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
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)