The ambitious new Publishers Hotel development has plenty of thrills for the wine lover but needs tweaking elsewhere
The Publishers Hotel has a super wine
Of all the developments in Adelaide’s eating and drinking over the past couple of years, none is as intriguing as the Publishers Hotel. This ambitious project in Franklin St is being driven by the vision of a single owner, financier Peter Buik. It’s the Selfridges of pubs. So what does his dream look like? Stage one, opened two months ago, comprises a bar and dining room. Still to come are a larger entertainment venue, a roof-top garden and, finally, 50-plus rooms in the old backpackers accommodation at the rear.
The completed sections are beautifully finished, a timeless matching of the building’s stripped-back bricks-andmortar with new polished timber work and carefully chosen fittings. It speaks of good taste and serious investment.
The same can be said of Publishers’ wine collection. While it isn’t the biggest around, it has the money-can’t-buy advantage of incorporating aged stock from the owner’s private collection. How about a 1988 Wendouree shiraz or a 1998 Rockford Basket Press?
Sommelier Patrick White, recruited after several high-profile gigs in Sydney, should take a bow for wrangling all these pride-and-joy trophy wines into a list that is easy on the eye and includes plenty of attractive options for less than $50.
White also oversees service in the dining room and here, it seems, things don’t come so easily. As we settle in for a Friday lunch, there is an underlying tension that makes it hard to relax. Waiters scamper hither and thither, busy but not attentive. The reassurance and warmth that are the essence of good hospitality are in short supply.
The first Publishers menu is a collaboration between head chef Daniel Brooks, whose background is in local pubs including the Earl of Leicester and Norton Summit, and Salvatore Pepe, the Cibo founder who is a consultant on the project. But don’t go looking for an Italian accent. If there is a theme at play here, it is perhaps bistro classics, which I guess is in keeping with setting and clientele.
Oh, and there’s a smoker in the kitchen, a piece of kit that is used in some of the early dishes. I’ve tasted the smoked oysters on an earlier occasion and they were divine. This time, however, they seem to have been too close to the fire, the meat tightened and the brine turning acrid. Smoked venison carpaccio is more subtle, to the point where I don’t think I’d have picked the smoke if it wasn’t mentioned. Still, the tissue-thin discs of raw meat are soft and sensual in the mouth, with wedges of golden beetroot, blueberries and a big pile of rocket leaves.
Pan-fried scallops have Bondi tans top and bottom but are still plump and juicy inside. Teamed with crisp and crumbly slices of black pudding and a dollop of a chimichurri, they sound all the right notes of contrasting flavour and texture.
“Chargrilled” spatchcock looks roasted to me, without any marks or flavour of the grill, but the skin is golden and flesh tasty enough. The accompanying caponata is more braised eggplant without the exclamation marks of capers or green olives.
Two blocks of pork belly, the crackling excellent but slightly dry at the base, come with buttered leeks that make a rich dish even richer, a scattering of pinenuts and stalks of broccolini.
To finish, an elegantly splayed wine-poached pear sits in a terrific puddle of its own reduced juices but the accompanying cinnamon panna cotta is too stiff. And the dry, biscuity pastry case on a tart of dark chocolate and orange is almost certainly shop-bought.
So the Publishers’ dining package, I reckon, still needs some work. For now, I’ll be happy to sit with a glass of that Wendouree and take in the surroundings.
MUST EAT Pan fried scallops with black pudding and chimichurri
ALSO CONSIDER The Rising Sun Inn, Kensington; The Marquis, city
Pan fried scallops with black pudding and chimichurri.