Former patrons of The Chesser Cellars will find that on the surface nothing much has changed since their last visit. The Henry Austin still feels like the Cellars, but walls are freshly whitewashed and adorned with modern art, the ceiling is painted sparkling gold, and there is a taxidermy brown bear posing in the corner.
There’s no printed menu or wine list, and owner Max Mason says the restaurant is full every Friday and Saturday night “with two people per seat” (two sittings).
The food is both challenging and delightful.
Chef Shane Wilson (ex Bistro Dom) turns local seasonal and wild produce into impeccably presented yum cha-style offerings brought out from the kitchen on shallow wooden trays. In keeping with the Asian dining style, if you like what you see and accept the dish, your menu card will be stamped accordingly. Or you can leave it in the hands of The Henry Austin staff and choose a banquet menu.
“The Henry Austin attracts a more intelligent dining demographic,” says Mason. “There’s nothing like it in Adelaide.”
“I under-estimated how intimidated people would be. But once you walk in the door you’re committed; you have to trust.
“It’s a bit like the controlled madness of white-water rafting, but we hold your hand.”
Favourite dish: Smoky Bay oysters with native blood lime and mountain pepper ($8). Served on a bed of beach pebbles and native greenery, the two oysters looked slightly primal with the blood lime dressing, but they tasted as fresh and natural as if they had just been plucked from the sea – salty and creamy with the zing and fire of the native lime and mountain pepper.
Other dishes: Plump Kinkawooka mussels with braised fennel in a luxurious buttermilk sauce garnished with delicate slices of spicy watermelon radish ($8); shards of baked rice cracker topped with sweet, rich chicken liver parfait, pickled kohlrabi and native riberry dust ($8); soy beef tartare with linseed cracker and carrot and parsnip mash mimicking the traditional egg-yolk accompaniment ($8); smoked kobia fish with shaved macadamia and bright yellow soursob flowers ($10); juicy king prawns garnished with native finger lime, crunchy fried saltbush and cultured cream dipping sauce ($15); and tender sous vide beef brisket with parsnip puree, sliced radish and rich jus ($20).
Something sweet/to drink: Parsnip ice cream with candied parsnip and dehydrated chocolate mousse on a slice of orange and pistachio cake ($10); rhubarb with white chocolate ganache and condensed milk toffee ($10).
There is no wine list at The Henry Austin, but Mason says the cellar contains 8000 bottles. Diners can browse the cellar or trust the staff to suggest something suitable.
Takeaway lunches are available every day and served in Indian tiffin tins. See The Henry Austin Facebook page for the dish of the day. On the day InDaily visited, the beef brisket with parsnip puree, sliced radish and rich jus was on offer for $15 (plus $15 deposit for the recyclable tiffin tin).
The Henry Austin was opened by Max Mason and Tess Footner (also ex-Bistro Dom) at the beginning of July.
Mason shares the story of his personal journey – from maritime archaeologist, to British Naval officer and then restaurateur – plus his unconventional approach to hospitality, in this Rooster Radio podcast.
The Henry Austin
29-31 Chesser Street, Adelaide, 8223 2998
Open Monday to Saturday from 8am for breakfast, lunch, dinner and takeaways. Closed Sunday.
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