How to choose where to eat? Google is often a good place to start, but can you really trust the fast and dirty systems of online platforms, perhaps influenced by those who let food cool when they interrupt serving staff to take group photos, or are busy capturing the perfect Instagram Angle of their lunch?
Riskier still are places whose list of positive reviews seems to be a bit too similar and contrived. “Great service, great food, great atmosphere, five stars” just doesn’t seem to add up.
I suppose you can trust family or friends whose standards or tastes may be far removed from yours, and of course there are always the professional opinions of experienced critics who write for credible publications. Word of mouth is also a good option. And nothing beats a local recommendation.
Ask any Barossa local and they’ll probably mention winemakers. Last year, the venue celebrated 25 years in business, a feat in itself for any hotel business. Despite its age and historic location just outside of Angaston, this place is anything but dated. Chef-owner Peter Clarke and sommelier Rami Heer both make careful selections in food, wine and design to keep this place up to date, continually receiving awards and accolades for their efforts. Today’s long lunch shows why.
Starting with a savory entrée of plump olives, stuffed with anchovies and coated in golden fried panko crumbs from the Little Bits portion of the menu gives us the opportunity to peruse a long but thoughtful wine list. Many are local, of course, but there’s also a heavy dose of interstate and international drops to round things out.
A selection of starters includes the freshest oysters in SA, served plain with a squeeze of lime, then raw slices of trevally swimming in a generous pool of good olive oil, sprinkled with capers, red onion and of lime flesh that provides a tangy, zesty finish to every bite.
A beef tartare gives us a taste of the light Asian flavors that enliven the Vignerons menu. Despite my usual penchant for tradition when it comes to tartare, I’m a big fan of this nuanced version of chili and lime, crushed peanuts and diced celery, each offering their own version of crispiness. Instead of bread or chips, slices of grilled, salted Chinese donut for this occasion.
The next two sections of the menu are separated into smaller and larger, with options such as local shrimp in yuzu kosho butter, five-spice quail, and roast duck breast served with wonton, green, and shiitake mushrooms. . These are tempting, but it’s the signature prime rib that ends up landing on the table, paired with a Dalrymple Pinot Noir. The rib is cooked to perfection and served in a stacked assembly of lightly charred whole shallots and thick sliced Portobello mushrooms. Everything is bathed in a creamy sauce. Next to it are ramekins of mustard and horseradish which add a little more spice to the peppery flavor of the dish.
This dish is a meaty challenge for two, but we’ll have a blast with bites of whipped ricotta and beets prepared in different ways as a side salad. A sweet acid balances the otherwise hearty combination of earthy flavors thanks to a kumquat jam hidden under the beetroot, with hazelnuts rounding out this beautifully presented dish.
Earthy and beautiful are also words I would use to describe the place itself, with whitewashed walls providing a bright contrast to the dark stone fireplace, wooden floors and large beams that form the ceiling of the dining room. Modern touches include trendy light fixtures and a fairly recently renovated bar wraps around one side of the venue. Huge windows let in plenty of light, despite a slightly cloudy day, with views of the garden and surrounding vineyards.
While Vintners’ menu is like many others, it’s the carefully selected, fresh, seasonal ingredients, prepared by an experienced kitchen and served by a team that understands how people like to dine, that really elevates this experience.
But please don’t take my word for it, just ask a local.
752 Stockwell Road, Angaston SA
(08) 8564 2488
Lunch 7 days a week from 12 p.m. to 2.30 p.m.
Dinner from Monday to Saturday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.