Current Issue #488

Hook, line and sinker at Port Lincoln's Line & Label

Hook, line and sinker at Port Lincoln's Line & Label

Australia’s newest fine-dining sensation is breaking records with their stellar cuisine, but it’s the secret gardens and community spirit that make this Port Lincoln venue shine.

“Pretty much all the fruit and veg — and herbs! — on the menu are grown here. You can go and have a look at the garden if you like?”

I’m perched behind a wine barrel on the deck at Peter Teakle Wines’ new restaurant: the Line & Label. It’s a comfortable perch with an incredible view. The evening light is draping everything in gold — from the grapevines and lavender growing in the west to Boston Bay glittering in the east.

We’re more than a short drive from the Adelaide CBD — the Line & Label is situated on a hilltop above Port Lincoln on the Eyre Peninsula. A location like this can be a curse: the cost of running a restaurant in a regional centre can be enormous, due to the distance food has to travel before it gets to your plate. The Line & Label were wise to this, hence the garden mentioned now by the waitress.

Squid ink Gazander oysters

Never one to turn down a chance to stick my beak into a vegie patch, I place my order (ocean jacket with carrots, sumac and quandong — I’m gently warned that the fish is served ‘whole head’ style, with teeth) and go for a wander.

It’s the height of summer — the week in January 2018 that saw the temperature climb to 47 degrees in Sydney — and the gardener is lovingly checking over lettuces in one of the vegie patches. Later, Line & Label’s general manager, Diana Williams, tells me that they grow around 90 per cent of the produce listed on their menu. At a glance, you can see capsicums and tomatoes, chillies and wasabi, edible flowers and pale, ripening strawberries. Down in the orchards there are nectarines, quinces, apples, pears, peaches and citrus.

Vanilla and strawberry pannacotta

Whatever can’t be grown on site, the Line & Label sources locally. One surprising local producer is the Port Lincoln Prison. While serving their sentences, inmates are able to study for a horticultural certificate. The practical component of the course includes planning, planting, managing and harvesting fresh produce. Local businesses such as the Line & Label can contact the program and place orders, for example, of certain quantities of onions, which means the goods produced for the certificate can be put to good use.

The restaurant also maintains close relationships with local fishers, which allows their menu to be flexible and responsive to whatever’s out in the water that day. Williams explains: “If one of our fishermen ring up and say, ‘We went out looking for tuna, but we’ve come back in with six octopus and 15 nannygai’, our producer’s licence gives us the opportunity to put that straight on our menu.”

Port Lincoln nannygai at Line & Label

One of the secondhand bonuses of this homegrown approach is that prices stay down. A meal here — keeping in mind this is a restaurant that set an Australian record by winning a Good Food Guide chef’s hat within its first two months of trade — costs no more than an Adelaide pub dinner.

I’m nose-to-nose with a chilli when the waitress appears at my side. “Sorry,” she says, “it’s just that your dinner is ready.”

We return to the wine barrel, where the dishes are laid out. The ocean jackets do have their gnashers bared, but as long as I don’t attempt to swallow the things whole, the teeth won’t be a problem. Among the ginger and crisp shallot, I spy a slice of fresh chilli — a sibling, most likely, of the one I’d been eyeballing moments before.

The sun has begun to set in earnest, casting the grounds in soft pink light.


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