A gourmand’s trip to South Australia involves, at minimum, two things: wine (probably red, and probably lots of it), plus a meal at Orana. But good things come in threes, so get out your virtual bookmarks – Hentley Farm joins the list.
Date Last Visited: 4/Aug/2018
Address: Gerald Roberts Rd, Jenke Rd, Seppeltsfield SA 5355
Price Guide (approx): $170 tasting menu only, $85 wine pairing
Keith & Alison Hentschke bought Hentley Farm with a mission to produce wines that earn their place in the Barossa pantheon, one they’ve largely succeeded at. But producing ‘good wine’ in the Barossa is a bit like saying Chanel sells ‘good handbags’ on Pitt St: being adept at something matters less if you’re in good company.
But under chef Lachlan Colwill, the restaurant at Hentley Farm is something else. A step above. Produce-driven, locavore cooking has been all the rage in the past few years, but this isn’t – and shouldn’t – be a mere trend. Indeed, it’s what any restaurant with ‘farm’ in the name should espouse by default, and that is something Hentley Farm does well. Despite the regional spin, the restaurant itself is chicly dressed, and could be equally in its own element overlooking Sydney Harbour as it does the farm grounds – it’s a swish place, but the tablecloths are withheld.
This isn’t the hardcore, Noma-esque wild child edible lesson in indigenous Australian ingredients that defines Orana, nor is it the comfort cooking that Maggie Beer’s The Farm Eatery utterly owns. But, there is an element of norm-busting that keeps things fresh and interesting. Think eschallots cooked for 6hrs underneath the campfire right outside the restaurant, smoked kangaroo w/blood lime & harissa, or perfect lamb with a cream of swedes. Sure, there are lots of small bites that fight for note-taking space and space in the stomach, and the menu is printed addressing the person that made the booking, but it never gets any more uppity than that – Colwill lets the ingredients speak for themselves – for the most part.
The printed, custom menu – for Michael – came in at $170. Being a winery first and foremost, a high-quality wine pairing weighed in at only $85. Some of the glasses we received sport an MSRP of over $150 by the bottle, so the value proposition isn’t even an argument. That said, I don’t think Hentley Farm’s wines (as food pairings) are for me – most of them were overly sharp, metallic or oaked. Well, other than the initial sparkling – but who doesn’t like bubbly?
Nothing emphasised the principle of ‘letting the ingredients shine’ more than the first dish, a lake of whipped jersey cream that’s so full of flavour, it even impressed the pastry chef at the table. Spiked with chives and just enough sweet local honey, this is the ‘condiment-based’ dish of the year if such a category existed. I could drag Styrofoam through this creamy heaven and it would become edible, though fresh garden leaves sufficed. I’m sorry, flavourful but overly-salty soy-roasted almonds; I’m sorry, fatty cured pork neck – you’ve been creamed.
From Kangaroo Island, ‘fun-sized’ scallops impeccably-dressed with snow almond flowers and a token dollop of ocean-blue scampi roe keep things within the state. While not particularly large, their meatiness more than made up for it – along with an earthy undertone.
An ethereally-light quinoa biscuit went the way of crisp and crunch, topped with half a quail egg garnished with a curry leaf and – curiously – honey, the overall package resembling a canapé that could have been purloined from an Indian wedding. This was quickly followed up with a ryeflour tart with a smoky, full-flavour potato baked in kombu that would cave in on its own softness with the tap of a fork, topped with prawn floss: AKA flavour.
The fun-sized theme continued with another ‘baked not fried’ entry – a potato crisp (sensing a theme here?), on which sat luxuriantly fatty tuna, cheddar and hot mustard. Absolutely, powerfully delicious, it sufficiently differentiated itself with its flavour profile (no comparisons to Japanese tuna dishes please). In case you were wondering – yes, there is a Bluefin Tuna fishing scene in South Australia.
Coffin Bay oysters heralded the culmination of the Journey’s first phase. I’ve made it known before that I don’t particularly like these, but if you serve them with prickly apple cider and vino cotto while putting on liquid nitrogen theatrics, I’ll gladly buy in #easilyinfluenced.
A solid slab of kingfish was so fresh and unadulterated, it could have come straight from the sea and skipped the Hentley Farm kitchen completely. It needed just a little more salt (from whatever source) to show off the kingfish’s full, meaty potential.
Inarguably more impressive was the unassuming eschalot, served alongside the kingfish. Roasted for 6 hours under the campfire less than a literal stone’s throw away from the restaurant, this was elemental cooking in all senses of the word. Literal layers of flavour with each dive deeper into the onion – mum will say cancer, I say live well and die young(er).
Perhaps Hentley Farm’s most polarising dish, the tuna & chicken pate is packed to the rafters with flavour – as you would expect of its tuna, brown butter, egg yolk, chicken pate constituents. No component dominated. However, it was one hell of a step change right after the relatively bland-ish kingfish. For a restaurant that advocates simplicity, this dish certainly wasn’t.
And then suddenly, the meal snaps back into place: a jarringly simple, almost austere forkful of perfect squid poached in sesame butter served with shiitake dashi. But it was good – open, sesame!
Kangaroo, served raw and diced (oh yeah, that’s called tartare) was easily one of the best kangaroo dishes I’ve ever had. Yes, I did use the same line describing Orana’s kangaroo dish, but I don’t recall the last time I’ve had such a solidly-executed flavour combination: harissa is the spice equivalent of tomato sauce – it goes with everything, and goes especially well with tartare.
The savouries ended on a Firedoor-esque (or perhaps Igni) note – lamb that was, in a word – most wholesome. Ah, two words – but the dish also exceeded expectations. The lamb, heavenly soft & sweet; that charred cabbage, how you get kids to eat their greens; the citruses & swede cream to bring it all into balance – as all things should be.
This was then cleared with a pre-dessert of passionfruit meringue yoghurt spiked with poppy seeds. Gotta love the environmentally-friendly ‘plating’.
An oat tart (that clearly didn’t hold back the brown butter) with soursops (green, ‘unripe’ strawberries), Davidson plum (bold grape-like berries considered luxe bush tucker) and rhubarb showed off a little more of Australia’s indigenous ingredients in a single bite that was so well-decorated, I’d hate to see the team ever having to subject these to the canapé treatment.
The substantial dessert of the night was a Jerusalem artichoke ice cream served alongside its deep-fried self, balanced out with mandarin slices & mandarin cake. It’s no sorbet, but there’s something special about earthy desserts that simply do a better job of connecting you to the land on which all its ingredients are grown, cultivated or harvested.
Hentley Farm’s final sendoff: house-baked branded shortbread, and two ‘lollipops‘, for which the flavours we (successfully) had to guess – caramel Bueno, and yuzu granita & white chocolate. You know which one I liked more 😉
One of the Barossa’s better-regarded wineries that happens to host one of its best restaurants – it’s hard to make a better recommendation than that. If Hentley Farm isn’t on your SA eats list, you don’t have one.
This post is based on an independently-paid visit to Hentley Farm Restaurant
- Unpretentious (for the most part), localist cooking that’s a flavour train all the way
- The wine pairings: for my palate, they didn’t match the food
- Some dishes conflicted with the restaurant’s theme
Would I return: yes
F7.5 | S4 | A2