Collect your luggage, pick up your hire car, and drive due east for 20 minutes from Adelaide airport. As the rolling foothills come into view, you arrive at Penfolds Wines’ historic Magill Estate. Moments ago, you were on a plane, then in the centre of a bustling little city of 1.3 million. Now you’re in wine country.
That’s the brilliant thing about the South Australian capital, eight hours by air from Hong Kong. Adelaide’s extreme proximity to some of Australia’s greatest terroir makes it the ideal jumping-off point for the impatient oenophile or time-pressed epicurean.
At Penfolds’ Magill Estate, just eight kilometres from Adelaide’s central business district, you can take a twilight tour of the picturesque winery, established in 1844 – before settling in for a seven-course degustation meal with matching wines at the celebrated on-site restaurant.
A mere 45 minutes’ drive south of Adelaide lies McLaren Vale, famed for its sensational shiraz; winemaker d’Arenberg’s signature Dead Arm series is among the most prized. Although d’Arenberg was founded over a century ago, its eccentric owner and chief winemaker Chester Osborn is a forward-thinking sort, apparent from the five-storey, AU$15 million (HK$82 million) glass-and-steel Rubik’s Cube-like structure constructed smack in the middle of the family property.
‘The building had to happen because we had to make the d’Arenberg story even bigger, provide really memorable experiences,’ says Osborn. ‘When people visit a winery today, they are demanding experiences – more than just a rolling up at a tasting room and having a glass of wine. They want great photographs to post on social media, and they actually want to learn something.’
To that end, visitors can take part in wine tastings and blending classes within the imposing building or enjoy a noon-to-five degustation lunch with matching wines in the award-winning restaurant. A faster meal can be had at the more architecturally traditional – but no less culinarily creative – d’Arry’s Verandah Restaurant.
A little farther out is the Barossa Valley. Top spots in this area include the gorgeous St Hugo winery and restaurant, the Barossa Valley Cheese Company in the quaint town of Angaston, and the pioneering Seppeltsfield winery, founded in 1851 and one of the oldest in Australia. Thanks to the forethought of the founding Seppelt family, who have stored away some of each year’s finest wines since the late 19th century, here you’re able to sample a fortified tawny (you’d call it a port in Portugal) from the year of your birth or another momentous point in history, all the way back to 1878.
Naturally, the food and wine scene in Adelaide reflects its surrounding bounty. At the top of every foodie’s list is Orana, headed by Jock Zonfrillo, a chef of Scottish and Italian heritage who arrived in Australia in the ’90s. Back then, he was surprised by how few native ingredients were used in Australia’s kitchens and how little the traditions of the country’s indigenous peoples had been integrated into contemporary Aussie cuisine.
Zonfrillo worked extensively with Aboriginal communities to observe and study traditional foods (both animal and vegetal), with a view to not only create innovative fine dining but also to uncover natural, healthier, more sustainable ingredients.
‘For me, it’s all part and parcel of being attracted to Australia,’ says Zonfrillo. ‘How can you talk about Australia without talking about the first Australians? When I first arrived here, I was confused that I couldn’t see their food culture being explored. Any other country you go to, modern restaurants will celebrate traditional cultures and traditional foods.’
Tapping the know-how of indigenous Australians, says Zonfrillo, granted him access to ‘a whole breadth of ingredients’. Paperbark, wattleseed, crocodile, bush cherry, kangaroo, lemon myrtle and eucalyptus are just a few uniquely Australian elements that make an appearance as diners navigate the 18-course menu at Orana. But the dish that most will go away raving about is the Cape Moreton scarlet prawn, embellished with carefully (and humanely) harvested green ants: the delicious little insects burst with menthol-fresh flavour.
It’s not just food and wine. Adelaide has transformed over the past few years from a sleepy little burgh to an increasingly cosmopolitan state capital, overcoming its once ironic nickname ‘Radelaide’. ‘If you were young and ambitious, you had to leave to make it – and that is no longer the case,’ says DJ and music producer Simon Lewicki, who grew up in the city. ‘These days there is some awesome music happening in Adelaide. And let’s not overlook the Adelaide Fringe Festival, which is second only to the Edinburgh Fringe in size and attendance these days. Mad March truly is a great time of year to visit.’
Indeed, every March Adelaide plays host to a series of major events including the multidisciplinary Fringe Festival, the Adelaide Festival and the four-day outdoor world music festival WOMADelaide. Further large-scale festivals and events dedicated to cyclists, petrolheads, gourmands and oenophiles, beer lovers, culture vultures and fashionistas take place throughout the remainder of the year. Excellent art is on show at venues ranging from the state-funded Art Gallery of South Australia and Flinders University Art Museum to innovative independents such as the Nexus Arts performance venue and ACE Open gallery, both located in the Lion Arts Centre.
Left:Saul Steed / AGSA ;Right:Andre Castellucci
When it comes to nightlife, many of the city’s historic structures seem to have been repurposed as chic wine bars and artisanal cocktail joints. Try Clever Little Tailor or, from the same team, Pink Moon Saloon, inspired by surreal TV series Twin Peaks. You’d also do well to sidle up to Africola’s buzzy bar for a meal of African-inspired dishes.
It’s a surprising offering – but lately Adelaide has been excelling at surprises. And one of them is simply the ease of finding an authentic Australian experience that is filled to the brim with food and culture.
March is the biggest month for arts in Adelaide, but the city also hosts a cultural festival for every kind of soul before the year is out
Adelaide Cabaret Festival
The biggest festival of its kind in the world. Expect big pipes and plenty of jazz hands. 7-22 June, 2019.
The South Australian Living Artists Festival displays work from local artists in galleries, studios, wineries and more. 1-31 August, 2019.
A showcase of contemporary Asian performance art – plus a riverside street food market and lantern parade. 17 October-3 November, 2019.
One of Australia’s leading LGBTI festivals, featuring comedy, cabaret, drag and all things fabulous. 9-24 November, 2019.
Cathay Pacific flies to Adelaide from Hong Kong six times a week