One thing about a trip to Australia: It is the kind of experience that makes you immediately start planning for a return visit. A country so vast that you can never take it all in at once means that as soon as you think you have a handle on one region, you are intrigued to explore another. The smart traveler will choose one or two states and really dive into the cultural and culinary treasures, and as much as Sydney and New South Wales might be your logical initial entry point Down Under, the state of South Australia needs to be on your list. Until teleporting technology is invented, when I fantasize about my perfect food day in South Australia, it would go something like this.
Its capital, Adelaide—the fifth largest city in Australia—is that perfect ideal of an intimate, walkable place, with all the sophistication of an urban destination. Travelers for whom food and wine is a passion, will find no better place to focus their travels. From world-class restaurants to unique regional specialties, there is plenty of interesting and fabulous food to explore. With over 70 percent of the wine production for all of Australia concentrated in this state, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to fill your glass. The unique combination of influences from the indigenous peoples of the region, the original British colonists, early settlers from Germany and other parts of Europe, and contemporary immigrants from Africa make for a cuisine that's varied, innovative, and distinctly Australian.
At the top of my list for a perfect food day is Africola, a restaurant that celebrates the foodways of South Africa with local ingredients. I'd also save room for a meal at Osteria Oggi, a seasonal farm-to-table Italian restaurant known for both its celebrated interior design (which includes a bright courtyard-like central dining room) as well as its food. And for a serious splurge, I'd go for Restaurant Orana. It was named the 2018 Australian restaurant of the year by Gourmet Traveler magazine, and highlights native ingredients in the dishes. A recent menu included crocodile, wattleseed, green ants, buffalo milk, kangaroo and Bunya nuts in its adventurous 20-course tasting menu, and it is the pinnacle of destination dining.
The farmed lamb in South Australia is some of the best in the world, tender and so mild that even people who tend to eschew lamb for its gaminess are won over. Local seafood includes favorites like crayfish, barramundi, and bluefin tuna.
Casual dining is also a draw in Adelaide, whether it is indulging in German influenced specialties like mettwurst, or getting familiar with the one-of-a-kind local dish of a pie floater, a savory meat pie literally floating in a sea of pea soup. It takes the British idea of a pie and mushy peas to a wonderfully wacky and uniquely Adelaidean place. Sweets are also on the menu for sure, whether it is the famous Kitchener bun, a sort of sugar-dusted jelly donut that is split and filled generously with whipped cream, or locally produced chocolates like the fruit filled Fruchocs.
A trip to a local producer is always a treat, and the perfect place to find some treasures to bring home. Whether it is a local cheesemaker or chocolatier, the region is known as a place where artisanal products are prized, so there are many to choose from. For me, Beerenberg Farm is calling. A family-owned farm since the 1830s, they produce jams, jellies, mustards, chutney, and the like, which can be purchased at the Farm Store. Of particular interest is their exclusive Ligurian honey, a varietal only available from them, and only at the farm store. Produced by Ligurian bees on a remote area of Kangaroo Island, where they feast on cup gum flowers, only 2000 jars are produced annually, and if you are a honey fan, this is the ne plus ultra of all artisanal honeys. The strawberry rose jam is also not to be missed.
You cannot talk about Adelaide or South Australia without diving into wine. Between the shiraz of the Barossa Valley, to the rieslings that are the legacy of German settlers who brought over clippings of their vines in the 1800’s and set up camp in the Clare Valley, there is a tipple for everyone. Penfolds, arguably the best old-school winery in all of Australia is in the Barossa Valley, and worth a tasting trip, where you shouldn’t miss their Grange, which is essentially the Chateau La Tour of Australia. Elderton and Yalumba wineries merit a stop.
But for all the siren song of shiraz, it is the rieslings that call to me specifically. Riesling might just be the single best varietal to drink with the foods of the region, being equally good friends with lamb and seafood, local cheeses and yes, even that pie floater if you aren’t having a local Coopers Ale. Jim Barry Winery is a great first stop, not only for their riesling, but also for their fun and funky sparkling pinot noir. Nearby Grosset and Kilikanoon should also be on any visitor's list, and all of the above justify a small investment in travel wine bags, to allow you to bring a bottle or two home safely in your packed luggage.
As you explore your options for any upcoming trip to Australia, be sure that your time there includes a visit to Adelaide and South Australia. Your heart, soul, and mouth will thank you for it.