In Adelaide, a hotel restaurant chucks the usual clichés out the window.
BY JOHN CORBETT. For every kind of traveller, hotel restaurants are the default setting of dining. They are the no-effort option at the end of the day when you’re too tired/lazy/time-poor to range further afield. They are also frequently open for “all-day dining”, so their offerings lean towards the workaday. And many these days are part of a chain where the grey hand of corporate cost-accounting smoothes them into uniformity. You get Steak. You get Fish. You get Lamb. But seldom much to write home about.
RedSalt, the signature restaurant at the Crowne Plaza Adelaide, chucks all the clichés about hotel dining rooms out the window, starting with its shape. The room is at the end of a long, glossy, neutral-coloured rectangle that stretches away from the lobby (which can be bustling) past a bar (ditto) and a casual seating area with yellow armchairs (quieter). At each stage, partitions and baffles segue you along so by the time you reach the dining space you feel far from the madding crowd and in the mood to eat.
A line of Jackie Collins-style banquettes occupies the inner wall. There’s a clutch of tables in the middle and a row of two-seaters running along the picture windows looking into leafy Hindmarsh Square. The last have a cosy, alfresco look conducive to tête-à-têtes, but being Jackie Collins fans from way back we plumped for one of the banquettes. And like cops and mafiosi, we like to face the room.
RedSalt’s summer dinner menu gives road warriors plenty of avenues to travel down. The Duck and Pork Rillette (A$16.50), makes a nod to classic French technique, as does the Lamb Cutlet with a port reduction ($29.50) and the Dark Chocolate Mousse with mint sorbet and chocolate gel ($15). A Cherry Bakewell Tart ($11.50), from a wholly different tradition across the Channel, follows the jam and almond version of the dish.
But there’s a lot more going on, and not only in the busy division of the menu into Begin, Mains, From the Grill, Traditions, and Finish (for desserts). The side dishes (all $8), a lively medley taking in Hand-cut Chips; Rocket, Parmesan and Fresh Pear Salad, and Buttered Broad Beans and Peas with crispy shallots, are handily listed on the menu’s top right. There are the now-obligatory local, seasonal and organic offerings (Coffin Bay oysters, South Australian heirloom tomatoes and cheeses, yada-yada) but more interestingly, quite a few of the dishes such as Beetroot and Cashew Cheese Ravioli ($27), Crab Tagliolini ($29.50) and Slow-cooked Chicken with polenta, olives and rocket salad ($26.50) have echoes of Italy.
Executive Chef Fran (Francesca) Ghidini hails from there, with subsequent stints in Germany, the USA and, notably, at London’s posh 5-star Charlotte Street luxury boutique hotel. All of this international experience means she isn’t afraid to mix it up.
“The idea,” she told us later, “was to bring together my old home and my new home, using everything that I have learnt in-between. The Traditions are dishes that I recall eating when I was a kid – the Sunday family lunches at Nonna’s house, the first time you were allowed to have a little coffee or just a drop of grappa.
“The classic French recipes are always present on every menu that I have created, as I believe that we should remember what we were before we become who we are.”
A few of the dishes, she says, are inspired and co-created by her kitchen team. “It’s a collaboration of different minds and different cultures.”
Case in point: the zing of homemade kimchi you find amongst the mozzarella and olive puree of the Prosciutto Wrap in the Begin section, and its appearance again in the Mains as a glaze on a roasted breast of duck. For the adventurous, the kimchi is also available as a side.
In the dishes that include the word “Trilogy” on the menu, chef Ghidini really goes for it.
“The Trilogies are innovative,” she says. “They are for the curious who want to explore a little more, for the ones like me that want to see how versatile a product is.”
Cases in point again: the Coffin Bay Oyster Trilogy ($18.50) is a trio of tempura-fried oysters with wasabi mayonnaise; oysters served au naturel with lemon gel, cucumber and spring onion salsa, and gratiné with a herb crust. For a finish with a flourish try the Coffee Trilogy, a line-up of chocolate and coffee mousse with almond croccante (brittle); Nonna Lucia’s tiramisu, and coffee and grappa ice cream.
Our fancy that night took us down the classic and nonna roads. The Duck and Pork Rillette, presented in its own little serving jar with a jaunty topping of sliced cornichons, arrived on a modish platter of black slate. It is easy to err on the side of blandness with a rillette but this one was seasoned just right. Four slices of char-toasted rustic-style bread invited us to dig in and we did.
We let the serving staff (who combined just the right blend of Aussie breeziness with efficiency) match the wines for us. With the Rillette, it was a glass of multi-award-winning Bleasdale Pinot Gris from the Adelaide Hills ($8). (Before dinner we enjoyed a glass of Croser sparkling – $10 and always good).
For the Slow-Cooked Chicken with polenta, served with a black olive and rocket salad with vinaigrette ($26.50), the staff picked a Coriole Sangiovese from McLaren Vale, which made it a patriotic night for South Australian wines. The Slow-cooked Chicken – nicely moist, draped generously in its sauce – was exactly the sort of homely but elegant comfort food you want when travelling. (We eyed, but didn’t try, a higher-octane-sounding Free-Range Chicken Breast with a lime and mint salsa ($25.50) in the From the Grill section).
To finish, we had a slice of Cherry Bakewell Tart because we don’t see this old English standard very much at the moment. It was served with a zhoozh of cherry purée and a scoop of vanilla ice cream sporting a tuile of cherry fruit leather.
In sum, dear reader, RedSalt is a hotel restaurant where a travelling bloke can get a perfectly good Scotch Fillet or Mixed Grill (sausage, lamb cutlet, steak, chorizo) with peppercorn sauce if he wants, plus an ample buffet breakfast the next morning with all the trimmings (we tried it, it’s good, and they serve Manfredi coffee). But it is also a place where the Roasted Lamb Rack is served with a quinoa and eggplant salad, pistachio puree and plum wine gel. And where the Grapefruit Parfait comes with a citrus salsa and cenci, delicious traditional sweet pastries from central Italy that are dusted with confectioner’s sugar.
In short, it’s that rarity on the road: a hotel dining room whose management has the smarts to let a talented chef greatly exceed the expectations of the travelling public. I just wish I lived in Adelaide, because food of this calibre would bring me back and back. www.alimentary.co.nz #RestaurantAustralia
Photos: John Corbett
John Corbett stayed at Crowne Plaza Adelaide courtesy of Tourism Australia, Tourism South Australia and Crowne Plaza Adelaide.