The top 10 fine dining restaurants in South Australia to whet your palate
1. Lenzerheide Restaurant, Adelaide
If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it – Lenzerheide has been doing things the same way since it opened in 1989 and a legion of fans would complain loudly if they changed – too much.
Classic European fine dining dishes have given way to a more modern Australian menu featuring the best of local produce done with traditional flourishes.
Think South Australian king prawns and oysters, Cape Grim beef and boutique-producer quails, finished with herb butters, sherry creams and cabernet glazes, all brought to the table with flawless silver service.
The mix is kind of new-school old-school – the lovely European traditions such as soup starters and sorbet palette cleansers, and the triumphant post-dinner appearance of the port and cheese trolley are vintage signatures on a contemporary approach.
Then there’s the thoroughly romantic setting of an elegant historic sandstone residence, warmed on cooler nights by a potbelly stove.
If lovers aren’t already engaged, chances are the atmosphere of Lenzerheide will have the question popped before the last drop of port is drained.
2. Orana, Adelaide
Jock Zonfrillo is a culinary crusader. He’s a chef with a vision, intent on painting a picture of Australia on a plate. And at his small fine-dining Orana on Rundle Street, he caters to adventurous diners who come from all over to graze upon his artistry.
The Scottish-born chef who adopted South Australia as his home in 2000, immerses his guests in a mind-blowing array of indigenous ingredients, either sourced from prime suppliers, or foraged locally. There’s the expected: Spencer Gulf prawns, succulent kangaroo, crocodile and Kangaroo Island marron, for instance.
Then there’s the completely unexpected: green ants, native mulberries peppers, and cherries, and sea parsley, all grown wild on the Australian continent, all filed under “bush tucker” by the majority.
Only across upwards of 20 seasonal courses and small plates, Zonfrillo creates powerfully original dishes that critics rave about for being exquisite and adventurous, yet unpretentious, and which have enshrined his elegant eatery, and Adelaide along with it, in the echelons of destination dining.
3. Hill of Grace, Adelaide
When the historic Adelaide Oval was redeveloped, a striking restaurant space was built into the exclusive Audi Stadium Club.
As is cricket club tradition, it was intended to be for members only.
Lucky for food and wine lovers everywhere, the welcoming folk of Adelaide are very generous. It was decided to open it to the public for dinners five nights a week. And so, a legend in the making was born.
The resulting fine dining restaurant Hill of Grace is aptly named – it’s effortlessly graceful, a calm, elegant space where everything happens just so.
Also as the name suggests, Hill of Grace is a place of pilgrimage for lovers of South Australia’s world-famous wines.
It’s home to the planet’s only complete (and priceless) collection of Henschke’s legendary Hill of Grace shiraz vintages dating from 1958 to now, encased in a glass cabinet lining the main thoroughfare into the restaurant.
The pilgrimage doesn’t end there.
Hill of Grace is home to an extraordinary South-Australian-only, carefully-curated list of a little over 150 wines.
Of course, there’s a brilliant food offering to go with, and it too, is distinctly South Australian. Chef Dennis Leslie uses native fruits and plants alongside flavours from his Asian upbringing and French training.
And there is a remarkably good team delivering it all, from the warm yet professional setting- and occasion-appropriate welcome, to the seamless and discreet service, tending to the a la carte or degustation offerings.
4. Quintessential Barossa – that’s Appellation at The Louise.
All that is great about South Australia’s most historic and famous wine-producing and food-growing region is not only represented here, but distilled down to its finest.
This is country dining at its very, very best.
The ever changing menu draws on what is available from the kitchen garden and nearby food producers, with a slow food policy that sees more than 85 per cent of edibles that arrive on the table sourced from within 30km of the restaurant.
Executive chef Ryan Edwards’ a la carte and five-course tasting menus are refined rusticity. They balance South Australian country flavours and freshness with extraordinary technique.
And then there’s the wine list. No less than 500 different drops are on offer, quite a few of them rare and covetable Barossa finds.
Seasonal, local and perhaps just a little bit Bacchanalian, it’s worth checking in to the upscale accommodation of The Louise so you can relax and partake to your heart’s content before rolling into a nearby luxurious bed.
5. Hentley Farm, Seppeltsfield
Barossa-born Lachlan Colwill’s global experience, including a stint with Tetsuya’s in Sydney and Jean-Georges in New York, has seen him hugely decorated.
And he’s brought the penchant for accolades to his Hentley Farm restaurant, a multiple restaurant of the year award winner, at Hentley Farm winery, in the heart of his South Australian homeland.
Unrestricted by location in approach, Colwill's adventurous menu recognises the expectations of an international clientele; he brings sophisticated cutting-edge and even theatrical food to a rural setting.
He offers no menus, just an intriguing, often playful menu based on produce that is 90 per cent sourced from foraging on – and crops from – the land of Hentley farm as well as local producers in the Seppeltsfield region.
The restaurant offers the Du Jour menu, four courses and some nibbles, to be enjoyed over a two-hour sitting, or The Discovery menu, a culinary adventure that takes four hours. Matched with the award-winning Hentley Farm wine list, a sustainability ethos and a gorgeous timber and stone setting, this is a unique and wonderful destination dining experience.
