ONE-OFF DIN­ING

Tired of mak­ing too many choices? A cel­lar door with a dif­fer­ence does the hard work for you with a dif­fer­ent menu each day.

The Advertiser - SA Weekend - - UPFRONT - WORDS AND PIC­TURES SI­MON WILKIN­SON SI­MON.WILKIN­SON@NEWS.COM.AU

A small menu that changes daily is a real treat in this McLaren Flat eatery.

One of the tough­est parts of this job is mak­ing a fair assess­ment af­ter a meal that in­cludes only a limited sam­pling of what the kitchen has to of­fer.

Even in this era of smaller and shar­ing serves, two din­ers can only get through so much with­out be­ing guilty of waste or glut­tony or both.

Re­view­ing bold new cel­lar door con­cept The Gen­eral Wine Bar presents a dif­fer­ent dilemma. Here “To­day’s Of­fer­ing” amounts to only four dishes, in­clud­ing dessert. Easy peasy. The catch is that what I’ve eaten a few weeks back, as de­scribed be­low, won’t be what you find this week­end. The fish might have be­come quail, the pavlova a crème caramel or rice pud­ding.

That said, I reckon it’s pos­si­ble to make a rec­om­men­da­tion based on some core prin­ci­ples that are in place. One is the hon­est, un­pre­ten­tious food that can still spring a sur­prise or two. The other is the un­af­fected warmth of ser­vice that feels like you’ve run into an old friend.

The Gen­eral is a long-held dream of wine­maker Ben Riggs, who wanted to cre­ate a cel­lar door that of­fered more than a wine ex­pe­ri­ence. To that end he has been col­lect­ing bits and pieces along the way, in­clud­ing mag­nif­i­cent, weath­ered beams from the old Ade­laide Oval grand­stand that now top the bar, the kitchen pass and a cou­ple of shared ta­bles. Along with the walls of re­cy­cled bricks and care­fully cho­sen fit­tings, they give The Gen­eral the ap­pear­ance of a lov­ingly re­stored build­ing steeped in his­tory, when in fact it is all brand new.

The lay­out en­cour­ages in­ter­ac­tion with both the chefs as they pre­pare lunch in full view of cus­tomers, and the hap­pen­ings at the tast­ing bench where Ben’s two la­bels, Mr Riggs and Zonte’s Foot­step, are poured.

Even at the other end of the room, the spirit of the place is in­fec­tious, par­tic­u­larly when won­der­ful man­ager Kate Han­son sits down next to us on the ban­quette and ne­go­ti­ates the way for­ward.

The stan­dard en­tree-main dou­ble act is $45. Throw in an “In Be­tween” course and a dessert for $15 each and no one is go­ing to leave hun­gry. The wine equa­tion is more com­pli­cated, with both brands of­fer­ing large port­fo­lios that are avail­able by glass (two sizes of pour), bot­tle and cross­over flights such as “Mediter­ranean va­ri­etal”.

The kitchen is over­seen by Ben Som­mariva, a long-time ac­com­plice of Ben Riggs from their days at Penny’s Hill. But this week he is away, so the dishes have been con­ceived and cooked by his back-up, Marc Howard. No prob­lems. I liked it all, a lot.

Fil­lets of Coorong mul­let tread the per­fect line of crisp, slightly scorched skin and flesh that breaks into moist flakes with that fish’s dis­tinct flavour. That lit­tle bit of char gets some back up from flo­rets of smoked cauli and rib­bons of grilled leek, while a beurre blanc spiked with sam­bal adds an ex­tra level of in­ter­est.

Our “In Be­tween” is listed as a pasta but could eas­ily pass for a noo­dle dish, de­pend­ing on your point of view. A big tan­gle of ten­der strands, a few ticks be­yond al dente, are tossed with meaty slices of shi­itake and anemone-like bun­dles of pick­led enoki that tilt the bal­ance more to­wards Asia.

Lo­cally sourced No­mad chicken fea­tures in a roast with two of win­ter’s best veg­eta­bles — squidgy lumps of Jerusalem ar­ti­choke and wedges of young fen­nel. The breast por­tion we are served has golden skin over a thick, dense piece of white flesh that still re­tains just a lit­tle juice. While it would have been nice to have some dark meat, the veg, olives and splotches of salsa verde more than make up for it.

Dessert is pavlova and fruit as equal part­ners — a small boul­der of chewy meringue, topped with whipped cream in the midst of slices of roasted quince and in­tense poached rhubarb that steals the show. Pure and sim­ple.

I’ve been keep­ing an eye on The Gen­eral’s web­site to see how the menu changes day-by­day and haven’t seen a dish that doesn’t look promis­ing. Think of it as lunch at a friend’s house and you are on the right track. Un­less you are a con­trol freak or par­tic­u­larly fussy, I sug­gest putting it in the di­ary.

The Gen­eral Wine Bar, McLaren Flat, top, mush­room pasta, above, and Coorong mul­let with smoked cauli, grilled leek and a beurre blanc sauce

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