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