Villa in the vines

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

Aus­tralia’s finest re­gional restau­rants. Al­though Ap­pel­la­tion’s dishes are highly re­fined, in the villa McNa­mara prefers to cre­ate a more ca­sual, shared food ex­pe­ri­ence.

Hors d’oeu­vres are fol­lowed by a de­lec­ta­ble starter plat­ter of dainty filo tarts filled with caramelised onion and lo­cally made Bal­ly­croft quark (an old Barossa standby that I re­mem­ber my nanna mak­ing) topped with lachss­chinken (sal­mon ham) and house-smoked by Linkes butch­ers in Nu­ri­ootpa, where fam­ily doyen Graeme is the keeper of many se­cret recipes.

Smoked sal­mon, mean­while, is served with a de­li­cious salad of sweet pota­toes roasted with al­monds, pump­kin seeds and a mild curry pow­der.

The main course is out­stand­ing: slow-cooked Hut­ton Vale lamb from a pic­turesque prop­erty on the out­skirts of An­gas­ton. Hung for two weeks, the lamb has been roast­ing at Ap­pel­la­tion for four hours.

McNa­mara bastes the beast with Prue Hen­schke’s ver­juice be­fore pop­ping it back in the oven and turn­ing up the heat. The dish is ac­com­pa­nied by a fab­u­lous veg­etable tagine, the cook­ing juice ob­tained from small, sweet toma­toes.

The McNa­mara and Car­reker al­liance has been a boon for the Barossa, pro­vid­ing vis­i­tors with a level of ex­cel­lence equal to the world’s best lodges.

Fans of Re­lais & Chateaux, the Car­rek­ers scoured Europe, New Zealand and Aus­tralia for the per­fect wine re­gion to open a small-scale ho­tel de­voted to good food.

Charmed by the Barossa, they took over the dated Her­mitage near Sep­pelts­field be­fore trans­form­ing it into an el­e­gant bou­tique ho­tel built around McNa­mara’s kitchen.

‘‘ We are very rare in Aus­tralia, run­ning a fully staffed but very small restau­rant [only 30 seats],’’ he says. ‘‘ We do all our own bak­ing, make all pas­tries and han­dle all the butch­ery.’’

McNa­mara also ac­com­pa­nies Jim Car­reker on re­search trips, in a con­tin­u­ous ef­fort to re­fine The Louise and Ap­pel­la­tion ex­pe­ri­ence. (They are re­cently back from the wine re­gions of South Africa.)

For dessert, our chef turns to a Greenock grower, who through some sort of alchemy not un­der­stood by those liv­ing in this hot, dry place, pro­duces out­stand­ing, fat, sweet cher­ries that are com­bined with boy­sen­ber­ries and straw­ber­ries, sauteed in su­gar, popped in a de­lec­ta­ble short­crust pas­try flan and served with a ver­juice sabayon. It’s a fit­ting fi­nale to our Barossa feast. Ever the pro­fes­sional, McNa­mara sets to tidy­ing the kitchen be­fore plac­ing a plate of house-made truf­fles on the ta­ble. We draw straws to see who nabs the last port wine and pep­per­corn chocolate.

Come the morn­ing, every­one has gone off the idea of self-ca­ter­ing (an­other Atrium op­tion), so it’s off to the Barossa Farm­ers Mar­ket for ba­con and egg sarnies and steam­ing mugs of strong cof­fee. Chris­tine McCabe was a guest of the South Aus­tralian Tourism Com­mis­sion and Atrium at Greenock Creek.

Check­list

For more in­for­ma­tion on Atrium at Greenock Creek in the Barossa Val­ley, phone (08) 8562 3714; www.atri­um­res­i­dence.com.au.

Swish digs: Atrium, set on a golden hill­side at Greenock Creek with long views across the Barossa Val­ley, is handy to count­less cel­lar doors

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