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Mitlolo Wines cries Little Wolf with revamped cellar door osteria

Little Wolf Osteria
Little Wolf Osteria

The shiny new dining space at Mitolo Wines’ McLaren Vale cellar door has pivoted to a new direction after just two years, but with chef Vincenzo La Montagna at the helm it’s an about face worth celebrating.

The return of chef Vincenzo La Montagna to the role of kitchen boss at Little Wolf in Mitolo Wines’ cellar door complex in McLaren Vale is something Adelaide can celebrate. It’s the first time in five years he has presented his own menu, since closing Vincenzo’s – an outstanding degustation restaurant at Unley – and it marks a striking change for everyone involved in his return.

Firstly, and most significantly, it signals a notable change of heart about the restaurant by its owner Frank Mitolo. This enthusiastic gourmand and wine producer, whose primary business runs Australia’s largest potato and onion farms, opened his grand cellar door complex on McMurtrie Road only two years ago. The impressive modernist architectural statement, constructed from re-purposed shipping containers and plate glass, featured a large dining space called Bocca Di Lupo (meaning “into the wolf’s mouth” in Italian, a phrase that plays on Mitolo’s Abruzzo region heritage).

However, Mitolo made the bold decision to reopen this dining space as Little Wolf after only a five-week transition that started in late September. He felt that the restaurant’s initial vision – with ambitious Queensland chef Tom Jack preparing complex fusion dishes in a rarified fine dining atmosphere – wasn’t the right fit. Mitolo wasn’t comfortable with the restaurant’s austerity and po-faced positioning statement. Instead, he wanted a dining and drinking space that rang with the vitality of Italian family life, and to achieve this he turned to long-time friend La Montagna.

Since closing Vincenzo’s five years ago, La Montagna had worked a series of consulting contracts, at large-scale operations including Pasta Deli, Magill Estate Kitchen and Magill Estate Restaurant. It allowed him to refocus after the toil of single-handedly driving an outstanding multi-course menu from scratch each day at Vincenzo’s. And it gave him necessary perspective to understand Mitolo’s call to shape Little Wolf as an osteria-style eatery – like a wine bar with relaxed but delicious food to match what’s in the glass. For La Montagna, constructing the new menu for Little Wolf provides an opportunity to focus on his cooking strengths – superior salumi cuts, superb handmade pasta and gnocchi,

a light touch with seasonal vegetables, serious grilled meats – without getting overwhelmed by the complexity of preparing high-end degustation dining. The all-consuming effort to achieve such perfection was what ultimately became his undoing at Vincenzo’s. This time, he has vowed to keep things more straightforward, without sacrificing fulsome flavours.

Little Wolf has a menu that allows diners to pick and choose – from small plates that can be assembled in any configuration, to conventional a la carte three-course meals, through to twin feasting options – Da Noi (the “feed me” spread of chef’s choices, for $70 per person), or the more extravagant La Parnarda long lunch (you’ll need about four hours and a big appetite for this long parade of dishes, costing $120 per person) with a minimum booking of six guests.

The array of small plates signals La Montagna’s desire to embrace the heartiness of Italian regional favourites: an impressive light-textured mortazza (mortadella flecked with slowroasted pepper); bresaola made from local wagyu beef; a stretchy, pliable caciocavallo (wood-smoked curd) and a wonderfully fresh sheep’s curd ricotta, best accompanied by a puffed Romanstyle pita (called baciata, as the dough is “kissed” by a pinch of sourdough for its 50-hour ferment).

Change gears through some impressive entrée-style dishes of gnocchetti fritti (irresistible small, fluffy balls of deep-fried gnocchi), pomodorini (combining raw, cured and fire-roasted tomatoes) and the brave cinque stagioni (seasonal raw young vegetables, presented only with salt and vinaigrette).

Pasta dishes represent La Montagna’s great strength, with wonderful chew and bite to al dente spaghettini with blue swimmer crab, herbs and chilli; the subtle comfort of conchiglie topped with lean lamb ragu and grated pecorino; and the robust grunt of paccheri pasta with wild boar and saffron d’Abruzzo.

The imposing meat centrepieces of bistecca fiorentina and lamb tomahawks, both licked by the flames of a blazing assado grill to provide a delicious caramelised crust, are destined to become the big talking points of this restaurant – if only for their dramatic presentation at table. However, they are among many good reasons why La Montagna’s kitchen offerings will spell an effusive new chapter to this McLaren Vale dining destination.

Little Wolf
141 McMurtrie Road
McLaren Vale, South Australia

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David Sly

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