Why Adelaide is truly Australia's foodie capital

Melbourne and Sydney often get attention as Australian food capitals, but if you ask foodies in the know, they’ll tell you Adelaide is Australia’s gastronomic great.

Depending on who you ask, too, South Australia gets top nods for being the nation’s premier wine state. So many restaurants have put a lot of effort in to capitalise on this reputation, pairing cuisine comprised of fresh local produce with award winning wines in a state fast-becoming a globally recognised culinary destination. Add to that the fact that Australia’s best whiskey and some darn good brewers also call SA home, and you have the makings of one heck of a meal.

So read on, as our friends at the South Australian Tourism Commission share the very best restaurants, cafes, bars and cellar doors the state has to offer.

A city circled by 18 world-renowned wine regions; with the hills, ocean and ranges alive in restaurant menus… with its own creative, experimental, ‘you can’t box us in’ identity. Refined, yet playful. Worldly, but local. Inquisitive and traditional. It’s the perfect paradox that fires your curiosity, tastebuds, and sense of adventure; all within the convenient confines of its chessboard layout. The city has played into its strengths: access to incredible regional produce, a year-round festival calendar and supportive, fine diners advocating for the state. Sensational food is an ingrained element of South Australia. But it’s the stories behind these restaurants that really make the state interesting.

Hentley Farm, Barossa

Down at the Barossa’s Hentley Farm, vegetables just harvested from the surrounding fields are scrubbed of their dirt ready to feature in one of head chef Lachlan Colwill’s creations. His fine-dining menu is carefully crafted based on what is flourishing and growing abundantly in the restaurant’s surrounding 150 acres. Foraged wild ingredients complement fruit, vegetables and herbs grown in sprawling garden beds and overflowing orchards in a homage to the ways of eating yesteryear; seasonal and fresh.

That same love for fresh, local produce is evident at the Adelaide Botanic Gardens Restaurant, where you’ll find acclaimed chef Paul Baker harvesting vegetables and herbs from the surrounding 51-hectare kitchen garden. Plucked straight from the garden and onto the plate, the multi-award-winning restaurant complements this bounty with ethically farmed, local produce. That theme carries through to the drink selection, too. The restaurant’s own Botanic Blonde beer and vermouth are crafted with ingredients direct from the garden, and the same can be said for the botanically inspired cocktails. It’s garden to plate dining at its most simplistic, and sophisticated, nestled among lush, botanical garden setting you’d hardly believe was the centre of the city.

Read more: Eight days in Adelaide and Kangaroo Island, South Australia

Adelaide’s city streets are literally teeming with award-winning restaurants dishing up unique, mouth-watering flavours. Pull up a seat in a chic North African diner in the middle of Adelaide where Johannesburg-born chef Duncan Welgemoed dishes up a bold taste of Africa from chicken skin sandwiches, to woodfired cauliflower and fermented flatbreads at Africola. A fiery authentic yakitori fest? Reserve a table at Leigh Street institution Shobosho where smoky flavours are complemented with raw, cured, pickled and fermented dishes and are best served with a side of sashimi, noodles, yakitori, dumplings and bao. Even the humble pizza is elevated in Adelaide. At Madre, sea water imported from the Mediterranean, Tipo 00 flour sourced straight from Italy and a little bit of science are the secrets behind Adelaide’s best traditional Napoli-style pizza. And speaking of Italian, you won’t find better pasta than that rolled at Nido by Masterchef’s Laura Sharrad.

D’Arenberg Cube, McLaren Vale

And just a stone’s throw from the city? At McLaren Vale’s Maxwell Wines, mushrooms grown beneath the earth in a 100-year-old limestone cave are served in the fine-dining restaurant above. Meanwhile down the road at d’Arenberg Wines, lunch time degustations at d’Arry’s Verandah are paired best with a post-lunch tour through a giant Rubik’s cube filled with wine and art. The Limestone Coast’s gentle rolling hills and lush green pastures produce unparalleled-quality, award-winning Wagyu beef at Mayura Station. And in the Adelaide Hills, you’ll need a mailed invitation to dine at Villetta Porcini, a European-style stone hut tucked in a lush valley. Here, renowned pasta chef Andre Ursini serves up a foraged, seasonal menu inspired by the surrounding gardens, vegie patches, beehives, and wild porcini mushrooms.

