Cellar Door Fest: Insider Sneak Peek

Tidswell Wines
Tidswell Wines’ Norwood Cellar Door

Disclaimer: I was a guest at the event

Now we’ve all forgotten about Christmas and New Year, Festival season is well and truly kicking off in Adelaide. I can read through my Facebook feed without tripping over events, street parties and must-see acts.

One event which South Australian wine lovers should look forward to is the Cellar Door Fest, held every February at the Adelaide Convention Centre.

This year, the Fest kicks off on Friday 26 February and, as a sneak peek, a few of Adelaide’s food and wine lovers were treated to an urban cellar door tour.

The beauty of the Cellar Door Fest is that, in one weekend, you can (try to!) visit 180 wineries covering 15 of South Australia’s wine regions. Every year the Fest adapts and changes, and this year sees a strong focus on experiences. Alongside the masterclasses and long table lunches (an extended program) 2016 also sees the introduction of a beer garden. There’s a strong emphasis on food (especially cheese) so you’ll also be able to taste new products and chat to producers.

Charcuterie and cheese
Charcuterie and cheese by Bottega Rotolo

We started at Tidswell Wines, on Sydenham Road in Norwood. Tidswell’s vineyards are on the Limestone Coast and when they were planted in 1994 they were part of the Coonawarra. Unfortunately, when the Coonawarra GI was established in 2003 the vineyards fell outside the boundary. Today, Tidswell produces a range of red and white wines, all of which we could try (unfortunately I was driving – something of a fail for a cellar door tour). We also snacked on a lovely plate of charcuterie and cheese, provided by Bottega Rotolo.

Signature Wines
Lots of oohs and aahs when the door was thrown open to reveal the setting at Signature Wines

Next stop, and literally across the road, was Signature Wines. You’re unlikely to find Signature in a big bottle shop – Dan and Bec focus on on-trade sales, partnering with many of Australia’s top restaurants, as well as sales through the Norwood cellar door. Here we enjoyed a flight of four wines, accompanied by a pulled beef burger, put together by Jackie Singh of Ruby Spice.

Chocolate
Chocolate – from bean (far right), through nib, cocoa powder and finished products

Finally, we moved on to Tomich Wines‘ cellar door on King William Rd. We were greeted with more bubbles and wrapped up the evening hearing about chocolate. Marcus, from Stirling’s Red Cacao, took us through the chocolate production process and we enjoyed coffee and truffles (his raspberry ganache chocolate I HIGHLY recommend).

Throughout the evening we heard from people who have been involved in the Cellar Door Fest for many years. It’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming it’s all about wine but there is so much more on offer. And really – you can either take a week or two off work and spend a LOT of time driving, or … you can high-tail it to the Convention Centre and spend a couple of days checking out the best our state has to offer.

As something of a Cellar Door Fest veteran (I remember the very first one!) here are my four top tips:

1. Book online. Sure – you can buy your tickets at the door but you’ll save money and queuing time by booking online.

2. Get your timing right. That means – go early. The Friday evening session is usually quieter than the full weekend days so it’s a good option. If you are going on Saturday and/or Sunday – arrive early. As in, arrive when the doors open. There are fewer people so you’ll have the opportunity to talk to producers who aren’t faced with a phalanx of punters and who haven’t yet said the same thing over and over and over.

3. Make use of the pick ‘n pack service. THIS IS THE BEST THING EVER. Sure … you can pretend you’re not going to buy wine but you are and pick ‘n pack will look after your goodies and deliver them safely. Who’s to argue with a whopping 75% of last year’s Fest-goers?

4. LEAVE THE CAR AT HOME. This is a Cellar Door Fest and there’s never an excuse for drinking and driving. The Adelaide Convetion Centre is immediately adjacent to the train station and North Terrace is well served by buses and trams. There are also plenty of taxi ranks for the journey home.

Cellar Door Fest runs from 26-28 February at the Adelaide Convention Centre.

Sean’s Kitchen Turns One

20151020_131728Disclaimer: I was a guest at the lunch.

I’m quite surprised that Sean’s Kitchen, one of the Casino’s flagship restaurants, is just one. In a year which has been packed with restaurant and bar openings, Sean’s Kitchen has done a good job of keeping itself at the forefront of my consciousness. Remember those black burgers for Friday the 13th, a while back?

It is rather the story of my life at the moment that I seem to have not eaten at places and that’s certainly true of Sean’s Kitchen. It has moved up and down ‘the list’ and never quite percolated to the top.

Until last Tuesday, when I headed along to a lunch to help celebrate the restaurant’s birthday.

