TABLES THE COOL ITALIAN
Christine McCabe discovers tempting tastes and a splash of style in Adelaide
DESCENDING the stairs into a basement bar on a sunny Adelaide day feels vaguely alternative, rather like entering a modern-day beatnik club. Which is just as well, given the Farina Kitchen & Bar takes cool as its cue with a squiggly, almost Picasso-esque mural scurrying around the walls, black and white bentwood chairs, and low ceilings with exposed (but designer) light bulbs dangling above the tables.
In another era, this would be just the place to recite bad poetry and quaff cheap wine while cultivating a goatee.
But cheery, whitewashed walls, a long marble-topped bar and friendly service quickly dispel any romantic notions of seedy, smoky boltholes and, as if to underscore the establishment’s sunny disposition, several tables are set on the pavement of the square above for those who’d rather dine alfresco.
Farina, which opened in downtown Adelaide five months ago, is the latest offering from the folk behind the city’s acclaimed fine dining restaurant The Manse, and has rapidly established itself as one of the most talked-about eateries in town. Former Manse sous chef Mathew Goodlet heads the Farina kitchen where hearty Italian food, including pizzas and small-plate tastings similar to tapas, is the order of the day.
The lively wall mural depicting kitchen accoutrements, which takes threedimensional form as it morphs into lamps and lighting cords, also finds its way on to the bright-yellow paper placemats that, when flipped, reveal the menu.
With drinks ordered from a small but interesting selection by the glass (a 2006 Tiefenbrunner Pinot Grigio from the Alto Adige in Italy, $8.50), husband-on-a-diet and adolescent sons who haven’t eaten in at least 10 minutes suggest a selection of small plates to get us started.
Out they come, en masse, on a rather sexy Villeroy & Boch multi-tiered device with bendy arms that has the look of a creature from Dr Who but cleverly avoids the problem of cluttering the table with plates. There’s baccala (salt cod) and potato puree, served with crostini ($12); octopus with chilli, parsley, garlic and lemon ($12.50); goat and fennel-seed meatballs ($12.90); and coniglio (rabbit-liver pate, $13), the last-mentioned a creamy and subtly flavoured affair, served with a condiment of finely chopped pickled walnut.
The full selection of small plates is available all afternoon for patrons popping in for a quick drink and snack. Likewise, pizzas, a house speciality, are available at any time, but there’s been a hitch with the oven so they’re off the menu today and for the next month or so.
Introduced when Farina opened in August, the menu has a rather wintry feel but, now the restaurant has bedded down, more seasonal offerings are on the way.
Dipping into the by-the-glass range again, we try a 2006 Scorpo Aubaine Chardonnay from the Mornington Peninsula ($8.50) to accompany our substantial mains. (The full wine list includes plenty of premium drops with a good selection of Italian and Italian-style wines.)
My main of castagna fettuccine ($24) proves dark and mysterious, and if I were a beatnik poet I might compare it with the forest floor. The fettuccine has been made using chestnut flour and a melange of mushrooms (straw, chanterelles, slippery jacks, button and oyster) are cooked and pickled, helping to cut the richness of the dish’s thyme-flecked ragu. Son No 2 makes short work of his gnocchi e quancia di bue ($26); the dumplings are perfect, softer than marshmallow, smothered in a rich sauce of braised beef cheek, thyme, nutmeg and red wine. Elder son, he of the hollow legs,
Farina Kitchen & Bar 39 Hindmarsh Sq, Adelaide. (08) 8227 1007; www.farina.net.au. Open: Monday to Friday, midday until late. Saturday, 5pm until late. Cost: $50-$60 a person for three courses. Much less if you settle for a couple of small plates ($11-$14 each) or a pizza (about $20). Drink: Lots to tempt wine lovers, from premium South Australian drops to quality interstate and overseas labels. Reason to return: Cool interior, friendly service and good, well-priced food.
Kitchen table: Dining at Farina, top; multi-tiered entrees, above left; finishing touches from Mathew Goodlet, above