SIPS OF SPAIN

Chris­tine McCabe savours lunch with a Mediter­ranean flavour in au­tum­nal Ade­laide

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence -

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.

Check­list

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.

Pic­ture: Kelly Barnes

Warm wel­come: For lunch, or din­ner, Mantra on King William is an en­tic­ing prospect

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