Current Issue #478

Restaurant Review:
Sparkke at the Whitmore

Sparkke at the Whitmore
Sia Duff
Sparkke at the Whitmore

Chef Emma McCaskill takes pub food to new and delicious places at historic south-west hotel turned micro-brewer Sparkke at the Whitmore.

There was a time when the buzzword ‘inclusive’ could never be used to describe Aussie pubs. Pubs were historically male-dominated spaces (women weren’t even allowed to drink in front bars until the late 60s). Beer was a masculine drink, too, predominantly made and consumed by blokes.

How times have changed. The Whitmore Hotel, one-time strip joint and gambling den, has been transformed into a fun, family-friendly, female-led brewpub and, yes, it has a very inclusive vibe.

The hotel, which has had many personalities since it was originally built in 1839, has never looked better since Sparkke Change Beverage Company moved in.

Sparkke, for the uninitiated, is a female-driven drinks brand with a social conscience. Its craft beers, which raise awareness and funds for social issues, are made in an on-site microbrewery run by Agi Gajic.

Sparkke at the Whitmore
Sia Duff
Sia Duff

This large-scale corner venue, complete with bars, restaurant, rooftop garden and brewery, underwent a $1.8 million renovation by Troppo Architects, who preserved some classic heritage pub features while also bringing new life to this long-neglected building.

While many pub renovations look very same-same, the Whitmore feels fresh, funky and modern while still retaining its character and soul.

A good brewpub needs great food and this is where celebrated chef Emma McCaskill adds spark. McCaskill brings loads of experience to this role having cooked at top-flight restaurants in Tokyo, London, Sydney, Melbourne and locally at Magill Estate Restaurant, The Pot By Emma McCaskill and the Botanic Gardens Restaurant.

She may have moved away from her fine-dining background but this doesn’t mean a dumbed-down food experience.

This is above-average gastropub fare (but not at above-average prices) with a focus on vibrant, bold flavours and many dishes drawing on Emma’s Indian heritage. The menu is divided into ‘good to start’ ($5–$15), ‘smalls or sides’ ($9–$16) and ‘larger plates’ ($18–$42). It works best when dishes are shared and, trust me, shared plates here do not equate to small portions.

We loved the golden, grilled, flaky roti folded and served with a big dollop of dahl butter, a smooth, whipped lentil paste sprinkled with black nigella seeds. It’s easy to see why it already has a cult following.

Emma McCaskill at Sparkke at the Whitmore
Sia Duff
Emma McCaskill at Sparkke at the Whitmore

A second starter of smoked hiramasa kingfish looks deceptively simple but wows the palate. The sweet, clean, silky kingfish smoked over native gum has a dressing you could slurp by the spoonful. It’s made with turmeric, which adds a sunny colour and background earthiness. Fingerlime delivers an intense citrus hit with black salt flecks and crispy curry leaves to finish.

It seems criminal to not drink a beer in a brewery so I tasted one of Sparkke’s own brews – Better Off Red – a hoppy, rich, fruity red ale. Later, we selected a food-friendly favourite, a Ministry of Clouds tempranillo grenache, from a smart and concise wine list.

McCaskill’s larger dishes are a celebration of SA produce from Spencer Gulf prawns to Najobe grass-fed beef from Strathalbyn and Boston Bay pork shoulder from the Eyre Pensinsula.

Simon Bryant’s Dirt(y) Inc lentils (the royal baby blue variety) played centre stage in a sweet, savoury, gently-spiced vegan curry of shredded beetroot, white beet and coconut cream with aromatic fresh herbs and crunchy pappadams. Great depth of flavour, no meat required.

Sparkke at the Whitmore
Sia Duff
Sparkke at the Whitmore
Sia Duff

Large, grilled Spencer Gulf prawns – 250 grams of the fleshy beauties – with their own rich, savoury flavour were coated in a spiced brinjal (eggplant) masala and topped with fresh shaved fennel and fragrant herbs. Eggplant and prawn is a classic Anglo-Indian combo.

We also shared cauliflower, the vegetable of the moment, served whole and nicely caramelised on a base of hummus and scattered with crunchy roasted almonds and tart pickled grapes. No one ever needs to say “eat your vegetables” when they taste like this.

The dessert menu is short and sweet and includes a lush molten chocolate cake which oozes with Callebaut’s premium bittersweet dark chocolate. Sparkke’s Hello Dark Stout My Old Friend would make a fine companion.

The Feed Me option ($52 per head) is a great idea if you don’t feel like making decisions; it includes three very generous share-style courses.

A shoutout goes to the all-female front-of-house team for their personable, warm and switched-on service style. We appreciated the complete absence of a too-cool-for-school attitude.

Sparkke at the Whitmore
17 Morphett St, Adelaide
08 7123 0808
sparkke.com/the-whitmore

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