu Peninsula, each distinctive for their particular twist on luxury and charming quirks of personality.

This even extends to the rugged frontier of Kangaroo Island, an unspoiled and sparsely populated landmass covering 1,700 square miles, located 100 miles south-west of Adelaide. Accessed by either a 30-minute ferry ride from Cape Jervis at the southern tip of the Fleurieu Peninsula, or a 30-minute plane flight from Adelaide, Kangaroo Island has become the domain of gourmet explorers, visiting farmers that battle harsh temperature extremes and strong winds whipping off the untamed Southern Ocean.

Among the raw natural environment, dominated by ancient geographical forms, a taste of extravagance can be enjoyed at Southern Ocean Lodge. South Australian architect Max Pritchard has created a grand contemporary pavilion that hugs a high limestone ridge atop remote Hanson Bay, with a sweep of 21 guest rooms all offering majestic views of the surging ocean. In celebrating the landscape and its wild beauty, executive chef Jed Archdeacon produces eclectic seasonal menus that put the freshness of his neighbour’s wares on a pedestal, many being idiosyncratic to the region. Plump marron are plucked from local farm dams, greenlip abalone farmed in giant tanks within climate-controlled sheds, extra virgin olive oil is harvested from wild trees, native bush spices propagated on small commercial plantations and samphire harvested from swampy sheep pastures.

Such diversity of gourmet foods on Kangaroo Island is a revelation, as production innovation was born from desperation. When sheep prices crashed in the early 1990s, many farmers launched bold new ventures to prevent their farms being repossessed. Sheep milk dairies emerged, more honey from Ligurian bees was produced, free-range chickens and laying hens took over the paddocks.

Those who stuck with sheep became specialists, creating brands to highlight the special flavour and texture of their lamb rather than sell to the bulk market. Andy and Kate Gilfillan have become both farmers and retailers, selling boxes of mixed lamb cuts online to customers across South Australia. They run 6,500 sheep on magnificent pastures overlooking Antechamber Bay, and the 800 lambs they process each season as South Rock Lamb attract a premium price. ‘It’s not just about our farm,’ says Andy. ‘South Rock is a brand that people identify with Kangaroo Island quality.’

Local freshness and flavour translates to even the simplest food experiences. Tour guide Craig Wickham of Exceptional Kangaroo Island loves preparing al fresco lunches of King George whiting and pan-fried local halloumi for guests at his secret canopied picnic site concealed in scrub near Parndana in the centre of the island. It’s also evident at a small take-away fish shop run by Sue Pearson from England. Sue left her job as chef at The Ivy in London 10 years ago to travel the world and carve out a different life – which she did on Kangaroo Island. What started as her catering company Two Birds and a Squid soon grew to include Fish, her tiny shop on the esplanade at Penneshaw. Daily specials can include scallops in lime, ginger, chilli, Vietnamese mint and butter, served in elegant ceramic spoons and sublime to the taste, their salty freshness offset by the piquant sauce.

Some places connect all South Australia’s best sensory assets under one roof. In McLaren Vale, d’Arry’s Verandah Restaurant slots beside d’Arenberg winery cellar door, with a withering view that cascades over vineyards to the Mt Lofty Ranges. From a kitchen garden beside the dining patio, chef Nigel Rich pulls heirloom purple carrots that will feature in a vibrant lunch salad, served with suggested d’Arenberg wines. There’s a formidable range to choose from, with 38 styles mirroring the flamboyant personality of winery owner d’Arry Osborn and his winemaker son Chester. There’s big, generous flavour to be savoured in The Hermit Crab (a marsanne/viognier blend), d’Arry’s Original (a grenache/shiraz blend) and The Dead Arm Shiraz. Working in close harmony with these wines, the restaurant menu created by Nigel and co-chef Peter Reschke erupts with regional creativity, some inspiration for dishes triggered by these chefs’ leisure pursuits of fishing, sausage making, winemaking and growing rare food plants. ‘If I wasn’t doing everything I could in a fantastic place like this, I’d be missing opportunities,’ says Nigel with a wide grin, ‘and that would be madness.’

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