Penfolds Magill Estate is to Adelaide what Tetsuya’s is to Sydney and Attica is to Melbourne – a restaurant you can aspire to.
The task of complementing some of the best wines Penfolds has to offer would be daunting for any chef.
However, head chef Scott Huggins has created a dining experience which enhances Penfolds’ all-star vintages and sets a new standard for South Australian fine dining.
With a new kitchen, new dining area and new staff, Magill Estate carries such confidence that there are very few choices for diners to make.
The contemporary yet earthy fit-out is heavy with wood: corners are filled with bulky lounge-like seats; more traditional tables and chairs are set in the middle of the room. From the ceiling, neon slashes of light in the trademark Penfolds’ red cast a warm glow into dark corners, while different-sized baubles hang in groups like mini solar systems. They reflect in the restaurant’s large windows, creating constellations over the vineyard and spectacular views outside.
After a quiet drink in the lounge area, with its glass-fronted wine fridges teasingly displaying their fine wares, we were taken to our table.
The modern Australian menu, which is a simple choice between five or eight courses, with or without matched wines, reads more like a shopping list than a degustation experience.
The first course is listed as: Rice, nori, salmon pearls / chicken crisp. It is served with a glass of Krug.
These were glorified bar snacks in the best possible way – rice crackers laced with briny salmon roe and salty dehydrated-pressed chicken skins. An effortless entree which primes the palate for more.
Next was an oyster in cucumber and gin granita and bitter apple – almost like a traditional Hendrick’s and tonic served bitterly cold.
Then a tuna sashimi, diced in tiny cubes, with asparagus and dried black olive and puffed wheat for texture. An egg yolk was perched on top waiting to be pierced and mixed in. The ’07 Sangiovese cuts through the dense richness of the yolk to complement the meaty tuna.
Pork and charred cauliflower was matched with an ’04 Bin 138 GSM; a small piece of waygu with a marbling rating of nine was matched with an ’05 Grange; and a gruyere custard, on crisp rye with leaves, brought out the best of the flagship ’08 Yattarna Chardonay.
The dishes, 11 in total if you include dessert, are small, intense and designed to highlight the matched wine.
Put simply, the conception of the dishes, the balance of flavours, the matches with the wines, the cooking and the presentation are all flawless.
Wine is poured in a decent quantity by the sommelier, who explains how it will work with the main ingredients of the upcoming course. The perfect amount of time is provided to savour the first sip before the food is delivered to the table by a chef and explained by a softly spoken waitress.
Timing is everything, and the fact that they make such a complex process seem effortless is a credit to all the staff. There was never a moment where the table was left wanting, yet the service was never intrusive or overbearing.
And this is the way it should be: degustation dining should be akin to world-class theatre where the service, food and drink works in an almost orchestral harmony.
This comes at a significant cost – the matched eight-course menu is $435 a head. However, it is a experience not replicated anywhere else in South Australia.
If Australia was rated by Michelin, Magill Estate would be short odds to among the stars.
Five out of five.
Penfolds Magill Estate
78 Penfold Road, Magill
08 8301 5551
Dinner Wednesday to Saturday from 6:30pm
Lunch Sunday from 12pm
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