Peel St would be the most popular place in town at the moment and, after finally snaring a table, it is easy to see why.
The small café/bar/restaurant on the burgeoning Adelaide laneway has been the talk of the town since its opening.
Peel St is designed to be as relaxed and informal as possible: staff are casually dressed with aprons, cutlery is placed on napkins and glasses are set as diners arrive. Its idyllic nature would be just as well suited to the main street of a lazy beach-side town – a marked change from Adelaide’s typical white-collar restaurants.
Peel St offers breakfast, lunch and dinner – and the brekky fry-up is one Adelaide’s best.
A shopping-list-style menu contains mainly ingredients, many of Middle Eastern or Asian origin, and some names require Google’s help to decipher.
In this uncluttered and plain setting, the kitchen is a theatre of activity, the chefs dancing around the island of stoves, waitresses moving among boxes of wine with wooden boards of food.
Diners perch at the long bar, stools and communal tables are up back, while smaller, more intimate settings are up front.
On this weekday, the place is packed, which is no surprise as I have tried, and failed, many times to score a table.
My lunch partner is a somewhat reluctant participant following his viewing of the menu online – steaks, burgers and a decent schnitzel are his normal targets.
“Mate,” he says, “I don’t think there is anything I understand on this menu – what am I going to eat?”
Well, little did he know that he was in for a treat.
Selecting a grenache/tempranillo Ministry of Clouds blend from a small yet well-priced wine list, we chose starters of chicken escabeche and a chicken liver pate from the blackboard. The pate is smoky with a heavy iron flavour. It comes out in a perfect dollop with an oily sheen; sliced apple, red onion and bitter leaf add texture and acid. It is both light and intensely rich.
The escabeche is covered in smoky paprika and served on a bed of puy lentils with charred bread. The paprika is balanced by the earthy texture of the lentils with more bitter leaf, carrot and onion to mix it up.
Service is very informal, the three or four staff running the restaurant in a leisurely yet professional way. There is no single staff member dedicated to a table. Instead, they individually do what needs doing when it needs doing, leading to a relaxed and uncomplicated lunch.
After a comfortable wait, our mains arrive: the fish pasty (a favourite at chef Jordan Theodoros’s previous venture, Aquacaf in Goolwa), a tajine of lamb and a Vietnamese-style steak.
The serving sizes are massive, the tajine nearly overflowing a large bowl. Creamy yoghurt cuts through the sweetly spiced, tender lamb and large chickpeas are a treat.
The pasty is served on a wooden board, the light, buttery pastry housing a green mixture of dill, spring onion and peas, with flavoursome white fish punctuating the greenery and firm chunks of potato adding extra texture. A hunk of iceberg lettuce is dressed in a zingy mayo and tartare is a side.
Two bites into the vivid Vietnamese-style steak dish – slabs of rare beef decorated with coriander, parsley and green leaf with a sweet peanut glaze – and my dining partner pipes up: “Mate, this steak is @#$&# amazing”.
It’s a phrase that is uttered many times throughout the course of the meal – my friend is now just another one of the many converts to Peel St’s mantra of simple, fresh and delicious.
The Peel St chefs have great knack of making what are reasonably complex dishes appear as simple as possible.
The flavours are wonderfully balanced, good produce is respected, while flavouring with spices and fresh herbs is spot-on. Leaves and herbs adorn most dishes; presentation is starkly colourful, generally rustic and pleasing.
Prices range from $12 for starters to $30-$35 for some of the main courses – which is very reasonable considering the serving sizes.
The Peel St team of Jordan Theodoros, Benjamin McLeod and Martin Corcoran would be relishing the challenge of keeping up with demand – a problem that any successful restaurant would love to have.
If you haven’t been to Peel St yet, book in advance. Much like my now-converted friend, you won’t be disappointed.
Four-and-a-half out of five.
9 Peel Street, Adelaide
Tel 08 8231 8887
Open: Monday to Friday 7am – 5pm (kitchen closes at 3pm)
Dinner Thursday – Saturday from 6:30pm (also open for dinner on Wednesday during December)
Cuisine: Bright, fresh, contemporary
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