FIRST DRAFT

The am­bi­tious new Pub­lish­ers Ho­tel de­vel­op­ment has plenty of thrills for the wine lover but needs tweak­ing else­where

The Advertiser - SA Weekend - - UP FRONT - Si­mon Wilkin­son

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.

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