THE DRIVE TO
Mt Lofty Ranges Vineyard in the Adelaide Hills isn’t one to be rushed. For a start, it’s worth enjoying the journey, as you slalom past farms and cottages in the dappled light under the trees. But also, unless you’re well acquainted with the road, it’s not without its challenges. There you are focusing on the twists and turns — this hairpin bend and that unexpected dip — and suddenly you’ve driven right past a rustic corrugated-iron building teetering on the side of the hill, and realised that was it. Once inside, perched above a valley with vines stretching in every direction, it all makes sense. Head chef Matt Fitton remembers being mesmerised by the view when he came here for his wife Victoria’s 30th birthday early last year, and feeling that a winery awarded five stars by James Halliday warranted a more sophisticated food offering than the simple pies and platters they were doing at the time. A sous chef at The Playford hotel in Adelaide, Matt wasn’t on the hunt for a new job, but he quickly reassessed. “I just saw the beauty of it and the opportunity, and thought, ‘I need to try and take that before somebody else does.’ ” He made his feelings clear to owners Sharon Pearson and Garry Sweeney, and in August 2015 joined the team with carte blanche to redesign the menu. What he has created is ambitious. To produce this standard of restaurant fare in a tiny kitchen with just one oven and two staff is impressive, but Matt puts it down to two key things. First, preparation. “Everything’s planned around making these three hours of service as easy as possible,” he says. And second, curiosity. “I think that’s what separates people who just enjoy food from the ones with real drive and passion for creating it. A bit of curiosity, and a willingness to try things and sometimes stuff up.” And does Matt miss anything about working in the city? “Not at all,” he says. “The only problem I find is that people are always late for bookings because we’re up such a windy road.”
FROM LEFT The scenery at Mt Lofty Ranges Vineyard prompted Matt to take over the kitchen; the dining room makes the most of the view; the winery’s owners, Sharon Pearson and Garry Sweeney. Slow-cooked pork cheeks with herb freekeh, kale & white bean puree The 2015 Sassy The Ivor Arneis provides a harmony of almond, pear and lemon notes with the perfect weight and texture for this dish.