6. Magill Estate Restaurant, Rosslyn Park
No name is more eminent to South Australian wine than Penfolds and the Magill Estate Restaurant, developed for South Australia’s most celebrated winery, honours that heritage, providing a sensory encounter inspired by the wines and the blessed terroir that produces them.
And it starts as soon as you arrive. Even the décor and architecture immerses guests in the “spiritual home of Penfolds”, with lighting accents of Penfolds red warming the space fronted by huge windows with sweeping views of the Adelaide Hills vineyards.
To others, wine might be the afterthought but co-head chefs Scott Huggins and Emma McCaskill have created a menu that cleverly showcases Penfolds’ stellar vintages and the other, carefully selected wines featured.
The modern Australian menu constructed from rich regional and seasonal produce, is a degustation to be savoured with two levels of matched wines.
Dishes comprised of the finest seafood and produce of the South Australian land glorify their accompanying drop, with an expert sommelier explains how everything works together – though, if on offer (the menu changes daily), the beautifully marbled Mayura wagyu matched with a snifter of Grange needs no explanation at all.
7. The Tasting Room, Mayura Station, Millicent
For more than 150 years, historic Mayura Station on the Limestone Coast, South Australia’s first pastoral lease, has been home to prize beef, fed by fertile hills, a moderate climate and a reliable supply of beautiful clean water. Today, it produces award-winning wagyu beef that’s considered among the world’s best and in hot international demand.
But before it all gets shipped off to Japan or select local outlets, the good people of Mayura hold back some of the best cuts to provide a dining opportunity that represents the concept of paddock to plate at its purest and which is a pinnacle of pleasure for steak lovers.
The Tasting Room, awarded Best Formal Steak Restaurant in 2014, caters for a small number of guests who sit in the kitchen, watching chef Mark Wright prepare their meal before them.
It’s a degustation with Mayura’s best as its star, matching with superb local Limestone Coast and Coonawarra wines. Along the way, he explains the history of Wagyu, his preparation techniques and the prime ways to cook the delicacy to perfection.
8. Pipers of Penola, Penola
Family-owned Bowen Estate in the Coonawarra has been producing classic wines typical of the area’s distinct terra rossa, as the red soil is known, displaying strong aromas and flavours balanced by soft tannins.
And down the road in the little village of Penola, members of the Bowen family welcome you to dine, and enjoy some of the family’s best vintages, among other superb local wines.
Chef Simon Bowen and his wife Erika managing front of house have effortlessly perfected an approach which exemplifies the unique allure of South Australia’s wine regions: a balance of country charm and sophisticated refinement.
After travelling the world honing his craft, Bowen came home to the Coonawarra, to create a destination restaurant in the postcard-perfect setting of an old village church.
Lauded for using the best of classic local ingredients in contemporary dishes displaying consummate technique, this is dining that is accessible yet elite.
There are hand cut chips with aioli alongside plates featuring the finest truffles.
Just leave room for dessert; the sugared yeast doughnuts with hazelnut and vincotto ice cream, macadamia nuts and mint are reaching legendary status.
9. The Kitchen Door at Penny’s Hill, McLaren Vale
The lunch-only, fine dining part of The Kitchen Door, the Gedney Room restaurant, takes seasonal seriously.
Head chef Neil McGlew has a theatrical sense of celebrating all that is great about the particular time of year – an Easter degustation featured a dessert of “old peculiar” tart with hot-cross bun ice cream and whiskey syrup.
A winter menu saw haggis croquettes and a black pudding and sweetbread truffle mousse.
Penny’s Hill is one of the prettiest wineries in McLaren Vale, its entrance guarded by the original old sandstone mansion, the cellar door entryway guarded by a gaggle of ladies from which the winery’s Black Chook label gets its name, the restaurant positioned to make the most of the breathtaking McLaren Vale paddock vistas.
A visit here is immersive, seductive and above all, relaxing.
Your hosts have designed the experience to be inviting and comfortable, yet high end and elegant.
They pull that off that tricky mix consistently, which is why The Kitchen Door has been awarded Best Vineyard Restaurant multiple times.
10. Sean's Kitchen, Adelaide
Yorkshire-born Sean Connolly is inspired by the same principles which underpin the best of South Australian dining: “generosity, imagination and a healthy respect for excellent produce” are those principles and they are things his grandmother taught him as a young aspiring cook.
That’s why the world-renowned chef’s latest New York brasserie-inspired restaurant is a perfect fit for Adelaide.
Sean’s Kitchen, at the historic Adelaide Casino pays homage to South Australian provenance with the fresh and down-to-earth approach Connolly is famous for.
Find fire-grilled Spencer Gulf prawns, local scampi, prime South Australian beef done tartare style, slow-roasted local lamb, award-winning artisan cheeses from Wrights of the Adelaide Hills, South Australian oysters and more on a menu that proudly lists its local suppliers such as Richard Gunner’s Fine Meats, Saskia Beer Barossa Farm Produce and several Port Lincoln seafood companies.
The wine list showcases carefully picked South Australian vintages from the various regions, such as the ’98 Jenke Late Disgorged Sparkling Shiraz from the Barossa Valley and the ‘13 Mollydooker The Violinist Verdelho from McLaren Vale, among a superb selection of national and internationals.
With two private dining rooms, a chef’s table and a unique museum of ham, it’s a place with a sense of occasion, though you’re welcome to come any time.