Does Adelaide’s BISTRO BLACKWOOD live up to the LOFTY expectations created by its OLDER SIBLING? Fleur Bainger finds out.
EXPECTATIONS. WHETHER IT’S a breakout band putting out a follow-up album, a bestselling author releasing a new book or a standout chef opening a lo-fi version of their lauded restaurant, hype always ups the ante. I know this, yet I can’t help feeling starryeyed excited about my booking at Bistro Blackwood. Rock star chef Jock Zonfrillo is behind it – he of Orana fame. That’s right, the chef deemed Australia’s hottest by The Weekend Australian Magazine, who runs Gourmet Traveller’s 2018 Restaurant of the Year. No one expected an Adelaide fine diner to top the Australian culinary charts, especially one created by a feisty, tattooed, swear-jar filling Scottish-Italian. But Zonfrillo’s prescience with native produce and steely drive to define true Australian cuisine have drawn the nation’s adoring spotlight. Enter his new baby, Bistro Blackwood. Opening last September directly beneath Orana, it fills the groundfloor space that Zonfrillo first called Street ADL and then Blackwood. The menu serves more affordable Oz-filtered fare with the essence and flavour of Orana; classics with Zonfrillo’s Australian bush twist. The bistro floor has had a light and bright do-over. It’s a haven of tan booths, pale pine and a white marble bar wrapped in navy, with brass-potted greenery overhead. Outside, smart Parisian wicker seating lines the pavement. Seated there, I’m charmed by flawless service from a smartly dressed gent, who guides me towards certain menu items over others. The signature dish, steak tartare, is a subtle ride through native flavouring. An Australian spice mix of wattle seeds, native peppers and more filters through raw meat that’s crowned with fermented garlic grass paste and sheep sorrel leaves; smoky baba ganoush flavours permeate. A side of salty, vinegar-sprayed fries exhibit the fun that Zonfrillo and head chef Sam Christopher are going for. Crisp prawn roti formed into a tower blends shattering, thin flatbread with – for $22 – a too-frugal lick of buttery, pulverised prawns. Accompanying fermented chilli sauce takes up the slack, searing without burning the tastebuds and emitting earthy, addictive Indian curry tones. Mains arrive and the service evaporates. Had our man returned to check, I’d have queried the mediumwell done roo that’s lingered too long in the fire pit. Brown, chewy slices benefit from crunchy quinoa, but deserve more spiced yoghurt dressing. The recommended shellfish spaghetti with marron sauce is really just dressed up marinara with strong notes of ocean brine. Mussels and pippies are dominated by thick noodles that aren’t worth finishing. Then, more fun: lamb hollandaise siding steamed broccolini is like consuming liquid lamb, both surreal and delightful. With the wait staff MIA we eventually go inside to ask for the bill – the second time assistance is sought. Dessert isn’t offered so we resolve to find it elsewhere. I leave puzzled. I’d expected Orana-lite. Hints are there, but the absence of wow factor disappoints. I read online reviews posted at the time of my visit and see a dip in favour, backing my hunch that something’s off the boil. My experience is hopefully an anomaly, but in a sector where you’re only as good as your worst meal and your owner is rated best of the best, unfortunately there’s no room for stumbles.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Bistro Blackwood is a light and bright space; Chef Jock Zonfrillo; A white marble bar is wrapped in navy; The bistro’s signature steak tartare dish with bush flavours like native pepper.