IT’S FINE BY ME
Christine McCabe welcomes the introduction of high 21st-century style in a genteel corner of North Adelaide
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.themanserestaurant.com.au. 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.
Pretty in pink: The Manse oozes class, inside and out, with pink detailing and pastel staff shirts adding a saucy touch to the interior