DOWNBY THE RIVER
Christine McCabe enjoys a leisurely meal in old-world style on the Torrens
IT’S wise to celebrate those things we take for granted, and in Adelaide this includes several stalwart restaurants that are as essential to our sense of wellbeing as Barossa shiraz or Haigh’s chocolates. With summer around the corner, Jolleys Boathouse, nestled on the sleepy Torrens River only minutes’ walk from the CBD, is top of the mind again, because it is difficult to imagine a lovelier spot on an evening in early spring.
Set below the handsome King William Street bridge with the spires of St Peter’s Cathedral shining in the distance, this cheery boatshed is perfectly placed to contemplate Adelaide’s rather English downtown scene: rowers, swans (albeit black) and strolling couples enjoying the manicured river tableau.
A madly popular lunch spot, Jolleys is just as charming after dark, with brightly coloured paddleboats and a fleet of idiosyncratic pleasure vessels moored outside, and the occasional call of a wood duck sounding from beneath the bridge.
Tables spill from the boathouse proper into the canvas-topped conservatory where a wall of glass doors is opened during warmer weather. Casual deckchairs are complemented by quite formal table settings featuring double cloths, linen napkins and good glassware. Likewise, English-born chef Tony Carroll’s modern Australian cuisine, drawing largely on South Australian produce, is a classy affair.
With a ravenous young son and a pretending-to-be-on-a-diet husband in tow, I’m set to give his menu a thorough workout. Twilight is fading and the rowers are heading back to their sheds as we peruse our entree options.
Husband chooses yellowfin tuna tataki with soba noodles and a cucumber and shiitake salad ($21.50) It’s spanking fresh and succulent. I try the miso caramelised Wagyu beef served with a grilled mushroom and mizuna salad ($19.50), a very accomplished dish, quite rich despite the tang of a Japanese mustard sauce. And likely eminently more fattening than his tuna (I’ll skip dessert). Ravenous son heads straight for the mains and orders one of several specials on offer: gnocchi with slow-roasted lamb, peas and preserved lemon ($26). It arrives promptly with our entrees (gold star from mum) and is extremely good.
The extensive wine list is a great read, dominated by the best of the best from South Australia and interstate (with a sprinkling of international labels), and I’m pleased to see some harder-to-find drops, including Rymill’s The Bee’s Knees sparkling shiraz from the Coonawarra ($45 a bottle), and Charles Melton’s Rose of Virginia rose. Long one of my favourite summer tipples, I indulge in a glass ($8.50) between courses.
The bistro-style mains selection is small but well-balanced, with a couple of signature standouts, including the crisp-fried teasmoked duck with spinach, blood orange and ginger caramel ($38). The bird is cooked to perfection, the flesh moist and succulent, the parchment-crisp skin pleasantly smoky and salty.
Dieting husband settles for a second entree (although the serves are so generous as to make this an entirely feasible option even when you’re very hungry). His roast artichoke, asparagus and broad bean salad with parmesan mousse ($17.50) is right on the money, as is our side dish of potatoes with caramelised onions and thyme ($9.50), finger-lickin’ good and substantial enough to feed a much larger family than ours.
Lighter sides, designed for two or three to share, include a rocket, fennel and ruby grapefruit salad or steamed asparagus dressed with a lemon vinaigrette.
The crowd is mixed, young and old, business folk and those celebrating special occasions, and although it’s early in the evening a convivial buzz wafts out across the river while a busy clatter emanates from the open kitchen. Service is swift and friendly. A mix-up with the dieting husband’s entrees is fixed in a jiffy but has the head waiter in a tizz rustling up complimentary coffees and loads of apologies.
Husband’s fault, I’d say (isn’t it always?). Who has dinner at Jolleys when they’re dieting? At least the Yering Station Pinot Noir ($9 a glass) is low-fat. Or so he assures me. In that case we’ll have dessert. All Tables visits are unannounced and meals paid for
Jolleys Boathouse Jolleys Lane, Adelaide; (08) 8223 2891; www.jolleysboathouse.com. Open: Lunch, Sunday to Friday; dinner Monday to Saturday. Cost: About $70-$80 a person for three courses with wine but you would be hardpressed to manage more than two of Jolleys’ generous portions. Drink: Extensive list of local and interstate wines; good premium range by the glass. Reason to return: Lovely old-world, riverside setting combined with clever, contemporary cuisine.
Making a splash: Head chef Tony Carroll at Jolleys Boathouse with its charming riverside outlook, left; his yellowfin tuna tataki, above