INN THE KNOW
Sit back and enjoy tasting the Fleurieu at a regional eatery that is this year’s great surprise
Clockwise from above: Cape Malay snapper with dried scallops; Culinary team Lindsay Durr, Brendan Wessels and Ben Sommariva; roasted almonds with bitter chocolate, muscatels and amaretto
Drop Second Valley into the coastline of most other parts of the world and the developers would be scrambling over each other to build marinas, condos and beachside bars. Luckily, it’s our little secret, an untouched summer playground where you can camp under the pines, explore pirate caves and hook a squid on the pint-sized jetty.
Just up the hill, on the main road to Cape Jervis, Leonards Mill has also flown under the radar in recent years.
It’s easy to see how the old stone flour mill, chimney jutting skyward, paddocks of sheep on all sides, has attracted investment from a steady flow of dreamers since it was first brought back to life in the mid-’80s.
Current owners, Alan Greig and Jane Mitchell, fell for the place five years ago. They wanted to make it a dining destination but struggled to attract and keep the right people. Then, earlier this year, a young South African couple applied for the position. Their CV, most recently at the revered Lake House in Victoria, seemed the perfect grounding, but it was their passion for the region and the Mill itself that got them the job. Since then Brendan Wessels and Lindsay Durr have gone about their work quietly, tracking down their chosen producers, and developing a signature style that, if you look closely, is incredibly detailed. Best, though, to sit back and enjoy.
Out on the deck in the midst of a perfect spring day, the signs are promising. Fresh flowers, an organised if inexperienced service brigade and plenty of happy faces.
House-baked bread comes with an earthenware flask of excellent local oil.
A golden-topped pie and roasted poussin, from a list of “Simpler Fare”, head to other tables. Tempting. But we’re here to try the more ambitious “A Taste of the Fleurieu” menu.
The first plate arrives covered by a glass cloche that is lifted to release a waft of apple wood smoke. The trick might be dated but what’s underneath is something else. Strips of kingfish sashimi, brushed with yuzu, are barely touched with smokiness. Little cones of pickled daikon filled with daikon-soaked tapioca pearls bring crunch and pop. Strips of grilled squid are pure, sweet and another texture again. A base of bonito aoli amps up the unami. The inspiration is Japanese, but the effect is as invigorating as sea spray.
A small brick of pork belly from pigs raised a few hills away at Parawa shows all the care of its upbringing. The melting flesh is partnered with celeriac (in a puree and as remoulade), apple (pickled and compressed), celery (leaf and stem) and a crumble of black pudding.
Showing one ingredient in a variety of guises is chef Brendan’s motif. In the snapper dish inspired by his homeland’s Cape Malay community, he chops cauliflower into a fine couscous, blends it to a silky puree and steeps florets in curry solution like a piccalilli. Two spicecoated snapper fillets are golden brown on the surface but pure white and moist beneath. A relish of apple and raisins adds raj to the taj. Tally ho.
Fabulous lamb from Kangaroo Island – discs of seared loin and leg meat braised, shredded and pressed – is allowed to shine in a simpler ensemble with jus, native succulents and onion as a purée, charred shallot and pickled shallot. That pickle is too acidic and dominant, I reckon.
Desserts are Lindsay’s domain but take the same cues as the other courses. Balls of barely-set buttermilk cream are adorned with three types of apple (caramelized, jelly and dried), an oatmeal crumble, honeycomb and honey sponge. It’s breakfast turned into a dessert you’ll remember for some time.
The same can be said for the entire experience. It’s this year’s great surprise and, if the chefs stay put and the service develops more confidence and finesse, the Mill will soon be right up there among our regional dining elite.
The secret is out. MUST TRY King fish sashimi with yuzu, daikon and dashi pearls ALSO CONSIDER Hentley Farm, Barossa Valley; Ellen Street, McLaren Vale Grenache Cup Barossa versus McLaren Vale judging. It was one of my faves on the day with its glorious fragrances of fruit, herbs and spices and more-ish medium bodied richness.
Even though it only includes 2 per cent carignan, Hewitson team winemaker Stephen Dauris says it adds more body
ways,” Stephen says.
Now that carignan is also bonvedro, more adventurous winemakers have gone out of their way to showcase it. Woods Crampton is a duet between Aaron Woods and Nicholas Crampton making some very smart modern Barossa wines in small quantities, and having acquired the fruit from an old carignan vineyard they now have gone out with a 100 per center, The Woods Crampton 2013 Bonvedro ($25).
It’s vibrantly coloured in the glass with aromas of dark spiced, almost mulled fruit, retaining a grapey presence and pretty perfumes before developing and powering-up in the mouth, plenty of bright fruit acidity with medium to full weight. A fascinating drink.
They also have crafted a red blend that is now more an Iberian blend than Rhone, The Woods Crampton 2013 The Big Show ($20), which is 45 per cent monastrell (the Spanish word for mourvedre or mataro), 35 per cent bonvedro and 20 per cent graciano. It has all those thing that make similar so-called Mediterranean blends so grit minerals and crumbled earth yet amazing juicy fruits, here with a palate