Before the days of DMs or online bookings, the most efficient way to make a restaurant or event reservation was by phone. One day back in 2015 I made a call to Fino at Seppeltsfield in the Barossa and asked to speak directly with Sharon Romeo, as I had a very unique event to plan and needed it to be quite good.
“I’d like to make a reservation, for around 200 people. We’ll need roaming drinks and canapés and a grazing table of epic proportions. And just one more thing: their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will be coming along, too.”
When being asked to throw a party that showcases the best of SA’s regional produce to royals you need to get it right.
And that day Fino really did put on a spread that was fit for a (future) king.
That was just past the halfway mark in the Fino story. Their adventure had started in a converted cottage in Willunga back in 2006 and then moved to the showcase cellars at Seppeltsfield. The next move for Romeo, together with business partner and chef David Swain, was a spot in the Adelaide CBD as an addition to the Barossa operation. It opened just before the pandemic turned hospitality upside down.
Today, Fino Vino feels like the jewel in the crown for the duo, where everything from the fit-out to the food is thoughtfully considered. There’s nothing stuffy or regal about this place, though. It has warmth. And that’s not only the case when you’re seated at the open kitchen bench just a few feet away from the glowing embers of the Konro grill. They’ve sourced materials and furnishings that reflect the different landscapes of the state. Slingback chairs of ochre leather compete for attention against exposed brick walls; there are countertops made from Flinders Ranges stone and carefully crafted timber tabletops hewn from SA timber.
And, of course, just as carefully crafted is the food. With an ethos that sits neatly between sustainability and flavour, Swain is known for his ability to turn the most meagre of fresh ingredients into a dish.
The first is far from meagre: bluefin tuna, presented as silky chunks combined with slivers of fennel and radish that is coated in a glaze of fermented chilli that provides just a little balanced heat to this otherwise delicately flavoured dish. Fresh sprouted lentils offer a woody flavour and slight crunch, and a light hand has been used to season the combination of ingredients that really do speak for themselves.
We quickly move to a sizzling bowl of school prawns that swim in another chilli-infused sauce. This time garlic acts as the main source of flavour, soaking into the crustaceans complete with their heads and tails. The house-made focaccia has charred edges and a pillowy centre that works as a sponge to soak up the liquid that has developed in flavour as the remaining shrimp reach room temp.
A sectioned smoked quail presented atop shredded and lightly pickled kohlrabi is next and, with such small appendages, we use fingers to strip the juicy flesh from each little portion. With a nicely crisped skin and succulent centre, this has the satisfaction of a much meatier dish. Then, two fillets of whiting sit on a bed of lightly caramelised leek that has been cooked until translucent. Barely blanched peas add sweetness and a little zing is provided thanks to sparsely spaced shoots of dill.
Next, we’re surprised by kofta – a lamb dish recommended by staff. Many versions of this rolled lamb meatball on a stick I’ve tried have been underwhelming or dry, but not at Fino. Their recipe has obviously been well tried and tested to present the perfect version of this Middle Eastern classic. A medley of roughly chopped almonds and freekeh and pomegranate is dressed with yogurt and a generous splash of olive oil; fresh herbs combine to easily make this the best dish of the day – even up against the stiff earlier competition.
Lastly, but never least, is the crème Catalana. It’s been on each and every Fino menu since its inception. I can’t count the number of times I’ve devoured this dessert, but it’s many. It’s creamy, and dreamy, and simply prepared. And always offers that signature crack as you spoon your way into its centre.
And just like that, today’s lunchtime adventure concludes – with a quick martini and then fond farewells from the staff.
But the Fino journey is far from over. By now it’s very clear that they’ve taken everything learnt over the years and packaged it together in this neat and intimate space. They might not be expecting any royal visits at this place, but they’ll definitely welcome you. I know that I’m looking forward to the next time I get a chance to slide into their DMs.
82 Flinders Street, Adelaide
(08) 8232 7919
Tuesday – 6pm to 10pm
Wednesday – 12pm to 10pm
Thursday – 12pm to 10pm
Friday – 12pm – 10pm
Saturday 6pm – 10pm
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.