HOT AND COLD

The din­ing room at Cel­sius may not be much to look at but what ap­pears on the plate can be bril­liantly con­ceived and con­structed

The Advertiser - SA Weekend - - FOOD & WINE -

Mat­ters of taste, whether in clothes, art or mu­sic, are not an ex­act sci­ence. And hav­ing “good” or sim­i­lar tastes in one cat­e­gory is not al­ways a re­li­able in­di­ca­tor of another. Per­haps that’s the best way to rec­on­cile a night at Cel­sius, where (to my taste at least) some of Ade­laide’s most com­pelling food is served in one of its ghastli­est din­ing rooms.

Owner/chef Ay­han Erkoc has long shown an in­stinc­tive gift for con­triv­ing dishes that har­monise not one or two flavours, but a full or­ches­tral move­ment. He can also ar­range his food into plated works of free-flow­ing nat­u­ral beauty us­ing the flow­ers, leaves and other good­ies grown on his fam­ily’s farm.

How­ever, if it’s an in­te­rior de­signer you’re after, I’d be look­ing else­where.

Good­ness knows what Erkoc saw in the then-va­cant bar/night­club mid­way down Gouger St when he first poked his head in the door four years ago. How did he imag­ine the aus­tere glass-and-steel en­trance, the black-cur­tained al­coves, the il­lu­mi­nated mar­ble ta­ble and bar – all still in place – would ever feel hos­pitable?

On a quiet Fri­day night, with only four or five groups spread about, the room is a de­press­ing sight, and the Bowie sound­track isn’t help­ing. “Planet Earth is blue, and there’s noth­ing I can do.” It’s Catch 22 – how can Cel­sius ever at­tract the cus­tomers it needs when the place feels so empty?

Such gloomy thoughts are in­ter­rupted by the ar­rival of a trio of snacks. Sheets of toasted lin­seeds sus­pended in a trans­par­ent potato starch glue are used as a cracker to scoop a creamy bone mar­row cus­tard. Hello! A ca­noe of crack­led fish skin is filled with fish roe and topped with al­mond blos­som. Veni­son tartare and salted blue­ber­ries are squished be­tween two translu­cent potato wafers. All bril­liantly con­ceived and con­structed.

Next comes raw slices of king­fish, rav­ish­ing with a de­cent wipe of a silky oys­ter cream, all hid­den be­neath a shroud of pick­led kohlrabi sprin­kled with a dust of red oak let­tuce. Let­tuce dust? No, it doesn’t taste of much.

The chef is clearly giv­ing his de­hy­dra­tor a work­out, pul­veris­ing all sorts of dried fruit and veg to dust.

It’s man­darin up next, re­duced to a fine, pale-orange pow­der that is easy to in­hale if you breathe in at the wrong time. There’s a heap of it, and its cor­dial­con­cen­trate tang over­whelms a piece of grilled snap­per and leaves of miner’s let­tuce. I don’t like the dish at all.

On the other hand, lamb sweet­breads are divine, per­haps the best I’ve eaten, pale pink, creamy tex­tured, their dis­tinct flavour still singing along­side a cauliflowe­r puree and a crum­ble of grated al­monds, de­hy­drated ba­con, olives and pars­ley.

Top-grade wagyu makes for one flash bar­be­cue with all its de­li­cious sweet and charred fried flavours re­flected in onion pureed, pick­led and pow­dered, as well as a grilled spring onion, caramelise­d yo­ghurt and nas­tur­tium leaves. The el­e­ments are on dis­play across the plate, in clas­sic Cel­sius style, as op­posed to the lit­tle pack­age of sur­prises, all to be eaten to­gether, that Erkoc seems to favour now.

A scoop of pea-green sor­rel ice cream, for in­stance, is dis­guised un­der a snow­drift of flow­ers and pow­dered yo­ghurt. Pas­sion­fruit is in there some­where as well, and the com­bi­na­tion is as re­fresh­ing as a spring shower.

The idea for the ice cream came when a box of sor­rel leaves ar­rived from the fam­ily farm at Mur­ray Bridge, where Ay­han’s brother and Cel­sius co-owner Kasim picks what is avail­able each morn­ing, be­fore driv­ing to town. He then stays to run the bar through the night, as well as bring­ing wine to the ta­ble.

Kasim’s pride in his brother’s abil­ity is touch­ing. They are in this to­gether and work­ing on ways to make the room more ap­peal­ing. Un­til then, I fear, Cel­sius is a restau­rant for culi­nary trainspot­ters, for whom what’s on the plate is the only thing that mat­ters. MUST TRY Lamb sweet­breads, cauliflowe­r, al­monds and ba­con. Sor­rel ice cream, pas­sion­fruit, yo­ghurt, flow­ers ALSO CON­SIDER Hent­ley Farm Daniel O’Con­nell Ho­tel

Al­tair rosé ($28)

2008 Beltana

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