Men’s Style VISITS ADELAIDE AND MCLAREN VALE IN SOUTH AUSTRALIA TO WORK OUT WHETHER THE STATE REALLY IS ON THE RISE AS THE HOME OF THE BESPOKE, BOUTIQUE GETAWAY.
Boutique South Australia and the Intercontinental Double Bay
About 10 years ago Men’s Style was invited on a trip by South Australian Tourism which focused heavily on the state’s industrial capacity – in between some great meals and local wines, the media contingent spent a lot of time in hard-hats and white-tissue overalls visiting the Holden factory, RM Williams, and the submarine-building facility at Osborne.
How fast times change. A decade on, SA Tourism invited us back, and this time there wasn’t a production line or a machining tool in sight. This trip was all about “boutique SA”, an introduction to the ever expanding range of dining, wining, cultural and day trip experiences available to a visitor arriving in Adelaide.
As SA Tourism’s Brent Hill tells Men’s Style over lunch at Etica Pizza al Taglio in Adelaide’s Halifax St (now nationally famous due to the social media controversy around the whole cow which hangs from the internal roof of the eatery), South Australia understands it can’t compete with Sydney and Melbourne on certain big-city attractions. Instead, says Hill, it offers some unbeatable bespoke itineraries starting in ever-quaint Adelaide and involving three world-class wine regions less than an hour away in the Barossa, Mclaren Vale, and the Adelaide Hills.
There’s a sizeable makeover currently on the go in Adelaide itself, which quickly becomes clear during a rickshaw ride with Ecocaddy around the city that takes in redeveloped eating precincts such as Vardon Avenue and Peel St – the epicentre of the small bar phenomenon that has been embraced by Adelaide as well as the rest of the nation – the expanded Adelaide Oval, the new Royal Adelaide Hospital, the Central Market and Grote Street.
After a cleansing Coopers Pale Ale in museum-piece city watering hole the Exeter Hotel, we watch the sun set over Adelaide Oval while enjoying a Negroni from the rooftop 2KW Bar and Restaurant and then head off to dinner at Osteria Oggi in Pirie Street, one of Adelaide’s crop of excellent modern Italian diners. The wisest choice from the menu? Leave yourself in their capable hands on both the food and drink front.
We bed down at Adelaide’s newish five-star boutique Mayfair Hotel in the heart of the CBD – a comfortably contemporary establishment with a retro air due to its location inside the 1930s-era Colonial Mutual Life building on the corner of King William and Hindley streets – ahead of our trip to South Australia’s Mclaren Vale on the Fleurieu Peninsula the following day.
After breakfast we’re met by the tall and engaging figure of Ben Neville from Off Piste Tours, a Fleurieu local who’ll be our guide for the day. Via Whistle & Flute Café in Unley for heart-starting coffees and then specialty cheese shop Bottega Rotolo in nearby Goodwood, we’re soon on the Southern Expressway headed for Mclaren Vale. Ben is excellent company as he talks about his experiences guiding overseas before his return to South Australia
to start his own tour company, focusing on the region he calls home.
Before long we detour into the Onkaparinga River National Park, a place Ben is the only tour operator with access to (he literally has the keys to the gate). After a steep descent through thick bush we arrive at a quiet spot at the bottom of the gorge, with gnarled, ghostly old gums lining the creek and bird life dashing through the branches. Ben sets up a small table and cloth from the back of the 4WD for an impromptu tasting – the soft cheeses from Bottega Rotolo are brought to the table along with a small round loaf of wholemeal bread, some apple, nuts, a bottle of Primo Estate Primo Secco and two glasses. Hey presto, a moment of repose mixed with foodie bliss in the South Australian bush.
Out of the gorge we press on and are soon in the heart of Mclaren Vale, spotting the much-discussed Cube on the hill at d’arenberg Wines (see our feature story on the region’s latest tourist attraction on our recent Classic Edition No.2) as we head for Bekkers Wines. Once there we’re greeted by Smudge the dog and Toby Bekkers, who with his French-born wife, Emmanuelle, the winemaker, produce deft, beautifully textured wines which they aim to be “emblems of the region”. Grenache is the star, which we enjoy in the sit-down, sunlit tasting room of this bespokefeeling winery as the personable Toby talks about his history managing wineries in the area and how that experience coupled with Emmanuelle’s winemaking expertise led them to begin their own label, which enjoys a cult-like following, mainly via overseas mail order.
With one eye on his watch, Ben announces we need to leave as lunch awaits. We take the scenic road down through Maslin Beach to Aldinga and then into Port Willunga, arriving at the landmark clifftop restaurant Star Of Greece. Owned by Doug and Nikki Govan, and run day-to-day by Nikki, this unpretentious but ever-popular diner is named after a local shipwreck in which 17 perished, but there’s nevertheless plenty of Grecian and Mediterranean influence on the menu, with local seafood options the stand-outs alongside meatier offerings such as Wagyu beef fillet and chargrilled spatchcock. Doug oversees the wine list, focused on an eclectic and diverse bunch of South Aussie wines (not all of them from Mclaren Vale) with some internationals thrown in for good measure. Inside what feels like an upmarket old sailor’s hut, lunch at the Star while overlooking the Gulf St Vincent – watching a blue sky turn to storm and back again, the day we were there – is a quintessential experience of the region.
After lunch we head to Doug Govan’s other baby, the Victory Hotel, up the hill from Sellick’s Beach, where the irrepressible Doug shows us around his expansive pub which caters for allcomers, from families looking for Sunday lunch or dinner, to groups of blokes wanting to watch the big game. Doug takes us downstairs to a purpose-built cellar area, where a long table surrounded by bottles of wine can be used for private dining experiences, and locked, hideyhole rooms store Doug’s extensive wine collection, including a simply phenomenal back catalogue of semi-mythical Clare Valley wine, Wendouree.
It’s late afternoon as we leave and head for d’arenberg Winery to talk to chief winemaker Chester Osborn about his ambitious, some say crazy Cube project, where he is aiming to create a fine dining and immersive, interactive wine experience in the one, genre-bending structure. The presence of senior South Australian Tourism officials at the site when we arrive is testament to the importance of the project not only to the longrunning d’arenberg business, but to the region and the state.
From there we farewell Ben and his super comfortable 4WD and head to our accommodation for the evening at The Vineyard Retreat, a self-contained luxury guest house located within a working vineyard that appears ripped from the pages of Country Living. From here we head to the nearby Salopian Inn for dinner, where in cosy surrounds, chef Karena Armstrong produces contemporary Australian cuisine via a regional, seasonal menu which nevertheless feels heartily homecooked.
It’s our final stop in Mclaren Vale before we head back to Adelaide the next morning for the flight back east. More than we did before, we understand why we didn’t step foot in a factory this time – South Australia has come of age as a destination for the short and stylish getaway.
Lunch at the Star while overlooking the Gulf St Vincent is a quintessential experience of the region.
Rundle Mall in the Adelaide CBD (top); lunch at the Star Of Greece in Port Willunga (above, left); the private dining space in the cellar at The Victory Hotel (above, right).