Coffin Bay, Eyre Peninsula

On the Eyre Peninsula, seafood lovers wade waist-deep into the pristine waters of Coffin Bay to slurp what are arguably the world’s best oysters straight from the source at Coffin Bay Oyster Farm. In the Adelaide Hills, Woodside Cheese Wrights’ head cheese maker Kris Lloyd waits until spring, when goats milk is at sweetest, to create her multi-award-winning Vigneron; a creamy, earthy goats cheese wrapped in vine leaves and washed in wine sourced from McLaren Vale’s Coriole Vineyards. While the pristine island wilderness of Kangaroo Island produces the purest form of Ligurian honey in the world, brought to the island by European beekeepers in 1881 in a move that inadvertently saved this northern Italy bee species. In the Fleurieu Peninsula’s Coorong National Park, locals sift through golden sand at low tide in search of pipis that will end up in the kitchens of some of the best restaurants around the world but are best enjoyed on the banks of the Coorong at Goolwa Pipi Co’s Kuri Shack. It’s this passion for locally sourced food that really sets South Australia apart and draws crowds of hungry foodies.

Island Beehive, Kangaroo Island

Good food starts with good produce, and South Australia has been blessed with nature’s bounty. The Mediterranean climate, with warm, dry summers and mild winters creates a veritable garden of Eden for food production, and the regional produce is sought the world over. The Riverland abounds with groves of citrus, stone fruits and nuts, while apples and berries flourish on the verdant valleys of the Adelaide Hills. Patchworks of vegetable fields stretch across the plains and unique, native produce can be found in pockets of the ancient Flinders Ranges and Outback. Fertile, rich soils are to thank for South Australia’s incredible dairy production and the pristine waters offer up some of the best seafood in the world.

The city’s 30 per cent, foreign-born and blended population has fed into Adelaide’s culinary identity, too. A walk through the Adelaide Central Market is a gastronomic gateway to the globe. At Lucia’s Fine Food, jars of tomato sauce are stacked next to continental breads and small goods, as pizza and pasta are pumped out the kitchen to hungry diners. Across the market, Mona and Mohammed’s sweets at The Turkish Delight offer an authentic taste of the Mediterranean while the unique flavours of Algeria await at Le Souk. Countless Asian eateries dish up everything from Chinese, to Indian, Malaysian, Cambodian and Vietnamese. A culinary connection to homelands left behind, now irrevocably interwoven into South Australia’s rich food story.

Read more: Adelaide features on NY Times list

And the wine? We’re not exaggerating when we say South Australia produces the best wine in the world. It’s official, and you’ll find the proof at the Barossa’s Kellermeister Wines. Although South Australia’s wines are steeped in history, they are not afraid to do things differently. Aged in French-oak barrels buried deep in the McLaren Vale earth beneath the vines where the grapes for the wine were handpicked, Gemtree Wines’ SubTerra single-vineyard shiraz is the world’s only wine aged in the ground. It’s this thirst to push the boundaries that sets SA’s wines apart. With vines stretching across the state like festoon lighting from the sea in McLaren Vale, to the cool-climate varietals grown on the rolling valleys of the Adelaide Hills, further north to the world-renowned reds of the Barossa and famous Rieslings of Clare Valley, and to the bold reds born from the rich terra-rossa soils of the Coonawarra, you’ll always have a decent drop to wash down any meal in South Australia. Better still, nearly all these wine regions are just minutes from the city. Where else can claim that?

Kangaroo Island Spirits

Wine’s not South Australia’s only specialty beverage, though. With an ever-growing craft-brewing movement, the beer has earned its fair share of accolades and you don’t have to stumble far to find a unique, local brew. Like Port Adelaide’s Pirate Life Brewing where monthly experiments will have you sipping beers subtly flavoured with unlikely ingredients like strawberry Berliner, whiskey, red wine, passionfruit and acai, or the Fleurieu Peninsula’s Swell Brewing, where chocolate milk stout is poured among rolling vineyards. You don’t have to search too hard for a gin distillery either, with inventive blends created using native ingredients and local produce drawing the gin-drinking world’s attention. At Kangaroo Island Spirits, native coastal daisy imparts sweet, piney notes to their O Gin. Perhaps one of the reasons it was named the 2019 best contemporary gin at the International Wine and Spirits competition in London. Adelaide is also officially home to Australia’s best whiskey and the country’s best cider. Yep, Adelaide is a heavy hitter in the alcohol arena, and it’s all put to good use down the boozy laneways, where streets lined with quirky, speakeasy bars run through the city like a lifeblood for thirsty revellers.

Read more: Where to eat, drink and play on Kangaroo Island

The UK’s Sunday Times rated Adelaide alongside cities of gastronomy such as Lyons, Copenhagen and San Sebastian, but the truth is Adelaide’s foodie culture is undefinable. It’s the sum of its parts, influenced by a love of fresh, local produce, an insatiable pioneering hunger to be different and a determination to be better. There’s no place, or plate, quite like it.

Edited from an article originally published as Adelaide: A foodie city and republished here with permission from South Australian Tourism Commission.

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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