Panacea is part of that modern phenomenon – the pan-Mediterranean restaurant that has no clear single identity, serving the gamut of dishes from Spain, to France, to Italy.
Opposite The Greek on Halifax Street, Panacea is a great setting. Hard wood floors move into a back room with a tree, which is alive, offering a more relaxed atmosphere.
The small kitchen runs along the side of the room, connecting to the bar and opening out on to the dining area.
The small alfresco area is shaded by a large tree and it is easy to settle in for a few glasses of wine on a nice day.
On first look, the menu at Panacea is big – enormous, actually. It is also trying to do an awful lot from a very small kitchen.
It is advertised as a tapas bar which offers $30 jugs of sangria – but it also has a lot of French and Italian cuisine.
The tapas menu features the usual dishes: white anchovies in all their salty vinegar glory are served simply with bread; the croquettes are a deliciously subtle combination of pea and leek, and the mini spicy pork pasties (empanadas) carry the perfect combination of salt and spice in a buttery pastry.
There is also a decent selection of Spanish cheeses and curds and smallgoods.
There is nothing fancy about the tapas: the modest servings offer no surprises, simply relying on good, traditional ingredients to satisfy.
Busy staff managed the 40-plus crowd well and also had a good knowledge of the extensive menu and somewhat limited wine list.
Next is a selection of either sharing plates, or entrees which could also come as a main course. Or, you can branch out and order a tasting plate which combines a few of the dishes such as the signature tasting plate – a haphazard collection of pork belly, quail, garfish and scallops with a few meatballs for good measure.
It is a fair amount of food, of varying temperatures, which is nice enough. The in-shell scallops with a brandy/tarragon butter are the pick, along with the pork and veal meatballs. The tasting plate probably doesn’t justify the price tag – between three people, it was easily consumed and left us wanting more.
The better option is to cherry-pick from the selection of entree/main courses, where a hearty traditional seafood stew with chorizo and cannelloni beans is served in a heavy earthenware dish: it is how you would imagine it being served in a small Spanish fishing village and carries the rustic flavour of a decent fish stock with tomato sofrito.
The Gnocchi Romana is one of the weirder dishes on the menu. This semolina style at Panacea is two large slabs, more like a soufflé, smothered in a rich gorgonzola sauce dressed with segments of citrus. The sauce itself is a delight, but mixed with the citrus and semolina, it doesn’t work.
Then there is pizza. Which is completely unnecessary, but seems to be part of the stock-in-trade of the pan-Mediterranean phenomenon. Margarita, salami, mushroom, duck, smoked salmon – it is all available on pizza if you wish.
The “three little pigs” pizza we tried was a fatty combination of chorizo, pork belly and bacon with chilli. The base was soggy from the oil of the meat – of which there was a lot. It is priced at $29 which, for a pizza, is expensive.
Desserts are attractive. Churros, brûlées and a chocolate tart are all available but even better is the varied selection of cheeses including a French camembert, an Italian gorgonzola and an aged Spanish manchego.
Herein lies the problem of Panacea. The menu is vast, varied and, for me, trying to do too much.
When there are nearly more items of food on the menu then there are on the wine list, one has to wonder about the pressure brought to bear on the very small kitchen. Having worked restaurant stoves, I can’t help but feel sorry for the chef who, having had a busy weekend, would have to stocktake such a vast quantity of ingredients and then prepare such an extensive menu. They even do breakfast.
There’s clearly enough talent here to go beyond the all-things-to-all-people approach. But, then again, Panacea has negotiated the tricky waters of the hospitality industry for several years now, so it’s clearly working for many customers.
For me, I find this sort of menu confusing. I would like to see Panacea grasp the opportunity to discover its strength and refine it – be it a smart wine bar, tapas bar, pizza parlour or something more ambitious.
Three out of five.
72 – 74 Halifax Street, Adelaide
Tel: 8232 3523
Breakfast served 7.30am to midday
Lunch/dinner menu served midday -10.00pm ( full menu available all day)
Dinner 6pm – 10.30pm
Cuisine: Tapas, pizza, French, Italian – you name it!
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