THE HILLS ARE ALIVE
VISIT THE BIRD IN HAND WINERY OUTSIDE ADELAIDE FOR NOT ONLY A SUPERB LUNCH, BUT A LITTLE SOUL FOOD AS WELL.
It has a list of international winemaking awards longer than your arm, but Bird in Hand in the Adelaide Hills is more than a winery, and its restaurant The Gallery – as the name suggests – is more than a restaurant.
The business was started in 1997, on the site of an old dairy farm and former goldmine. Andrew Nugent, an agricultural college graduate fresh from an apprenticeship at Tatachilla, planted vines and converted the rundown dairy into offices and sheds into the winery. The elevation made it suitable for cool-climate grapes as well as the staple chardonnay and shiraz.
Gradually Bird in Hand began offering more than cellar-door tastings and lunch in idyllic grounds, just 45 minutes from the centre of Adelaide. It became a place to slow down, view the estate’s growing contemporary art collection, perhaps hear a concert, and enjoy wine and food with friends. “We love the connection between food and wine and music and art,” Nugent says. “The Gallery is an art gallery as well as a restaurant, a place for conversation and culture. The alcohol flows freely, there’s sharing and engaging and taking the time to enjoy the produce. Being a winery, it’s different to a city restaurant where it’s about turning tables over. We like our guests to come for the day, do a wine tasting, walk the grounds, look at the art and make a day of it.”
Nugent keeps an eye out for new acquisitions from emerging Australian and international artists, with the help of a local gallery and one in Berlin. The guiding principle is enjoyment, not intimidation. “We don’t like people being made uncomfortable or feeling they don’t know enough. We’re engaging in creative fields that are linked together to provide people with an experience.”
In 2013 Nugent decided to take the food up a notch. The Gallery, open every day for lunch, offers two experiences: the Joy Flight, a degustation that changes with the seasons, but which might include Coffin Bay oysters, baby kingfish and wagyu beef, followed by cheeses and dessert; and the Signature Flight, a sharing menu of similarly seasonal produce either grown in the kitchen garden or sourced from local providers. Suggested wine pairings are an optional extra that you surely can’t refuse (you didn’t drive here, did you?).
Head chef Ben Fenwick is an Adelaide boy who started cooking at 16, trained locally then worked in Las Vegas with Alain Ducasse before returning to Adelaide – lured back, Nugent says, by the quality of the produce.
Fenwick has mostly free rein, Nugent says: “I set the direction but Ben very much sets the menu and I leave him to his own devices. Everything revolves around quality, fresh and grown by us as much as possible and local suppliers otherwise. I dine in the restaurant all the time and provide comments where I see fit.”
When you lunch at The Gallery, taking your time is mandatory. In case they are tempted to rush things, guests are cautioned in advance to allow three hours for the Joy Flight and two hours for the Signature Flight.
“Ideally guests arrive a bit early,” Nugent says. “We take them through a wine tasting, they can wander the grounds, sit down for lunch, look at the art and enjoy the ambiance. They’re kings and queens for the day and our role is to give people a luxury outing that gives them some respite from the bustle of daily lives, where they can engage with friends and experience artistic and design moments that enhance their wellbeing.
“Without being too flowery: we like people eating, drinking, laughing and having a day out.”