So I found myself in Australia the other day, as you do. I was there for Oz Comic Con (go to there, it’s AWESOME), and although I’ve been lucky enough to spend a fair amount of time in Australia over the years, this time around I was going to have a few days free to get the lay of the land. Namely in Adelaide.
I understand some of you Aussies are exhibiting a wee bit of sibling rivalry with South Australia’s capital, but jealousy can be an ugly thing. Sure, Sydney’s gorgeous, and Melbourne is a cosmopolitan city in its own right, and Perth has beautiful, pristine beaches perfect for laying out and sunburning your stupid Canadian ass on. But you all are awfully hard on little Adelaide. She’s charming in her own off-colour way, interesting with lots to say and a lot more to show than just endless rolling hills of planted vines and growing grapes all ready to churn out some pretty serious wine (I loved her before I even knew her). Yes, it’s been said that Adelaide has more serial killers per capita than any other city in the world, but those serial killers know how to EAT! Like, besides humans!
Maybe because of its history with producing exceptional wines, Adelaide knows it’s best to concentrate on what’s fresh and homegrown. Whatever the reason, I have to say that Adelaide’s farmer’s market surpasses Vancouver’s Granville Island in terms of selection, its restaurants are eclectic and original, its people are charming as hell, and the weather isn’t too shabby either. It deserves a visit if you’re headed down under, not only for wine country literally a half hour away, but because its chefs deserve to be recognized and celebrated. I’m going to show you why:
Exhibit #1 is because of Mesa Lunga and Sangria Bar. Walk down Gouger Street past all the Chinese restaurants enticing you with peking duck hanging in the windows (go in there on another day and chow down, they’re packed for a reason) and step into Spain at Mesa Lunga. Tapas galore, perfect sangria, a communal circular bar to share with your pretty-looking neighbours… If I lived in Adelaide, this would be my Cheers. Order traditional Spanish tapas like manchego cheese with quince paste and toast, or chorizo in romesco sauce, or divine little chicken empanadas and crispy, saucy potatas bravas. Or get a little down with your bad self and order the duck shanks with toasted hazelnuts, or Australian lamb ribs with a sherry vinegar sauce, or a smoky and rich prawn and speck pizza with salsa verde. It’s all good. My favorite? Soft shell crab fried to perfection on a soft little white bun smeared in a zesty aioli sauce. GIVE ME NINE OF THOSE PLEASE.
Exhibit #2 of evidence that Adelaide is the knees to the bees: Press Food and Wine. This is my other hang out in my parallel life where I live in Oz and make wine for a living. Press is loud, super fun, packed with serious foodies, and even better, right next to an awesome cocktail lounge called Proof if you find yourself without a reservation and having to wait for a table. The wait is worth it, worth it, worth it (that was three times worth it, pay attention). Chef Andrew Davies isn’t afraid to go oddball, even offering an offal category on his menu filled will all sorts of strange like fried lambs brains, cows tongue, and lovely sweetbreads roasted with anise. If that makes you wanna vomit, all it means is that Chef Davies isn’t squeamish about using every part of the animal, and that makes him not wasteful too. Plus, if he can make a lamb’s brain taste great, imagine what he can do with more de regueur menu items, like pappardelle with crab, tomato, and chilli, or a nice plate of steak spiced up with kimchi butter and served with frites and bearnaise sauce. OR…. a cheeseburger, grilled to something out of a dream and topped with caramelized onions, sharp cheddar, a layer of bacon, pickles, crispy lettuce, and an oh-so-lovely special sauce. You know how I feel about burgers. And this was one of the top five I’ve ever had. Ever. I wanted to make out with it. Put it in a blender and drink it. Put a ring on it and marry it. What I wouldn’t give for another one, just one. I loved it more than all my ex boyfriends put together.
Exhibit #3: WINE COUNTRY.
So Adelaide has three wine regions to choose from: The Barossa Valley, the Clare Valley, and McLaren Vale. McLaren Vale was the one we chose, literally 30 minutes out of the city and known for its shiraz and cabernet sauvignon. These aren’t your juicy California syrahs or cabs; they’ve got old vines producing them, and they’ve got bite, sorta like an old dog that doesn’t feel like it needs to impress you with tricks anymore. Their rieslings are surprisingly dry as well, but the sparkling reds were the standout- fruit forward, refreshing, and special. I would’ve smuggled some home if I wasn’t so worried about those beige suede Louboutins in the suitcase. The overall favorite winery for us was Penny’s Hill, a smaller, younger vineyard that dazzled us with literally everything they were pouring, which included wines produced by Penny’s Hill as well as The Chook Vineyard, which does a fabulous sparkling shiraz and a beautiful rosé. Shoutout to Ekhidna Wines for a stellar sauvignon blanc and providing a gourmet lunch in their sunlit dining room overlooking the vineyard. Life’s tough, bros.
Lastly, I give you Exhibit #4: The Adelaide Central Market. This is a food lover’s paradise, a cook’s wet dream, the one stop shop for all that is fresh and holy when it comes to preparing a fabulous meal. It’s filled to the brim with cheese counters heaped with every type of cheese and smiling faces ready to cut you a piece if you so desire a tasting, piles of ripe exotic fruit enticing you with sweet and pungent aromas that would make Chiquita Banana blush, bakeries stacking bags and bags of fresh, still-warm croissants for purchase, served with their own tubs of just-whipped butter. There are nut stands roasting salty cashews weighed by the ounce and crammed into white paper sacks, glorious wild mushroom stands with cooks standing at the ready with butter and hot frying pans and fresh porcini seasoning salt, frying up a few for you to sample. There are even little restaurants and takeout stands offering gourmet sandwiches stuffed with prosciutto and brie, or tuna salad and roasted squash (AMAZING), or fried egg and bacon buns first thing in the morning. I was floored. And on a tear like a serial killer, buying everything in sight I could rationalize eating in a hotel room and swooning over all of it like a blood-thirsty maniac. What a place. What a world. What a pig.
I won’t even go into the fact that we stumbled on a friggin food truck and wine festival down the street one hazy afternoon that threw me into even more of a passionate love with Adelaide. Just trust me when I say haters be damned: this place is where it’s at if you want to get fat. I cannot wait to return and sample the rest of it, if it’ll let me back after cleaning out the market. And as for that burger? CALL ME.