Magill Estate78 Penfold Rd, Magill SA 5072, Australia • +61 (08) 8301-5551 • Map • Website
A restaurant run by the winemakers who brought the world Grange has got to be a good thing and in Luke Stepsys Penfolds have found a creative and brilliant young chef to create mouthwatering accompaniments to superb wines. Luke is a molecular gastronomist in the style of the great Ferran Adria of El Bulli fame. He enjoys deconstructing classic dishes and reassembling them in surprising and mouth watering ways. The pork belly here is among the best I have tasted anywhere – crisp light crackling, resting on top of the most succulent and moist meat imaginable. The degustation menu is matched with Penfolds wines (including Grange if you select the "Premium" option) and includes such mouth watering treats as “Rabbit, Pedro Ximinez, cauliflower cream, prunes, bacon and sour cherry foam” and “Ocean trout, goat’s milk fromage, avocado gel, lemon, caviar and cucumber ‘snow’”. To top this the restaurant sits above several acres of vines and on a clear evening you can see out over the city to the distant sea. It is truly a view to match the food.
Having not been to the restaurant for some time we decided to visit and try an à la carte menu and see how Stepsys was settling in. My first disappointment was that there was no pork belly on the menu. My misery was lifted somewhat by the arrival of an amuse bouche on a silver spoon consisting of ocean trout mousse covering layers of horseradish, spanish caviar and dehydrated tomato. The combination of the intense tomato against the smooth subtle fish worked incredibly well with the kick of the caviar and horseradish as added highlights. It looked like we were in for a good night!
The ocean trout mousse inspired me to stick to a theme and have the famed "Ocean trout, goat’s milk fromage, avocado gel, lemon, caviar and cucumber ‘snow’” mentioned above which has become something of a signature dish. I'd had trouble imagining how this dish would look and was surprised by the form it took. The salmon was served sashimi style in beautiful thick slices which lay on top of a canneloni filled with the delightfully creamy goat's curd. The cucumber "snow" lay on top of the salmon in the form of a frozen rectangle of intensely flavoured cucumber sorbet. The avocado gel was artfully dotted around the plate and the caviar (an absolute starburst of flavour when it burst on my tongue along with a mouthful of the fish and goat's curd)was perched at the end of the canneloni. A few decorative leaves and some dried lemon were scattered over the whole. This dish was, quite simply, a knock out. It was beautifully conceived, imaginative and ticked every box in terms of flavour. You may get some idea of my enthusiasm if I say that this dish alone made the evening worthwhile in my opinion.
My fellow reviewer had a slightly less bells and whistles starter of venison, foie gras toast with capsicum 'linguine', almond, date and liquorice emulsion. The venison was superbly cooked and the 'linguine' resembled some sort of kid's sweet - a long and bright red coiled bit of string on the bed of crushed almonds and liquorice emulsion. The bread looked disappointingly like shop-bought, cheap white bread and tasted much the same but the overall dish was once again creative and a success on the whole (although the actual 'linguine' apparently tasted a little watery.)
We were accompanying all of this with a carefully selected bottle of Magill Estate St Henri Shiraz from 2006, which could have benefited from another 10 years in a cellar but was remarkably good even now - a lighter, less oaked red than some of Magill Estate's big hitters. This was in deference to my partner having tuna as his main, or more precisely "Tuna, duck fat potatoes, asparagus, Iberico Jamon, tomato, dried olives and hen's egg emulsion". This dish, whilst beautifully presented, had far less in the way of creativity to it. The tuna was perfectly cooked of course and of top quality. The tomato had been artfully crushed into a thickish paste, but the "hen's egg emuslion" was quite simply a Hollandaise. The jamon and tuna worked very well as a flavour combination but my friend found the whole dish too busy, with too many competing flavours and found himself wondering if the tomato element was in any way necessary to the dish.
My main was beef wth dehydrated vegetables,quinoa ,shaved mojama, braised oxtail and horseradish. The mojama (salt-cured tuna by another name) was served shaved over my rather disappointing and unappetising dehydrated vegetables. The accompanying beef was superbly cooked and very delicious although the quinoa was nondescript. This dish frustrated me. Had I had it somewhere else I might well have been pleased enough with it but having had such a display of brilliance and real creativity in the starters had led us to expect something different and special in the mains as well. Instead we were served perfectly tasty dishes but we both felt that these dishes were not in any way challenging technically - indeed as fairly accomplished home cooks we both felt we could easily have cooked them ourselves. It is disappointing to go to a fine dining restaurant and end up eating food that you could have made at home. There is also the question of developing a style and consistency to a menu. The desserts listed (such as "Carrot, Olive Cake, Lemon Curd, Walnut, Orange 'bubbles' and cheesecake icecream") once again sounded creative and original. It was as if one chef had designed the starters and desserts and someone else from a simple upscale bistro had popped by to write up the mains menu.
We decided to pass on dessert and go for the offered selection of 8 cheeses. We were perturbed to find that the actual cheese trolley only contained 8 cheeses meaning that we had very little actual choice in the matter. We nevertheless had an enjoyable chat to the waiter who served up our cheeses and shared stories of visiting the d'Affinois factory in France and of the joys of Saint Marcellin. The cheese selection had a few of our old favourites on it, including a creamy goat's cheese d'Affinois we were familiar with. Two pleasant discoveries were the Tasmanian, Pyengana Cheddar which had a strong yet creamy flavour and an interesting peaty smoked Queso San Simon from Galicia. We also enjoyed the ewe's milk Onetik Ossau Iraty from the Pyrenees in France.
We ate some disappointing petit fours (mostly chocolates and truffles - again fairly pedestrian) and headed off into the night somewhat confused. Some of the meal had been world class and spectacular and some of it quite mainstream and even a little dull. Perhaps the tasting menu is a better way to explore Luke Stepsys' obvious talent. Buy in a few more cheeses and design some creative main courses on a par with his starters and desserts and Magill Estate would truly be top class.
Visited: 4th March, 2010
The Red Book rates:
The Red Book also recommends these other fine dining restaurants in Adelaide:
- Blanc Bistro & Grill (31-81 O'Connell St, North Adelaide). Amazing SA fish. Specials like seared bluefin tuna with tempura prawns and a seaweed salad. Seafood platter and tiny cupid oysters plus great salt and pepper chips. (Source: Qantas inflight magazine)
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