Chris­tine McCabe wel­comes the in­tro­duc­tion of high 21st-cen­tury style in a gen­teel cor­ner of North Ade­laide

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence -

TH­ESE days fine din­ing is about as fash­ion­able as fon­due. Restau­rant trends favour noisy rooms re­sound­ing with the clat­ter of dropped cut­lery on floor­boards, ca­sual ser­vice de­liv­ered by staff of­ten bet­ter look­ing than your date, and tele­genic chefs who would rather be on the box than work­ing anony­mously be­hind the stove.

But not in gen­teel North Ade­laide, where broad, tree-lined streets and el­e­gant homes fea­tur­ing lacy ve­ran­das hark back to an al­to­gether more re­fined era: a time when Angli­can bishop Arthur Nut­ter Thomas might have been spied re­clin­ing on his nearby porch in pan­taloons (so lo­cal lore has it), or on hot days con­duct­ing parish busi­ness from his cel­lar.

One imag­ines lit­tle tol­er­ance for such ec­cen­tric­ity at the Bap­tist manse and later the­o­log­i­cal col­lege on Tynte Street, and even less tol­er­ance for this hand­some sand­stone man­sion’s latest in­car­na­tion as The Manse Restau­rant, one of the city’s best eateries, giv­ing fine din­ing a sorely needed fil­lip.

The restau­rant has long been a pop­u­lar eatery (most re­cently un­der Swiss chef Bernard Oehrli) and its present own­ers, Luke James and Matthew and Olivia Trim, in­vested in a rather saucy con­ver­sion — Coco Chanel meets Bar­bara Cart­land — be­fore re­open­ing 18 months ago.

The five din­ing rooms across two floors fea­ture white leather salon chairs, black em­bossed wall­pa­per, Vene­tian mir­rors and loads of pink-themed de­tail­ing, from the Jasper Con­ran Wedg­wood plates to glasses of dainty tea roses and the pale pink shirts worn by staff.

But as this is a very 21st-cen­tury restau­rant, car­pets are sisal rather than plush and the con­ver­sa­tion is lively rather than hushed or rev­er­en­tial. There are lit fires in the mar­ble hearths, a wall of wine stacked un­der the stair­case, and a con­tem­po­rary bar with a com­fort­able sofa: all in all, it’s hard to imag­ine a cosier place on a chilly au­tumn evening.

Chef Tim Mont­gomery’s mod­ern French cui­sine is com­ple­mented by a strong wine list (15 cham­pagnes, var­i­ous vin­tages of Pen­folds Grange and a small but con­sid­ered se­lec­tion by the glass). A 2003 Chan­don ZD Yarra Val­ley Brut ($11 a glass) is per­fect with the amuse gueule , a tasty sweet­corn and basil soup.

Like­wise the 2005 De­nis Pom­mier Petit Chablis ($10) sits well with our en­trees ($19.50 each), tommy ruff fish (a South and West Aus­tralian spe­cialty) with smoked eel bran­dade, soft yolk and an ar­ti­choke veloute, and a fat slice of roast pork belly with spiced quince and a taste­fully pre­sented stuffed trot­ter.

The smoked eel bran­dade is quite de­li­cious and del­i­cately flavoured, the creamy veloute a per­fect part­ner, al­though the egg yolk is a tad over­cooked and fails to squirt madly in all di­rec­tions as pre­dicted by my con­cerned waiter. (Guests have been known to cop a bit of egg on the face in this de­part­ment.)

The roast pork belly is ex­cel­lent, sport­ing a thin layer of crunchy crack­ling and set next to an aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing pig’s trot­ter stuffed with boudin noir (blood sausage).

A tart pink grape­fruit sor­bet sharp­ens the palate be­fore we move on to a glass of 2006 Rab­bit Ranch Cen­tral Otago Pinot Noir ($11) while en­joy­ing the con­vivial, fire-lit sur­round­ings. The dis­tri­bu­tion of guests across rooms (and in sum­mer in the leafy court­yard) helps main­tain the il­lu­sion of a much smaller restau­rant and means din­ers are never over­whelmed by large, noisy groups giv­ing the wine list a work­out.

Ar­riv­ing on long rec­tan­gu­lar plates, our mains ($36) look like mi­nor works of art (per­haps that’s why the chap at the next ta­ble is wear­ing a beret). A roast rump of wagyu beef sit­ting to the left of the plate is joined to its pelo­ton of plump gar­lic snails by a smear of some­thing green, while the green pea ravi­oli with chanterelle truf­fle but­ter and corn foam comes as four small hats with lit­tle feath­ers of cress. The beef is meltin-the-mouth ten­der, the borde­laise sauce tasty and the snails de­li­cious but so densely rich as to make dessert seem a moun­tain too far.

Even so, I’m tempted by the souf­fle du jour ($18.50), which is choco­late with a banoffi (ba­nana and tof­fee) ice-cream, but settle in­stead on shar­ing a cal­va­dos creme brulee with green ap­ple sor­bet ($15.50). The brulee proves to be the per­fect finale to a fine meal en­joyed in el­e­gant but far from stuffy sur­round­ings, where the young staff serve as en­thu­si­as­tic am­bas­sadors for Mont­gomery’s kitchen.

Trained at the old Manse be­fore work­ing un­der Serge Dansereau at Syd­ney’s Bathers’ Pavil­ion at Bal­moral, this tal­ented young chef pulls off com­plex dishes with elan and has put fine din­ing firmly (and fash­ion­ably) back on the Ade­laide map. All Ta­bles vis­its are unan­nounced and meals paid for. The Manse Restau­rant 142 Tynte St, North Ade­laide. (08) 8267 4636; www.the­manser­estau­ Open: For lunch, Fri­day; din­ner, seven days from 6.30pm. Book­ings es­sen­tial. Cost: $170-$200 for two peo­ple for three cour­ses with wine. De­gus­ta­tion and grande de­gus­ta­tion menus avail­able for $90 and $120 re­spec­tively. Match­ing wine flights from $50. Rea­son to re­turn: Stylish venue of­fer­ing in­ven­tive and re­fined food, sen­si­bly priced.


Pic­tures: Brett Hartwig

Pretty in pink: The Manse oozes class, inside and out, with pink de­tail­ing and pas­tel staff shirts adding a saucy touch to the in­te­rior

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