Paul Wood reviews Orana and discovers Jock Zonfrillo’s restaurant is worth the hype and then some.
“After a week in Sydney, a week in North Queensland and a weekend in Melbourne, I’m going to finish my holiday with a couple of days in Adelaide. I’ve heard it’s pretty quiet there?” I realised I’d just been charged with a mission after hanging up the phone. If it takes changing the misconceptions of a visiting Brit one at a time, then so be it. Until recently some of our overseas cousins hadn’t even heard of our city – despite the fact Adelaide is named after one of their queens – but as our food and wine renaissance continues, so grows our invigorated resolve.
With no time to get away, activities needed to remain local and at the top of my list was Jock Zonfrillo’s Orana – the restaurant the Scottish ex-pat launched last year after a few years at the helm of Magill Estate.
We stopped downstairs for a quick aperitif at the Street ADL bar. Before our guest could finish the phrase, “I went to a bar like this in…” we whisked him out, via the darkened side alleyway and up the vine entangled staircase, opening the lit doorway into the minimalist vestibule of Orana.
Here is where I will draw some similarity to places I’ve dined before, but those places were 10,000 miles away on the banks of Stockholm’s islets. Sparsely decorated with arbitrary Scandinavian furniture and a row of bespoke wine-filled fridges along one wall, the style here is radical for Adelaide and certainly something new for Australia.
The word Orana translates to ‘welcome’ and is exactly how you will feel from the moment you enter until the moment you walk out. The service is exquisite. The staff are professionals who make it their life to make the dining experience more than just about the food (which is superb, incidentally). This is dinner and a show, without the smoke and mirrors.
In a subtle flurry, dishes began arriving soon after we took our seats. The first round of ‘tastes’ included a crisp saltbush, kutjera and sour cream bite. Crunchy, woody, smooth and tangy at the same time – Orana’s contemporary take on the salt and vinegar crisp – it was served alongside a beef tendon with macadamia and quandong (more familiar names, but a newly discovered combination of flavours).
Next came the goat’s cheese with a quarter of beetroot, smoked for 12 hours over a fire pit. For such a small and unassuming dish, this one packed a punch with pronounced flavour and a smoky sweetness that had taste buds around the table tingling. Then, tiny carved toothpicks with skewered slivers of dry-age South Devon beef, mountain pepper and lilly pilly, and a smoked Goolwa cockle.
The ‘Alkoopina’ tastes went on – 19 different morsels bursting with flavour, and all this before the main event. The last of these piquant delights came disguised as a palate-cleansing sorbet, a guessing game of sorts – but you’ll need to test this one yourself, the tactics of war and all that gaff. And now for the heroes: another nine to be precise.
Peas, by reputation, are generally plate fillers; buttered or minted, or pureed at best, but here they stand tall and wild upon a pile of muntries, wild plum and cinnamon myrtle. Too good to stop scooping from this perfect little dish, matched impeccably with an Italian Tiberio Pecorino – that’s a wine, not a cheese, just so we’re sure. It was around about now that our traveller friend came up for air and exclaimed an excited “Oh” as the next main was laid out on the table. It was his first taste of kangaroo since landing in the country and once devoured I warned him he’d never try better. With a thick buttery sauce of mountain pepper with balanced spice and a slightly sweet undertone, scattered with the leaves of an ox eye daisy.
The succulent flesh of Kangaroo Island marron came next. Similar to yabbies, but three times the size, these small-clawed creatures are not as well known (or eaten) as they should be. The chef made the best use of the tail, limiting additions to finger lime and aniseed myrtle to give a slight hint of sapid tang to complement the mildly sweet taste. Karkalla might be familiar to those who’ve spent time along the coastline, generally seen as a succulent weed but who knew it could taste so, well, succulent? Topping a fillet of black face Suffolk lamb, with fermented ruby saltbush berries and a bite-sized side of haggis, this is certainly a lamb dish, but not as you know it.
With three ‘sweeter’ dishes to go, our march continued. Through fields of young riberry leaves with unpasteurised goat’s cheese, and a sensually satisfying native currant with coconut cream, defeated only by the set buttermilk with strawberry and eucalyptus – each dessert washed down with their very own liquid complements. They only do degustation dinners at Orana, and that’s all they need. With only 24 seats, intimacy is not a problem and the seamless service will make you feel like you’re the only guests in the room. Well, the only ones who matter, at least. Despite a reasonably hefty price tag, Orana doesn’t cut corners and they don’t want anyone to miss out. You’ll sit through at least 20 different tastes and dishes and you will almost certainly love it, especially when you let their chief drinks-guy (Josh Picken) match the wine. And so we will soldier on with this culinary public relations challenge to reignite Adelaide as the go-to destination one re-initiated Brit at a time, with the help of a local Scotsman at the helm, no less.
285 Rundle Street 8232 3444
Photos: Jonathan van der Knaap