Current Issue #482

Restaurant Review:
The Little Rickshaw

The Little Rickshaw
Sia Duff
The Little Rickshaw

For generations of Adelaideans, the annual pilgrimage down Main South Road to Aldinga for family holidays has been a rite of summer. This cosy recent addition, however, is several cuts above a run to the chip shop.

The route and soundtrack may have changed slightly over the years (I still think the Cinema Paradiso soundtrack is hard to beat), but on arrival it can seem as if little else has. Dining options in Willunga’s slightly daggy cousin are heavy on fish & chips and simple takeaway, and many of the winery restaurants further afield represent a significant step up. Enter The Little Rickshaw. It’s the kind of place that’s small and personable enough to be memorable without being so fancy that it needs a special event to justify a visit.

When I arrive I immediately see why. To call the interior cosy is to indulge in serious understatement. Michael, who works the floor and greets us on arrival, generously suggests that the interior of the former blacksmith’s workshop seats 25. Looking around at the mixture of booths and high tables beneath restored stone walls I can’t help but wonder where they could possibly fit, but I’m assured it’s been done. Fortunately I’m visiting on a beautiful day that heralds the onset of summer; the sky is blue, the sun is warm and a gentle sea breeze drifts over from the beach. More importantly, one of the tables in the back has just become available.

The Little Rickshaw is just a few minutes from the roundabout on Main South Road, but the small courtyard with three tables is the very picture of serenity. So much so that we completely forget to look at the menu as we sit in the dappled shade of a peach tree enjoying the sweet scent of jasmine and the sound of birdsong mingling with the trickle of a water feature. Not that Michael minds. He’s a laid-back presence on the floor, the kind of guy who’s happy to have a bit of a chat and who’ll describe a wine as “smashable”. In the case of the Gargoyle sangiovese, he’s right – it’s made to be drunk in a shady courtyard on a warm spring day. The rest of the wines are equally light, and keeping the selection to a dozen options from smaller local producers makes decisions simple.

The Little Rickshaw
Sia Duff
The Little Rickshaw
Sia Duff

The food menu is just as easy to navigate, with Vietnamese favourite split into small and large share plates. When the salt ‘n’ pepper eggplant arrives, it’s clear why it’s a favourite. Thin strips of eggplant so soft they’re almost liquefied are encased in a cocoon of crunchy golden batter and the contrast in texture is immensely satisfying. The oily vegetable is slightly sweet and there’s a hint of spice to the batter that makes the chips disappear dangerously quickly. Unfortunately both flavours are subtle enough that they’re overpowered by the thick drizzle of creamy black sesame and five spice aioli – next time I’d order it on the side as a dipping sauce.

The plates arrive in quick succession and the prawn dumplings are stuffed almost to bursting point. They’re plump and juicy, filled with large chunks of chopped up crustacean that carry a memory of seawater in the sweet flesh. The minced mushroom potstickers (one of several vegan options) are equally generous, with a strong Japanese influence in the topping of fried enoki mushrooms and accompanying miso and ponzu sauce. Each serving has four of the amply proportioned dumplings and they’re deceptively filling; three small plates and one large one is plenty for two people.

Michael and Trinh Richards of The Little Rickshaw
Sia Duff
The Little Rickshaw owners Mike and Trinh Richards

Our selection from the Big Bites section lives up to its name. Thickly cut slabs of roast pork belly are piled into a giant pyramid, the flesh glistening beneath a layer of crackling pitted by small bubbles. When I excavate the green papaya and mint salad from beneath a layer of ground roasted peanuts, it emerges with a burst of freshness and breaks between my teeth with a satisfying crunch. Square mats of vermicelli and a bowl of sharp nước chấm that cuts through the fat round out the plate, which lends itself to being eaten in a very leisurely manner. I’m surprised to realise that we’ve been sitting for almost two hours by the time we finish, and the relaxed service means that I don’t feel rushed at any point.

The Little Rickshaw hits the sweet spot between the destination dining offerings that dot McLaren Vale and the takeaway joints along Aldinga’s esplanade. It’s a welcome addition to the local dining scene and deservedly popular – just book ahead if the weather forces everyone inside, and don’t be surprised if you stay longer than planned.

The Little Rickshaw
24 Old Coach Road, Aldinga
0403 784 568

Alexis Buxton-Collins

See Profile

Next

Get the latest from The Adelaide Review in your inbox

Get the latest from The Adelaide Review in your inbox