Straight-talking chef Ali Seedsman is running the kitchen at Sidewood Estate Restaurant and Cellar Door, just opened on the road into Hanhdorf a few weeks ago, with husband Russell “Rusty” Marchant managing the venue.
The pair finished their seven-year run at the nearby Walk the Talk cafe in Verdun last December – on the day of the Cudlee Creek fire – in a partnership that began three decades ago when they met while working at the acclaimed Bathers Pavilion restaurant on Sydney’s Balmoral Beach.
For South Australian diners, the Sidewood gig is a welcome return for Seedsman to the restaurant world from a long period in cafes and catering (so many of our great local chefs no longer seem to cook in restaurant kitchens).
Seedsman has an impressive CV – Penfolds Magill Estate, Bayswater Brasserie, MG Garage, Universal Wine Bar – and a no-nonsense approach to restaurant food.
The Hills local has designed an approachable first menu for Sidewood which traverses snacks for customers who come in for a glass of wine, or a tasting, to casual food for families and kids enjoying the interesting outdoor spaces, to a full a la carte offering for those who want a longer, more formal lunch or dinner.
Seedsman, a straight shooter, emphasises that her approach doesn’t follow any flaky food trends, instead drawing on her experience at Walk the Talk to gauge the tastes of both locals and tourists.
“I have seen so many fads with food since the late ‘80s… and it’s like things come and go and people get so worked up about it and I can’t be bothered – food is food,” she told InDaily.
“Make sure you cook things properly and season it properly. That’s it.”
The kitchen has a wood-fired pizza oven, but Seedsman drew the line at commenting on “pizza politics” – the increasingly common debates about what constitutes a good pizza and the politically-correct toppings.
“I don’t want to get drawn into that,” she said, wryly. However, she added: “I don’t like floppy pizza – I like crispy pizza.”
Her first menu includes some favourites from the Walk the Talk menu – dishes she believes will have broad appeal.
“We have picked the eyes out of what we’ve been doing in the past few years,” she said.
“Rusty and I ran a business up here for seven years and up here with the local contingency and the tourists coming through, you get a solid snapshot of what people are looking for – well-made, simple, tasty food that doesn’t cost a lot of money; good quality and interesting and not the same stuff you can get in any basic café.”
These “tried and trues”, as she calls them, include a dish of spiced ground lamb, pistachios, beetroot hummus, flatbread and crunchy greens, and tamarind lemongrass lamb ribs served with steamed rice, shredded salad, Thai basil and fried shallots.
There’s pea falafel and salt and pepper tofu, for those who prefer vegetarian, and, at the other end of the scale, a 400g ribeye with miso butter or a spiced barramundi with a range of appealing accompaniments.
The pizza toppings are simple – from margherita to garlic prawns with tomato and salse verde.
Seedsman has also put together an extensive “snack” menu: it is a cellar door, after all, where visitors are welcome to simply have a glass of wine or a beer accompanied with nuts and olives, or something more substantial like chicken wings, wedges, steamed prawn cakes, or chicken liver parfait.
There’s plenty of local produce on the menu, including greens grown at nearby Echunga, to sourdough from the Lobethal Bakery.
The Hills connections are also how Seedsman came to be appointed head chef at Sidewood.
Marchant met the owners of Sidewood Estate, Owen and Cassandra Inglis, while working as the Stirling Hotel’s wine buyer.
He had become a fan of Sidewood’s wines, and the connection led to Seedsman first catering Owen’s birthday, and then developing into a friendship between the couples.
It’s perhaps natural then that Seedsman wants locals to feel as comfortable at Sidewood as visitors from further afield.
“The idea of this place is that it’s here for the locals as much as the tourists,” she said. “People need to feel comfortable coming in here in their thongs and boardshorts for a beer and some nuts, or getting dressed up and having a full three-course a la carte meal.”
Sidewood Restaurant and Cellar Door
6 River Road, Hahndorf
Restaurant opening hours: lunch (from 11.30am) every day apart from Tuesday and dinner on Friday and Saturday nights.
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