SIPS OF SPAIN
Christine McCabe savours lunch with a Mediterranean flavour in autumnal Adelaide
THERE’S something very Melbourne about Adelaide’s new Mantra on King William, a stylish restaurant in an early 20th-century villa on the cusp of the city centre. And this is no accident. Restaurant owner Ben Warren spent 10 years in the Victorian capital before returning home, getting together with old schoolmate Karl Kirsten and opening a restaurant referencing the contemporary cuisine and interiors he so admired in Melbourne.
The food is Mediterranean with a strong Spanish bent — a long list of tapas tops the menu — and the decor bright and breezy, the gutted villa now dominated by a handsome red gum bar hewn from a single Gawler River tree.
Madame Sarre, my sons’ French teacher, and I have wagged school again to indulge in a little treat all but forgotten since having children and mortgages, the Friday lunch. We’re early (school bells, not board meetings, dictate the schedule) but already Mantra is busy, the dark timber floorboards clattering to the sound of fast-moving staff.
White walls — today hung with large black-and-white canvases — form the backdrop for changing exhibitions; large windows flood the room with light. Contemporary black leather chairs are matched with a collection of old tables set with crisp linen napkins and quality dinnerware.
Working front of house, Warren is busy explaining his quirky wine list to curious guests. Open four months, Mantra has already established its wine credentials, offering an innovative and constantly evolving list that has made this a popular watering hole for local winemakers.
Warren tracks down difficult to find vintages and small producers making even smaller releases.
The seasonal menu likewise is petite but packed with interest; tapas run the gamut from McLaren Vale almonds roasted with smoked paprika ($4) to baby squid stuffed with saffron and chorizo rice ($12).
The busy kitchen, headed by Adrian Peek (ex Auge Ristorante in Adelaide), employs a team that includes David Hooper (former head chef at Ade- laide’s Hotel Richmond) and Sarah Swain, just back from Johannesburg.
With aperitifs — a glass of Padthaway Estate Eliza sparkling ($7) and Eden Valley Loomwine single vineyard riesling ($8) — comes some very good bread and a lovely grassy Pendleton Estate olive oil from the state’s southeast. We make short work of our tapas: roasted kalamata olives with fennel and chilli ($6) and a delicious warm feta, served in a red-hot earthenware bowl and flavoured with sweet roasted garlic, oregano and lemon ($8). If you happen to order this dish, and I recommend you do, be sure to keep some bread for the mop-up.
The entrees are even better. A steaming bowl of South Australian black mussels served in a tasty broth of tomato, saffron, chorizo, parsley and haricot beans ($18) has me pilfering Madame Sarre’s last skerrick of bread to sop up the luscious liquor.
Her roasted figs stuffed with Valdeon (a cow-goat combo blue cheese from northwest Spain) come on a salad of baby spinach with walnut and shallot ($14). The figs are not sweet enough to do justice to that wonderful cheese but the salad is superb.
Having abandoned all yummy mummy constraints (undressed salad washed down with a jeroboam of sparkling mineral water) we order mains and a glass each of 2006 El Quintanal Tempranillo ($10). A longer lunch would have required a more substantial investment, perhaps a bottle of Anaperenna Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, made by Ben Glaetzer in the Barossa Valley ($78).
A succulent pan-roasted duck breast is served on a mound of warm pickled red cabbage — a great foil to the rich, perfectly cooked meat — with pine nuts and shredded duck confit ($30). The second main, a Fleurieu lamb rack ($28) is even better: pink roasted, melt in the mouth, embellished with a goodly layer of caramelised fat that permeates the dish, enriching a light pomegranate jus. A salad of cucumber, mint, spinach and Persian feta makes this a substantial main indeed.
A side of tender-crisp beans served with butter and smoked paprika ($6) is so good I’d put it on the tapas menu.
There are three desserts and four cheeses (French and Spanish), but even so we are torn. Belgian chocolate tart with vanilla bean ice cream ($12) triumphs, and justifiably so.
Mid-afternoon, Mantra is buzzing; tables are full, with diners bathed in the glorious autumn light streaming through the windows. A roomy courtyard offers alfresco dining and the stroll to the loo passes a floor-toceiling wine cage on one corridor wall. Sadly, school’s out, so we must away, but not before reciting the Governor of California’s mantra: I’ll be back. All Tables visits are unannounced and meals paid for.
Mantra on King William 36 King William Rd, Goodwood, Adelaide; (08) 8377 7201; www.mantraonkingwilliam.com.au. Open: Lunch and dinner Tuesday to Saturday; breakfast Saturday and Sunday. Bookings essential for dinner Thursday to Saturday. Cost: Tapas $4-$12; about $100 for two courses and shared dessert for two, without wine. Drink: An interesting, constantly updated list of Australian and imported wines. A handful of Spanish sherries to get you started. Reason to return: Innovative cuisine and a drinks list fit to please the most fastidious wine snob.
Warm welcome: For lunch, or dinner, Mantra on King William is an enticing prospect