How do you choose where to eat? Google is often a good place to start but can you really trust the quick and dirty star-rated systems of online platforms, perhaps influenced by those who let dishes go cold as they interrupt service staff to take group shots, or are busy capturing the perfect Instagram angle of their lunch?
Riskier yet are those venues whose list of positive reviews seem to be a little too similar and contrived. “Great service, great food, great atmosphere, five stars” just doesn’t seem to add up.
I guess you could rely on family or friends whose standards or tastes might be worlds away from your own, and of course, there are always the professional opinions of experienced critics writing for credible publications. Word of mouth is also a good option. And nothing beats a local recommendation.
Ask any Barossa local and they’ll probably mention Vintners. Last year the venue celebrated 25 years in the business, a feat in itself for any hospitality enterprise. Despite its age and its historic location just outside of Angaston, this place is anything but dated. Owners chef Peter Clarke and sommelier Rami Heer both make careful selections across the realms of food, wine and design to keep this place up with the times, continually receiving awards and accolades for their efforts. Today’s long lunch shows why.
Kicking off with a salty starter of plump olives, stuffed with anchovy and coated in golden fried panko crumbs from the Little Bits part of the menu gives us a chance to work through a long but thoughtful list of wines. Many are local, of course, but there is also a heavy dose of interstate and international drops to round things out.
A selection of starters features the freshest of SA’s oysters, served natural with a squeeze of lime, and then raw slivers of kingfish swimming in a generous pool of good olive oil, sprinkled with capers, red onion and the flesh of finger lime that provides a tart and zingy finish with each bite.
A beef tartare gives us a taste of the light Asian flavours that influence the Vintners menu. Despite my usual penchant for tradition when it comes to tartare, I’m a big fan of this version nuanced with chilli and lime plus crushed peanuts and finely diced celery, each of which provides its own version of crunch. In place of bread or crisps are slices of toasted Chinese donut, made savoury for this occasion.
The next two sections of the menu are separated into Smaller and Bigger, with options such as local prawns in a yuzu kosho butter, five-spice quail, and roasted duck breast served with wonton, greens and shiitake mushrooms. These are tempting but it’s the signature rib of beef that eventually lands on the table, matched with a Dalrymple Pinot Noir. The rib is cooked to a precise medium-rare and served in a piled assembly of lightly charred whole shallots and thickly sliced portobello mushrooms. All of this soaks in an unctuous sauce. Alongside are ramekins of mustard and horseradish that allow you to add a little more spice to the peppery flavour of the dish.
This course is a meaty challenge for two, but one that we have a good crack at, between mouthfuls of whipped ricotta and beets prepared in different ways, serving as a side salad. A sweetened acid provides balance to the otherwise hearty combination of earthy flavour thanks to a kumquat jam hiding beneath the beetroot, with hazelnuts completing this beautifully presented dish.
Earthy and beautiful are also words I’d use to describe the venue itself, with whitewashed walls offering a bright contrast to the dark stone feature fireplace, timber floors and large beams that form the ceiling of the dining space. Modern touches include on-trend light fittings, and a fairly recently refurbished bar wraps around one side of the venue. Huge windows let the light in, despite it being a slightly overcast day, with views across the garden to surrounding vineyards.
While the menu at Vintners might read like plenty of others, it’s the carefully selected fresh and seasonal ingredients, prepared by an experienced kitchen and served by a team who understand the way that people like to dine, that really elevates this experience.
But please don’t take my word for it, just ask a local.
752 Stockwell Road, Angaston SA
(08) 8564 2488
Lunch 7 days a week 12-2:30pm
Dinner Monday – Saturday 6-9pm
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.