A small group of bloggers and media was hosted by both the Casino and Sean himself to a lunch which showcased some highlights from the new summer menu and concluded with an enormous birthday cake. If you have never thought of sponge, chocolate ganache, meringue, popcorn and salted caramel sauce … you should start thinking about it now.

Firstly – the drinks (even at lunch time a glass or two of good wine is essential). Very excitingly for the wine geeks out there, Sean’s has put on a dedicated ‘Rosé Repertoire’ list of rosés, available by the glass. The wines are predominantly dry (which can be an achievement in itself) and also interesting. I suspect that not only did someone have fun coming up with the list – patrons should have fun drinking it over summer. We started with a big platter of oysters which was quickly followed by a very comprehensive selection of the smaller plates available.

20151020_122307 The two absolute stand outs for me were the soft shell crab sandwich, served with green goddess dressing, and the crab salad with bloody mary vinaigrette. If you order this, you will need to ensure that you either have plenty of bread to mop up the vinaigrette or a spoon – otherwise you may feel compelled to slurp it from the bowl and that wouldn’t be a good look … 20151020_123559 New summer dishes include an heirloom tomato, strawberry and watermelon salad, dressed with pomegranate seeds and labne, and grilled peaches, served with mozzarella and pistachio pesto (another highlight for me). I also loved the grilled octopus salad, served with kipfler potatoes, olives, chilli and gremolata. Super simple but just wonderful. 20151020_130101

Having motored through all of this, I was starting to feel quite full … but saved some space for the birthday cake. The arrival of the cake was heralded by a Marilyn singing ‘Happy Birthday’ (apparently quite a while ago, Sean had asked for a Marilyn and then promptly forgotten about it …). Apparently the kitchen had been at full tilt producing ganache so that patrons throughout the day could all be treated to a piece of cake.

The combination of soft meringue and pop corn, with a dash of salted caramel sauce, was just delicious. You almost didn’t need cake too. Almost, but not quite!

At this point I had to leave but before I did, the barbecue short rib appeared from the kitchen. It’s a hefty share dish and looked delicious (and from all reports it tasted delicious too). I hope the remaining diners did it justice!

It might have been a Tuesday lunch but Sean’s Kitchen was almost full to capacity – no mean feat given that it is definitely at the pricier end of the Adelaide dining scale (main courses hover between $30 and $40).

It is great to see what we can now call an established venue that is thriving. Sometimes I think Adelaide’s dining scene is a little too flighty – always chasing the next trendy thing – but the success of Sean’s Kitchen shows that it is possible to survive and thrive beyond the 6 month mark.

Sean’s Kitchen
Station Road
Adelaide SA 5000
phone: 08 8218 4244

Sean's Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Fear and Delight

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Soup

Disclaimer: I was a guest at Fear and Delight: The Complete Experience

SPOILER ALERT: If you have tickets booked to The Complete Experience or are even vaguely thinking about going DO NOT READ THIS POST.

If you are going to The Show or the Devil’s Lighthouse … then read on.

A little while back I was invited to the media launch for Fear and Delight, one of the many, many shows on in Adelaide at the moment. I was unable to attend the launch (even I can’t fit in everything) so when I was invited to attend the actual whole complete experience I was excited as well as a tiny bit scared, because I didn’t feel as though I’d had the heads up that I might have had.

Fear and Delight comes in three parts, as it were – The Complete Experience, which is dinner, show and nightclub, The Show, which is … um, the show (plus nightclub) and The Devil’s Lighthouse, which is the nightclub part. This means that there is something to suit all energy levels and budgets. While The Complete Experience will set you back $150, the show is $58 and admission to just the club is $17. I suspect this makes The Complete Experience one of the pricier events at the Fringe but you do need to keep in mind that you get dinner, drinks, the show and the club admission. If you crunch the numbers, the dinner part is setting you back $92.

But really, the dinner part is more about theatre, show and experience than it is about food. You most certainly are NOT paying your money for a nice, polite, sit down, silver service, Chateaubriand kind of meal. OH NO.

I arrived at the Garden of Unearthly Delights, collected my ticket and wandered off to find the starting point for Fear and Delight. The show has a dress code (black and white) which makes it very easy to spot the people milling around waiting for it to start. I had actually ummed and ahhed about wearing very dark blue jeans but figured I should be obedient and wear black. Not everyone was as well behaved as me (!) so don’t feel you have to rush out and add to your wardrobe but by the same token, don’t wear your best neon dress.

While standing around waiting for things to happen we were served beef jerky canapés. The jerky was served on a cow skull with a side of ant mayonnaise. While eating this, chatting and wondering what would happen next, performers wandered through the group handing out masks. When the two people I was talking to received theirs, the female performer ignored me so I politely asked if I could have one too. She took one look at me, huffed, turned her back and walked off.

