A hus­band-and-wife team de­liver one of our great re­gional sur­prises in an old church in the South-East

The Advertiser - SA Weekend - - COVER STORY -

Down in the wine coun­try of the state’s South-East, in that mag­i­cal patch of rust­coloured dirt known as Terra Rossa, the name Bowen is part of lo­cal folk­lore – per­haps not in the league of Wynn, but sit­ting com­fort­ably along­side Hol­lick, Zema and oth­ers.

Bowen Es­tate, where founder Doug has built a rep­u­ta­tion around his big-hearted Coonawarra reds, is there on the left, just be­fore you hit the lit­tle town of Penola.

And a few min­utes fur­ther up the road, in a pretty lit­tle con­verted church, another gen­er­a­tion of the fam­ily is build­ing its own lo­cal legacy.

Si­mon Bowen might have de­cided against fol­low­ing in dad’s foot­steps at the win­ery (sis­ter Emma has done that) but, hav­ing cooked his way around Europe and the US, then done a stint at the famed Lake House in coun­try Vic­to­ria, he did come home.

As well as all the ex­pe­ri­ence he ac­cu­mu­lated on the way, Si­mon brought back his part­ner-now-wife Erika, a Cal­i­for­nian.

She’s the Bowen who greets us at the door of their restau­rant, Pipers of Penola, and, while her ac­cent might sound a lit­tle for­eign, her warmth and easy­go­ing hos­pi­tal­ity feels right at home.

She also has a metic­u­lous eye. Ev­ery­thing in the din­ing room is just-so: the fresh-cut flow­ers, spot­less glass­ware, ev­ery napiery crease and piece of cut­lery in the right place.

Wa­ter, wine and ev­ery­thing through to the bill ar­rive in­tu­itively the mo­ment be­fore they are needed. And whether you’re the bunch of trainee doc­tors from the lo­cal hos­pi­tal, or the nine-year-old at our ta­ble who is in­ter­ested in dessert, the ap­proach is just right.

Si­mon’s cook­ing shows the same un­der­stand­ing of his cus­tomer mix – plenty of fa­mil­iar in­gre­di­ents, noth­ing too “cheffy”, but ex­em­plary tech­nique and enough clever, con­tem­po­rary touches to make this a spe­cial night out.

Yes, you can have steak and garlic mash (and mighty fine it is too) with an aged bot­tle of the re­gion’s fab­u­lous caber­net, but the menu is also dot­ted with farro, kale and even truf­fle.

Truf­fle, in fact, sets the scene from the start, in a lux­u­ri­ous few sips of mush­room velouté served in a demi tasse cup.

A but­ter­flied quail, deboned other than the drum­mies, has a fra­grant cumin rub that’s gone all toasty in the oven. The pieces are stacked atop a mound of cous­cous, with egg­plant puree, strips of car­rot and a scat­ter­ing of sesame seeds.

Strips of squid fried in a crisp corn­flour coat­ing and dot­ted with poppy seeds are sweet and ten­der. A miso dress­ing, soba noo­dles, blobs of mayo with a smidgen of wasabi and barely pick­led veg sug­gest a Ja­panese con­nec­tion but it’s the seafood that stars.

A piece of seared red snap­per (nan­ny­gai) beds down with the se­duc­tive sweet­ness and lush tex­tures of roast fen­nel, onion and a cauliflowe­r cream. A “tabouli” of finely shred­ded kale pre­vents things get­ting out of hand. Clever, very clever.

Three lamb loin cut­lets are beyond re­proach – per­fect pink, ten­der, lovely flavour. But the slab of “braised fore­quar­ter” is rather dry, a pea and mint risotto on the bland side and blobs of salsa verde lack the cut that might have given it a lift.

On the other hand, a tri­fle-ish con­coc­tion of lay­ers of vanilla crème de patis­serie and poached rhubarb is ter­rific, the sherry com­ing in the top layer of Pe­dro Ximénez and choco­late sauce.

And puffy lit­tle balls of yeast dough­nuts will leave sugar on your lips and a smile on your face, par­tic­u­larly with a silky hazel­nut and vin­cotto ice cream.

Pipers is that kind of place. Given the size of Penola and its dis­tance from the big ci­ties, it’s a won­der­ful sur­prise, and another ex­am­ple of how our wine re­gions nur­ture some of the state’s best din­ing. You have to give it to those Bowens. MUST EAT Seared red snap­per, roasted fen­nel and onion, ver­mouth cauliflowe­r, kale tabouli ALSO CON­SIDER Up­stairs at Hol­licks, Penola The Barn, Mount Gam­bier Soul Projects, Mount Gam­bier

The Balt­hazar of the Barossa 2010 Shi­raz ($50) is a much more se­ri­ous propo­si­tion, built from a sin­gle vine­yard of three core blocks in the Marananga dis­trict it­self.

Wine­maker/pro­pri­etor Anita Bowen has gained a sense over the past 14 years of what each block and what parts of each block can pro­duce, given a vari­a­tion of soil types and fer­til­ity.

What she’s ab­so­lutely solid about is that her wines show best when they’re about four years old, and she doesn’t re­lease them un­til all their el­e­ments – the big solid fruit, the two years in oak, the re­sult­ing aro­mat­ics, nat­u­ral acid­ity wine – have in­te­grated and be­gin to drink well.

And that’s ex­actly the tast­ing note you need. It has done all that and will only get bet­ter for another 10 years.

the Balt­hazar of the Barossa web­site, as well as the re­cently launched 2009, which also won its class at the 2012 Marananga show.

There also is a rare chance to buy the three in­di­vid­ual 2010 block wines that

Pa­tience, in this case, is the ul­ti­mate virtue.

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