Zonfrillo, who moved to Adelaide seven years ago, has one of the country’s most acclaimed restaurants in Orana on Rundle Street. With its focus on native foods, it is a fine-dining game-changer that has influenced other chefs and cooking identities and was the only South Australian restaurant in Gourmet Traveller’s Top 100 2016 Restaurant Guide. Orana – as well as his other eateries, Blackwood and Street ADL – has been pivotal in putting lesser-known and hard-to-find indigenous ingredients on the Australian food map.
Then there is the Italian food truck Nonna Mallozzi, which sells traditional pasta and Paninis from its Peel Street location. While the upstairs fine-dining Orana goes from strength-to-strength, the ground-level space has undergone a few changes. Originally Street ADL was Orana’s casual bar and street food little sister but earlier this year the space was quickly renovated and the bistro Blackwood replaced Street, which was set to move to Henley Beach.
“It’s been five months now and I have to say it is fantastic,” Zonfrillo says of Blackwood, which is a Gourmet Traveller Wine List of the Year nominee. “I wanted to make the change [from Street to Blackwood] for some time, however, when a business is incredibly successful, well-loved and always busy it’s very hard to make that change.
The opportunity to move Street to Henley Beach was perfect, which in turn opened up the opportunity to create Blackwood, an Australian bistro with the spirit and flavours of Orana but at a much more casual and accessible level. “We are still seeking a suitable site for Street after Henley Beach fell through at the 11th hour and are engaged in the permanent site for Nonna Mallozzi in Peel Street,” he says.
“The only other restaurant project on the horizon is a steakhouse to fulfill the lifelong passion I have for meat.” Zonfrillo, who also founded the Orana Foundation – a not-for-profit entity that is committed to “revolutionising Australian food culture, through combining the preservation of Indigenous knowledge and practice with contemporary methods and innovation” – says he is still looking for a suitable site for Street.
“Unfortunately the location we had fell through at the 11th hour so it was super disappointing and financially quite a setback as we now have a full restaurant in storage,” he says. “I’m still looking for a suitable site for Street however the location is super important with a restaurant/bar like that, so [I’m] certainly not making any rushed decisions.”
Blackwood slightly changed the menu when it introduced its winter menu, as the kitchen menu was discarded. “Blackwood has become a casual bistro on Rundle Street. Moving forward we will continue to tweak and improve the menu and room but I’m super happy with where it sits now especially amongst all the newer additions here in the East End.”
Zonfrillo says “changes happen continuously as ingredients change or become unavailable”. “As a bistro we are also price sensitive, so while we only use premium ingredients we are always looking to buy ingredients which allows us to be creative and offers our guests great value.” While indigenous ingredients may not appear to be front and centre at Blackwood when compared to Street or Orana, Zonfrillo says they are there.
“History has shown me with Street that there is still little understanding of what they [native ingredients] are, what they taste like and even what they look like, so sometimes it’s better left as a delicious surprise which some guests want to know more about, sometimes not. The flavour and essence of Blackwood [stems] from Orana, you can even smell that when you walk in, we are cooking with a lot of the same ingredients.”
Some of the intriguing dishes on the menu include the prawn schnitzel, the lamb shoulder, which is slowly cooked over a fire-pit for eight hours, and the braised Longhorn, which is paired with spaetzle (German dumplings). English Longhorn is a particular passion for Zonfrillo, as he helped butcher Richard Gunner reintroduce one of England’s oldest breeds of beef cattle to Australia.
“Longhorn has been a tremendous success – not because of me. I’ve been banging that drum since I came to Australia in the ‘90s. And when I immigrated in 2000, I started working on getting better coverage for the older traditional breeds of beef such as Longhorn, South Devon and Belted Galloway with Vic’s Meat. I’m delighted to say that Richard Gunner has done an amazing job in re-establishing traditional beef in Australia, both from a breeding point of view and also in getting the product out publicly in butcher shops and restaurants. Without his belief, the vision I had for beef that I wanted to use in my restaurants simply wouldn’t have been possible.”
Zonfrillo, who has hosted Discovery Channel’s Nomad Chef as well as Restaurant Revolution for Channel 7, will return to the small screen for a second series of Nomad Chef. “We start filming next year and we are looking at shooting 10 episodes across the Silk Road, so it should be a really interesting series,” he says. “We start filming the second series of Chef Exchange later this year and I believe there are talks of the first series being shown here in Australia on one of the main networks.”
*The writer had a complimentary dinner at Blackwood to taste the winter menu Images: supplied
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