The Complete Experience is not for the insecure, that’s for sure!

While we speculated about how I should have asked (“oi, give us a mask” peppered with expletives was posited …) another performer turned up, grabbed the hand of one of our little threesome and lead her off. We didn’t see her again until we hit The Devil’s Lighthouse itself.

The Complete Experience is not for those of you wanting a cosy, romantic date night!

I was in the last group lead through the curtains. We were gathered in a small room where we were handed bright green shots and gold glittery pills and told to wear our masks as they were our keys to the Devil’s Lighthouse. Wait – where’s my mask? I don’t have a mask!

At this point, Steve (whose other half had been lead off) decided he’d stick with me because without a mask I was a prime target to be picked on and so he’d be safe …

Glitter pills duly taken we were told to follow our guide at all times and we were then lead out of the small room and across the parklands where we were greeted by a naked lady in a bath, pouring sparkling wine (D’Arenberg’s Dadd). We were also served oysters with sand. This was actually some seafood in a very thick almost mayonnaise like, yet grey, sauce covered in a thick layer of edible sand. It smelt unbelievably horrible but actually tasted pretty good.

After bubbles, we were lead to the main area and into the Devil’s Lighthouse. Here we lined up two by two to receive a very weird kind of communion. The red jelly that we had spooned into our mouths by the priest was just awful (I have no idea what it was but it was universally decried as more towards the disgusting end of the flavour spectrum). Having survived that, we were given a ‘holy bun’. These were excellent! They were steamed buns but instead of an Asian filling it was actually more like a pasty. I really enjoyed this and the buns seemed to resurrect everyone’s faith in the food to come …

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Here come the drinks …

Munching on our buns we were then lead across to the stage and told to find any friends we wanted to sit with. Diners were seated on all four sides of the stage (The Complete Experience is limited to 100 people per evening) and while performers and staff checked for anyone with special dietary requirements (you obviously need to let them know in advance!), drinks were poured and we were all able to have a good look at our entrée (the soup pictured above) while performers tumbled about the stage, did a bit of sabrage and brought bells around for you to ring if you needed a drink.

Various formalities over, the food proper began. Boiling water was poured onto our soup and the skulls gave way to a consommé. I thought the broth itself was a bit on the bland side but the rose petals, which I’ve never considered in a savoury dish before, gave it some excellent flavour.

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birthday cake … not so chocolatey …

Soup over, the birthday cakes were brought out – one cake to be divided between 5 or 6 people. After some discussion we decided the cake was polenta made with squid ink and it was topped with some grilled octopus tentacles which were tender. The cake definitely looked a lot more macabre and threatening than it actually was – although funnily enough the picture of this on the Eating Adelaide Facebook page did receive one ‘hide this post’ …

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caged chicken … no free range here

Next up, came our caged chicken, served with a side of baby gem lettuce and ‘cream and sugar’ (mustard sauce and a sesame seed mix). Again, there was a lot more shock value going on with the appearance of the food than with its flavour (it was roast chicken – nothing scary there!). We were also served a cold cauliflower soup which was presented as a cappucino.

All the time we were eating things were going on on stage – it was a very busy meal in that you were never sitting around relaxing, chatting and thinking about the food.

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koala brains … by this point the light had failed me totally!

As we were finishing off mains and having dessert (koala brains – a kind of vanilla semifreddo, served with some jelly in a petri dish), the punters for The Show were admitted and the stage was busily cleared up ready for the performance to start.

I finally got my mask at this point!

The performance itself has a very loose story line which is conveyed through speech, song and music but the highlight of this part of the evening is without a doubt the acrobats. If you need to be reminded of or want to be blown away by what the human body can do, a performance like this is what you need to see. The feats of balance and strength that the male and female stars brought to the stage were just breathtaking and I absolutely and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Once the show wrapped up, most people headed to the Devil’s Lighthouse for some nightclub action. However, as a 6:30am start beckoned, I was sensible and boring and went home.

Overall, I think that the many performers who have come together to put create Fear and Delight have achieved what they set out to do. There is much of The Complete Experience which is confronting and will take you out of your comfort zone. You are not going to enjoy every moment of it and you’re not supposed to. Your ideas about food will be challenged – not everything tastes good, not everything smells good and by and large the appearance of dishes is there to make you feel uncomfortable. In some ways, because this is so much about perception, actually what you are eating is less important than what your brain is telling you. And the entire experience is not about having a ‘nice meal and seeing a show’ – there were parts of the food I really enjoyed, and a lot of the food divided people (the cold cauliflower soup I could not deal with but the person next to me loved it).

This is food as performance art and even if you don’t love every moment of it (and you won’t) you’re unlikely to forget it in a hurry.