Andrè’s Cucina and Polenta Bar
94 Frome Street (foyer Mantra Hotel)
South Australia 5000
t +61 8 8224 0004
OPEN Mondays dinner only 5.30pm til 11.00pm, Tuesday to Saturday, breakfast, lunch and dinner 7.00am til 11.00pm, closed Sundays
Editor’s note — we have not had breakfast at the restaurant AO
FOOD You know when you reach the point where you think that you are so fed up with the restaurant offering in a city, and the next person who starts a diatribe of “from our garden” you’ll probably get up and walk into the kitchen and stab the chef with your Opinel (yes I know it’s now now illegal to carry a pocket knife…ridiculous, regarded as weapon). So we are out, just for fun four of us, three mates, and the new boyfriend of one, whom we think is up for some sort of torture because he has agreed to come out with all of us.
It is a freezing winter night and most of the restaurants we have passed on our way there have been ominously empty, but the polenta bar is packed; we only know a couple of diners so there is a sense of freedom. Basically we are all up for just some simple fun with no intention of reviewing. The smell of rosemary is overpowering, astringent, eye smarting and I’m already fretting that the food will be swamped with this powerful astringent herb.
However, Rohan (the front of house who proved to be a genius) is charmingly ignoring my relentless teasing and taking command. He ignores my petulant “I don’t want to share!” puts me in my place and the rest of the table, won over by his good looks and lack of respect for me delight in going against me! I would have never ordered anti pasti or carpaccio; like just how many disappointments can one suffer, ordering carpaccio and anti pasti? Wrong on both counts. Anti pasti was good, not better than we might put on our table at home but creditable. The Carpaccio on the other hand was dreamy! Generally carpaccio has been badly frozen once (without the benefit of blast freezer technology) to slice it thin, thawed during that process and frozen again and then thawed on the plate and served to icy cold very often the oil (usually suss) solidifies with the chill. And yet, I am now singing the praises of this perfection. It was divine! I couldn’t tell if it had been frozen (although Ursini openly admitted it was partially frozen and sliced before service)…it wasn’t icy cold, it didn’t taste of freezer; the walnuts had been properly roasted and the crumbs were embellished with some finely grated lemon rind. Yes it had the tasteless and boring unnecessary micro herbs as a garnish (completely unnecessarily because they added nothing to the dish) but…the flavour was all there! A divine little nutty crunch and stunning oil, apparently one of our very favourites Coriole, finished the dish. Even the rocket garnish tasted terrific and was young and tender. By this time I am sulking, truly wishing I wasn’t sharing with the rest of them!
This dish the vegetables with the anchovy sauce doesn’t just look fabulous it tasted better!
Then comes the vegetables with warm anchovy sauce…it looks fabulous and with the exception of the snow peas (I hate raw snow peas unless they come from my garden) everything was REALLY in season. Orange, yellow and purple carrots, lovely crunchy winter fennel, beetroot (not raw and just slightly roasted), green radish, little red radish all prettily arranged and scattered with lovely winter watercress. Another dish I would not have ordered because usually these vegetables have been soaked in Adelaide tap water so long they taste of chlorine and have lost all of their natural flavour. The olive soil was not ruined by chemical flavour and had a slight sweetness of cake crumbs that the powdered black olive was mixed with. The soil was still slightly moist, the sauce perfect…plenty of crunch, plenty of textural difference, loads of flavour no additional seasoning required. Nothing to nit pick here!
When you come from a family that fished, hunted and grew their own the bar is set pretty high when it comes to seafood in a restaurant, and in fact, I rarely order seafood in a restaurant because I know fresh fish doesn’t smell! Add to that the price of snapper, the prize next to a spanking fresh King George, of South Australian fish has seen both all but disappear from menus. Not the pick of the dishes (for me at least), the snapper was fresh, perfectly cooked and could have had a touch more salt for me (but not the rest). The snapper came perched on a bed of wonderful radicchio, that was listed on the menu as char grilled but seemed to have been lightly braised and didn’t miss the added bitterness that charring normally brings. The fregola embellishment added texture and flavour and a couple of nice big freshly cut, seedless lemon wedges offered the opportunity to add acidity to the dish. Everything worked! At this point it is worth mentioning price. Rohan when he went through how the restaurant works was at pains to point out that everything is designed to share and whilst some may baulk at around $40 AUD it should be pointed out that these dishes are very generous and everything is terrific value for money with quality on the plate.
