The Fleurieu could be the one exception to my rule that, if you can’t say it properly, you can’t go there. You can sort of mutter it under your breath, but that would be cheating. Practice with me: “Flu-ree-oh”. There, now we’ve both sort of got it.
And now we can get ourselves down there to where the coast meets fertile grazing land to taste the richness of the local produce firsthand.
The Fleurieu is truly a meal in a region – find many more treats to enjoy at Eat Local SA.
One local landmark in McLaren Vale is the Salopian Inn. The mellow stone walls of this 1851 building could tell you a tale of the great local characters enjoying blissful matchings of produce and grape, because the locals look upon this restaurant as their own. Imagine fine dining served up at your best friend’s house and you’ll get the feel. It’s all about the quality without bunging on the show.
An eclectic menu draws inspiration from around the world but looks to its own backyard for produce, starting with the very best basics: free range Fleurieu eggs, Fleurieu Milk Company dairy products, and of course the flour is from Laucke’s. Then there are the new season pears from Ashbourne in the Sand Road Pear and Maxwell Mead Pudding served with chocolate sorbet and more of that indulgent Fleurieu Milk Company cream. Game fanciers will take to the kangaroo tail from Paroo, served braised with a chilli caramel and if your fancy turns to a lighter meal, there’s a beautiful roasted Inman Valley Chicken served with Starlight Springs Baba Ganoush and a fennel salad.
Great food is an art form in my book but there’s something about McLaren Vale that attracts other sorts of artists as well. In the same neck of the woods as the Salopian Inn you will find Red Poles. Here wine and food are matched with art – and it can even be your art, because this café/ art gallery/ B&B combo also offers art classes. Still life of local provisions, anyone? You might like to include a few of the herbs and flowers from the kitchen garden in your artwork (or your lunch).
This is a great spot to base yourself for further exploration and inspiration, starting with Red Poles’ own triptych of local musos, wine and produce. One should always prepare well for such expeditions I think, perhaps with a dish Coorong Mullet crusted with Strout Farm almonds and garnished with Coorong karkalla, baby herbs from Echunga, Diana’s Olive Oil and Murray River Salt, served with a coddled egg mayonnaise made with free range eggs from Blewitt Springs. Or the Fleurieu Milk Baked Curd Tart served with Hunt Road Rhubarb Compote and Chantilly Cream looks nice.
Over at Penny’s Hill in McLaren Vale, they multitask superbly, with a five star winery and the refined Kitchen Door Restaurant sharing pride of place on a property called Ingleburne. Penny’s Hill is, quite simply, peaceful. Even the hold music when you phone for a booking is tranquil, and turning into the driveway here always makes me feel like time has physically slowed down to give me an opportunity to … just … stop. There are comfy traditional armchairs to sink into at the cellar door, or you can get up close and personal with the wildlife by popping outside to say hello to the Rhode Island Red chooks and the Black-faced Suffolk sheep in the paddocks next to the restaurant.
Last summer the restaurant featured Hay Valley lamb forequarter racks teamed up with ‘old school tomatoes’ and fresh herbs from the garden. Cooler days inspired the chef to check his veggie patch and, as he puts it, “wait for the season to speak”. So far, it’s talking kingfish, served cured and fresh with pickled green strawberry (straight from the kitchen garden), beets, coriander and puffed wild rice. And there will be locally grown pork shoulder from Katrina at Green Eggs and Ham, slow cooked by poaching in milk, served with Simon Bryant’s dirty chickpeas, onion soubise and roast cauliflower.
The Kitchen Door ethos is all about supporting local producers and providores which means the changing seasons and weather fluctuations can, and do, change the menu. I get the feeling the kitchen team here are enjoying themselves. It shows on the plates.
Sometimes we just want to take all the goodness home. So here’s some good news for lovers of premium beef with a big appetite – now you can. If you drop in to the farm gate butcher shop of Wakefield Grange at Wattle Flat, you can collect a side of PCAS Certified Pasturefed beef from the man who raised it and take it home to have your culinary way with it.
This is the only on-farm butcher in South Australia. You can have your selection Cryovac packed to travel and pick up some stock or select from the range of locally made salts, rubs, marinades and salad dressings to add to your pantry while you are waiting. If you can’t get to the farm, you can always go online to shop for home delivery or check when Wakefield Grange will next be at local farmers’ markets in Mt Barker, Northgate or at a local Fleurieu-based food event.
Alexandrina Cheese Company
Cheese fiends can also load up on Fleurieu goodness with a stop at the Alexandrina Cheese Company near Mt Jagged. All 80 of the pretty dark-eyed Jersey cows here are much loved – and individually christened. The McCaul family have been making cheese here in a purpose-built export quality facility since 2001 and their cheese-making heritage goes back in Australia to 1902. So placing yourself in their hands for guidance in a farm shop tasting is a wise move.
It’s only polite to take your time and appreciate the bovine brilliance on show here. These cows have, after all, just been crowned as the providers of Australia’s Champion Milk in this year’s Australian Grand Dairy Awards – and they’ve got the Australian Gourmet Traveller clippings to prove it. Perhaps an ‘Alexandrinashire’ afternoon tea while you’re thinking might be in order too. A slice of ricotta cheesecake served with a dollop of pure Jersey cream and a cappuccino is bound to improve one’s decision-making ability, right?
Or make like a ploughman and snap up a picnic box full of luscious cheese plus local olives, local chutneys, great SA pickles from Spring Gully and loads more to keep hunger at bay. You can also take advantage of the McCaul’s seasonal brilliance with their applauded Blue Ribbon Bag selection of five carefully chosen cheeses nestled in their own little cooler bag – now that’s take away with style!