State of Dining: ‘The ones that succeed, succeed spectacularly’

South Australia’s restaurants and food identities emerged from the national food award season with a swag of gongs, including Australia’s Restaurant of the Year, but recent closures and concerns over the East End hinted at problems with the state of the local restaurant scene.

The ever-expanding national gastronomic award season was a successful one for South Australia. Jock Zonfrillo’s Orana is Gourmet Traveller’s Restaurant of the Year, while Zonfrillo was named the country’s Hottest Chef by The Australian and Africola the Hottest Venue by the same publication. Africola’s restaurant manager Nikki Friedli won the Citi Service Excellence Award by the now national Good Food Awards. The Summertown Aristologist took home the Good Food Awards’ Best Regional Wine List and the Orana Foundation won The Food for Good Award, and 13 restaurants achieved Hat status with three of them (Orana, Hentley Farm and Magill Estate) earning Two Hats.

This reinforced what most of us have long known; that something special has been fermenting for the last five years or so in Adelaide thanks to innovative restaurants and food identities taking a risk to create unique dining experiences. But before the awards season, one such innovative restaurant, The Henry Austin, closed its doors, which resulted in some media noise about the sustainability of Adelaide’s restaurant scene with a few whacks aimed at the effect of delivery services such as UberEATS and Deliveroo, which have become ubiquitous over the last two years. This concern was exacerbated with problems surrounding the East End with the closure of the Old Royal Adelaide Hospital and continuous works in the park lands.

Zonfrillo says his businesses haven’t been affected by the Royal Adelaide hospital moving to the West End.

“We’re a restaurant, not a café, so I suppose it’s different,” he says.

Zonfrillo does admit the East End is in a bit of a lull but a cluster of great food and wine businesses in the East End is strengthening that end of town. The chef would love to see more innovative restaurants, bars and cafes in the area. The hub of venues surrounding the eastern side of Rundle Street, where Orana and Bistro Blackwood reside, include Africola, Mother Vine, East End Cellars, NOLA, Hey Jupiter, Golden Boy and East End Providore.

“There’s a fair few now, I don’t think it’s completely revived yet, though,” Zonfrillo says. “It’s on the way. There are no two ways about it: the East End is not what it used to be.”

state-dining-orana-adelaide-review-jock-zonfrillo
Jock Zonfrillo’s Orana has received many plaudits in 2017, including Gourmet Traveller’s Restaurant of the Year

For many years, Rundle Street was the glamorous home of cafes, bars and restaurants. The Leigh and Peel Street district is now the home for these places. However, Africola’s Nikki Friedli believes that if a place is doing “something well and is unique” then people will come.

“The little cafes along Ebenezer and all the places tucked away off Rundle Street itself are doing really well,” Friedli says. “I think being on Rundle Street is a different issue. There are a lot of old and tired places along Rundle Street that need a little bit of revitalisation and love. As far as the smaller places go, there is a bit of a subculture happening away from the main drag and that subculture seems to be working fairly well.”

Frieldi says Rundle Street’s “main drag needs to catch up to what’s happening on the side streets”.

Botanic Gardens Restaurant head chef Paul Baker says there is a “level of uncertainty surrounding the redevelopment of the old RAH site”.

“I just hope whatever they do goes a way to activating the site with hotels, restaurants and bars,” Baker says. “It’s such an amazing part of the city, it would be silly to put it to sleep or leave it dormant for too long.”

Despite this, Baker believes Adelaide’s restaurant scene is the “best it has ever been”.

“I can’t think of another city’s dining scene where the diversity, quality and value for money are this good,” he says. “We have a scene that is so much fun to be a part of. It just needs the public’s continued support and loyalty to their favourite restaurants, cafes and bars to remain prosperous.

“Botanic Gardens Restaurant has never been stronger and the Gardens’ cafes and kiosks are still attracting great numbers,” he says. “The new O-Bahn works on Hackney Road have been a little disruptive but I have to take my hat off to our loyal customers who still make the effort to get to the restaurant.”


Paul Baker says there has been disruption around Botanic Gardens Restaurant, but is optimistic about the current state of Adelaide’s dining

When the Henry Austin closed there was hubbub in the media and debate about the future of Adelaide restaurants due to high costs, delivery services, oversupply and the state’s predicted bleak economic future, but Friedli believes the restaurant scene is “travelling pretty well”.

“It’s still bourgeoning and dynamic and I think one restaurant closure, and that heralding the end of the dining scene in Adelaide, might have been a little bit dramatic.

“There’s so much young blood in Adelaide now, there’s not this massive bleed-out of talent anymore. Most people would move their way up, hit a ceiling and realise they would have to move to Sydney or Melbourne and be immersed in their culture. Now, people are realising that Adelaide has all the things they need to develop.”

Friedli believes that app-based delivery services such as UberEATS and Deliveroo are a “natural evolution”.

“We’re living in an age of rapid digital change and progression but I think we’re also in one of the last industries that is fundamentally about human contact and about enjoying a product in person,” she says. “If you think about all the times you get UberEATS, you’re not Uber-eating because you want to hang out with your mates in a lovely setting. You’re probably hungover or it’s a last-minute decision and you can’t be bothered going shopping. You’re just grabbing something cheap and cheerful to sustain you at home.”

For the restaurant scene to be sustainable and innovative, and not drop off like it did after the golden years of the ‘80s and ‘90s, Friedli believes young people need to stay.

“Things like Renew Adelaide are great because they give people a leg-up to something that could be quite inaccessible. Continuing to be progressive, even though I know Adelaide can be a little resistant when it comes to change, but constantly pushing the envelope and focusing on Adelaide as a community. That’s the nice thing about living in a city that not ginormous, there is a real chance of community and base-level development that benefits everyone across the board.”

grilled-kangaroo-loin-grains-rare-treat-adelaide-reviewAfricola maitre’d Nikki Friedli says younger people staying in Adelaide will help drive the city’s innovative boom in dining

To keep moving forward, Zonfrillo says Adelaide’s food scene needs to keep what’s been happening over the last 12 months going.

“Just believe, go ahead and do it,” he says. “If Adelaide continues to listen to Sydney and Melbourne, which is ‘Adelaide is just a big country town, get out of there’ then there would be nothing here. Some of us have chosen to be here. We didn’t listen to those comments and we support Adelaide because we can see the amazing stuff that’s here between the produce, people, geographical location and the rest of it.”

He cites The Summertown Aristologist, Lost in a Forest and Africola as three examples of food business that have done this.

“People are opening things and just giving it a red hot crack,” he says. “Look at Christophe [Zauner] at Hey Jupiter; he’s investing a huge amount of money into a small café. Why? He believes that’s the way it should be. Anybody else would look at that and go, ‘Mate, you’re spending a lot of money on something with very few seats’. He believes in what he’s doing because he’s very experienced. He knows; say if you were in Sydney or Melbourne, you probably wouldn’t think twice about it. It’s more difficult in Adelaide. It takes people with a big set of balls to do a thing in Adelaide. But the ones that succeed, succeed spectacularly.”

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