Next, not listed anywhere, a verbal, the slow roasted goat leg was a triumph. I am so sick and tired of food cooked in the bag (sous–vide) kept way to long in the fridge because you can, but in reality, even when pre–brined everything starts to taste the same. This goat leg, slow cooked came with lovely caramelised skin, soft squishy gristly bits, fell from the bone, enjoyed, but didn't need the beautiful meat sauce that was poured over it. We fought each other right down to licking the bones to get a bigger share. It was oh, so yummy! With the goat came a green leaf salad stunningly and sparingly and divinely dressed. It was truly home grown, something that I grow myself but have no name for. Fine thin leaves about 12 cm to 15 cm long it is slightly bitter, resists being held in the fridge and is really picked and eaten. Possibly from the endive family it is especially good this year because it seems to have enjoyed the cold. This group of plants must love the cold because this year other Italian salads like radicchio have popped up all over the place in my box garden having vanished into their depths for years I had quite given up on them.
The only real disappointment of the meal was surprisingly the polenta. It tasted good enough embellished with mushrooms, Taleggio and roasted hazelnuts but it was gluey and unlike any polenta I have previously enjoyed. I expected a divine moist fluffiness with a texture not unlike perfect mash potato and at $26 it seemed disproportionately priced to the other dishes on the menu. Polenta can come in many forms, very wet with a texture not unlike the French pomme purée, fluffier with the texture of perfect mash potato and firm, usually fried in good olive oil or grilled; the polenta did not meet any benchmark and I would not order polenta again, especially when everything else is so good. The other minor criticism is the bread, ciabatta but it lacked the dense moist centre and crunchy crust of a well–made Italian style bread.
Dessert was a complete freak out because without any expectations, other than possible disappointment, again, we were so pleasantly surprised. The dolci plate was a mix of tiny little Italian pastries including scrumptious canoli probably not even 3 cm long was fabulous. The banana beignets (5) basically banana centered sugar crusted doughnuts (5) vanished in seconds and were so good I considered stabbing one of my companions with my fork with the intention of distracting them and taking their share. Coffee was also good and curiously the espressos came with white sugar and the milk coffees with that sickly tasting cheap light brown sugar everyone wrongly thinks is more healthy than white sugar. So, the question is I think if you ruin coffee with milk it doesn’t matter what sort of sugar you put in it and wonder if they agree!!!! The fact remains I used to carry a little Peugot pepper mill in my hand bag, but I have recently added a sachet of Maldon sea salt because very few chefs seem to season their food and a phial of white sugar because I refuse to ruin my coffee with crap sugar.
ENVIRONMENT is very simple and the room despite the carpet batons under the table is very noisy because of the many hard surfaces. This is not an issue for us particularly when the food is so good, but we understand it can be for some diners…so you are forewarned!
THE RETURN VISIT just to reassure myself it wasn’t a dream I returned the following day to eat the carpaccio, the vegetables and added the venison ragu, cocoa, Sangiovese, ruby chard (actually beetroot leaves but still good) and beetroot which came in the form of beetroot chips. This is a dish straight from Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking circa 1977 and commonly found in middle Italy where Columbus took his crew. These seamen returned with a love of both chilli and chocolate long before the rest of Europe embraced the ingredients. The meat was perfectly tender and although reheated in a microwave had not been ruined, but reheated in a pan with a ditzy splash of feisty sharp red wine vinegar and another of soft edged sweet good balsamic and a little freshly ground black pepper it would have been divine. Add to that, halving the meat and adding some perfect potato gnocchi this dish would be a triumph.
Venison ragu with beetroot
Synopsis best meal in Adelaide for yonks. Best advice be up for anything put yourself in their hands. Rohan ordered for us but did not boot the bill (as can happen) by ordering miles more than we could possibly eat. And…just in case you plan to visit and eat precisely the same dishes their menu is about to change; regardless we think you will be in very safe hands! And…BTW I know everything old is new again, and I still own some superb hand–crafted wooden pieces from the 60s, but give me a plate with a recess that holds the sauce in preference to a wooden board any day!
WINE it must be said there are no vintages on the wine list and with us this is a lack of respect for those diners who enjoy paring their knowledge to food and choosing what they think might be a perfect match. It also comes as something of a surprise to see a 70% Italian wine list. Prosecco is a bit of a fashion, but in truth most restaurants list Prosecco offerings that are basically the equivalent of putting a very cheap sparkling wine on your list.
It is not a list that extends to the decadence of 20 year old Barolos or for that matter even a single Champagne by the glass, in fact, it is a tiny list of just 24 wines. We understand the lack of storage space and the economic sense of a small select wine list, but it was impossible not to feel that such great food deserved a couple of more choices.