Ade­laide Oval’s new restau­rant puts the fine back into din­ing with its for­mal ap­proach. But does the food fit the bill?

The Advertiser - SA Weekend - - COVER ST -

My some­what fuzzy mem­o­ries of watch­ing cricket from The Hill at Ade­laide Oval re­volve around too many plas­tic cups of beer, not enough sun­screen, and some­one in the crowd with a strik­ing re­sem­blance to leg­endary open­ing bats­man David Boon.

While the tow­er­ing new stands of the ren­o­vated arena are clos­ing in, that grassy slope and fa­mous old score­board have sur­vived, for now at least.

We can see them across the hal­lowed turf from our dress cir­cle seat in the Oval’s other “Hill” – a cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ence that couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent in style or con­tent. Here, wait­ers clad in ninja black are care­ful to mind their p’s and q’s, while the bev­er­age of choice is Henschke wines, in­clud­ing the stel­lar Hill of Grace that has given the place its name.

HoG Restau­rant is the sta­dium man­agers’ an­swer to bring­ing peo­ple (and rev­enue) in when there is no footy, cricket or Mick Jag­ger. Tak­ing over a sweep­ing curved room still oc­cu­pied by big-ticket cor­po­rates on match day, they have cre­ated one of Ade­laide’s most for­mal din­ers. At $175 food only for the pre­mium eight-course de­gus­ta­tion, it is more ex­pen­sive than Orana and Hent­ley Farm, and on a par with Mag­ill Es­tate.

It’s a pack­age that de­mands a lot from the kitchen headed by chef Den­nis Leslie, who has boldly opted to use in­gre­di­ents and tech­niques re­flect­ing his Filipino her­itage as a point of dif­fer­ence.

The HoG menu is full of ref­er­ences such as “sisig”, “laing” and “mongo” that are as much a mys­tery here as Brad­man and Boof would be on the streets of Manila. Think the fruiti­ness and co­conut of the trop­ics cut with some Asian-style tang and sour­ness, and you’re on track.

Put this food in a con­tem­po­rary set­ting, with a bit of live­li­ness and soul, and I reckon it would rock. But with such care­fully man­i­cured plat­ing, along­side those wines, in this room, at that price, it feels at times like a scruffy kid squeezed into a tuxedo. It doesn’t help that our ar­rival has caused mild hys­te­ria among some staff. After a mass gath­er­ing around the kitchen, the very lik­able young bloke who had been as­signed to serve us is sent to Siberia and re­placed with some­one more se­nior. No pres­sure then.

At least our new man knows his cala­mansi from his quan­dongs. It’s juice from the for­mer, a small cit­rus fruit, that is used to “cook” slices of king­fish in a Filipino ver­sion of ce­viche driz­zled with co­conut cream. But it’s the po­tent prawn­shell punch of a cracker bal­anced on top that lingers long after the plate is gone.

Tamarind-mar­i­nated quail breast is roasted, then charred un­til dark and smoky with the barest tinge of pink inside. It rests on a big dol­lop of a fruity tamarind chut­ney, while strips of pick­led kohlrabi add fresh­ness and crunch. Flow­ers pretty it up but seem out of place on such a ro­bust com­bi­na­tion.

Pork belly and jowl are slow cooked, diced and seared for a dressed-up ver­sion of the street food “sisig”. Mix the piggy bits to­gether with a soft-boiled egg, di­jon “cus­tard” and plenty of deep-fried shal­lot and you have the “fried onion and mayo” qual­i­ties that make dude food so ad­dic­tive. A bun, please.

Another pork dish, this time with a “crum­ble” of crushed crack­ling and a sweet/sour syrup of quan­dongs and muntries, seems too much of a good thing.

In be­tween a fried mul­let fil­let, raw cock­les, shav­ings of raw squid tube, wakame and sprigs of green­ery are more sub­tle, with the ac­com­pa­ny­ing “laing” sauce of co­conut milk and taro leaves like a funky green curry sauce.

Match­ing the Hill of Grace, a wine of ex­tra­or­di­nary poise, brings a prag­matic re­sponse, and the ex­ot­ica is set aside for a course of beef fil­let, roasted mush­rooms, a pump­kin puree and sour cherry jus. No sur­prise that this is HoG’s big­gest seller.

The two desserts are ex­cel­lent. Dense, moist “tres leche” (three milk) cake is sur­rounded by mixed cit­rus curd, sor­bet, mar­malade and dried flakes. Beau­ti­ful. And stout and sour dough ice cream, dates and pecans, guava cus­tard, jelly and marsh­mal­low is an amuse­ment park of tex­tu­ral tricks and sur­prises.

It’s great fun and wel­come re­lief in a restau­rant that needs to loosen up. Per­haps the staff should spend an af­ter­noon on that other Hill. just been bot­tled and we’ll see that in a few months, its lovely hon­eyed blos­som aro­mas just emerg­ing. The 2013 vin­tage, how­ever, is not ready to be su­per­seded, set­tled beau­ti­fully and stun­ningly pure tech­nique to give a fuller, more sat­is­fy­ing ex­pres­sion of the va­ri­ety.

A tast­ing of ear­lier ver­sions from 2005 and 2002 show just what kind of magic th­ese en­velop with eight years and beyond on them. At $22 a bot­tle they’re a won­der­ful long-term in­vest­ment.

Now for Clare reds. The Mitchell 2010 Pep­pertree Shi­raz ($25) is clear- headed in its cooler-cli­mate styling, white pep­per spic­ing to the fore, barely any note of oak, and for want of a popular if neb­u­lous term, it’s truly el­e­gant and

The Mitchell 2007 Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon ($27) is some­thing else again, cur­rent with seven years ma­tu­rity to al­low the va­ri­ety the proper time to re­veal its won­der­ful black fruits, choco­late-like tan­nins smooth­ing now, and de­light­ful medium-weight in­tegrity.

When it comes to pa­tience, An­drew showed true grit to wait for it on skins for 40 days and nights to build its nat­u­ral struc­ture and bal­ance. It’s a ge­nius wine for the price now and most likely for another decade.

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