The Cellar Door at Penny’s Hill, photo by Bentley Smith
date of visit: Saturday 14 January 2012
A relatively late minute arrangement for a large(ish) family lunch saw eight of us (plus small person) congregate at Penny’s Hill’s Kitchen Door restaurant. Penny’s Hill is on the road between McLaren Vale and Willunga so you have to drive through McLaren Vale itself, and past the Salopian Inn before it pops up on your right.
It’s a lovely spot, with plenty of green, open space – if you arrive early for your reservation you can either pop into the cellar door or just sit outside and enjoy a pre-dinner drink (no prizes for guessing what my family chose to do!). The restaurant itself is reasonably spacious and has that contemporary winery look and feel – with bare floors and ceilings but proper napery on the table.
On a Sunday you have no choice but to take the degustation menu, which is $69 for four courses or $89 if you include matched wines. That seems very reasonable to me. However, we were there on a Saturday so we were able to choose from the à la carte menu. After a bit of umming and aahing (for a change, I had not meticulously researched what I was going to eat in advance), I chose the chargrilled octopus for my entrée and pan fried pork fillet with speck for my main course. Main course was some pretty tight competition because I was also tempted by the rib eye steak with truffled potato galette and the spatchcock.
Now – a word of warning. The menu at the Kitchen Door is short – the summer menu had just four choices for main course (in addition to the three just mentioned there was also a whiting dish) so it’s not somewhere to take people you know to be picky eaters. My preference is, and has always been, for a short, well executed menu – but then I eat pretty much everything. If you’re going to be eating at the Kitchen Door with friends with restricted diets (for whatever reason) I suggest ringing ahead and making sure that everyone’s requirements can be accommodated.
Everything that turned up in front of me was really good. The octopus was tender, the pork was perfectly cooked (it was definitely on the pink side so it remained succulent) and the flavours all worked together well. Octopus, potato and paprika was a bit of a no-brainer for the entrée and in the main course the mustard slaw had just enough acidity to cut through the fat and richness of the two pieces of pork without being confronting.
I wrapped up my meal with a nougatine parfait which was supposed to be served with a blood orange sauce. I’m not exactly orange’s biggest fan so I asked for no orange which upset the pastry chef (apparently at the Kitchen Door they have a dedicated pastry chef) who wanted to know what else she could put on my plate instead – perhaps some strawberries? Yes, strawberries would be lovely (um, even though I think my baby ate most of them!!!).
That kind of attention to detail permeated the service. When choosing some wine (the wine list naturally features the house products, but also has an interesting selection of local and imported wines) I asked about the Viognier and was brought some from the cellar door to try before committing to a whole bottle (one of the perks of eating at a cellar door restaurant, I think). We’d booked including a high chair and it was all set up when we arrived (you’d be surprised by how few places manage this!). While efficient, the service is pretty relaxed, which can mean that it’s a little slow for some or at some junctures of the meal. But actually, I think I prefer this to having waiting staff hovering over me the whole time!
Everyone in our party thoroughly enjoyed their meals – the spatchcock and pork were definitely the biggest hits, but my father’s vitello tonnato for entrée scored very highly.
With more or less three courses all round and plenty of wine, we came away having spent under (not a lot under, but still under) $100 a head. So while it’s hardly cheap, you can certainly spend a lot more and get a far worse experience!
All in all, it was a top lunch and I can understand why this is one of my parents’ favourite places to eat in the Vale. I’ll definitely be returning.