Creamy cauliflower soup and sweet gorgonzola
Tonight we're having the four course degustation menu ($75) that comes with wines ($120). We nibble on olives and bread served with extra virgin olive oil - glossy and almost green in hue with an intense grassy flavour we eagerly soak up with thick slices of crusty sourdough.
A creamy cauliflower soup with sweet gorgonzola is the perfect way to warm our bellies. Smooth and silky, the soup glides down the throat, the sweet nuttiness of the cauliflower enhanced by the salty and sharp nuance of gorgonzola cheese.
Lemon squid ink spaghetti, Australian prawns,
fresh tomato, basil and parsley
Our entree is visually striking, a colourful splay of fresh juicy prawns, diced tomato, fresh basil and parsley on a mound of black squid ink spaghetti. The flavour of squid ink isn't particularly detectable in the pasta but the prawns are delightfully firm and sweet.
Inman Valley veal scotch fillet with black garlic and eggplant puree,
sauteed spinach and salt-dried tuna roe burnt butter
Inman Valley veal scotch fillet is cooked to a perfect medium rare to those who'd requested it. I'd ordered mine rare and, oddly enough, am served with a small narrow fillet that is cooked to a medium-well. It's also extremely salty, although when I try Billy's (pictured), his is seasoned fine.
It's just as we're tucking into our mains that I notice someone approaching the restaurant entrance. I blink once, then twice, convinced I'm seeing things, until the door is pushed open and yes, the gentleman in the checked shirt and cardigan really is the legendary Antonio Carluccio.
He casually says hello to us as waitstaff efficiently set another place at our table. He's just had dinner nearby, he explains, and thought he'd pop in and join us. He orders a scotch and says he'll have some soup.
At times like this, I want to pinch myself. The absurdity of the scene makes me want to hold my breath, giggle deliriously and widen my eyes in exaggerated disbelief.
Meantime, everyone else carries on, exchanging conversational pleasantries.
Antonio's scotch arrives and he looks at it and frowns. "A little more" he says, and positions his finger mid-way up the glass. The waitress nods and scoots off to fulfil his request.
Table talk naturally turns to food, and I'm struck by the vigour and fervour that grips each person when it comes to the topic of eating. Tripe, offal, olive oil and cheese - there's no shortage of adjectives or emotions.
Antonio listens and talks. With a glint in his eye he tells us a cheeky joke, finishing with a laugh that is a deep and throaty rumble.
I opt for the cheese course for dessert, a generous plate that includes house made lavosh, quince paste, red grape and three cheeses. Bianco sottobosco is a semi-hard cow and goats milk cheese from Piemonte, Italy, distinctively flavoured by the inclusion of Alba truffle.
Blu del monviso is also from Piemonte, a mild and creamy blue that pairs brilliantly with slivers of quince paste. My favourite is still the Ocelli testun al Barolo from Southern Piemonte, a semi-hard cows milk cheese that is covered in the grape skins used to make Barolo wine. Matured for at least four months in oak barrels, the grape must adds a slight tartness to the delicious crumbly cheese.
Hot cinnamon apple-filled donuts
with poached rhubarb, panforte and double cream
Most of the table, however, order the hot cinnamon apple-filled donuts. Billy immediately notices the discrepancy between the donuts described on the menu and the donut that is eventually served.
It's a heavy dessert, the golden orb of deep-fried donut is a little bready in texture with only a small pocket of apple inside. A sliver of panforte and a quenelle of double cream only add to the sense of excess.
Antonio joins us for dessert, digging in eagerly with his fork as the conversation continues to swirl around the table. Humble and charming, it's a reminder that no matter our background or reputation, good food unites us all.
(lunch with Maggie Beer and Rosemary Shrager)
262 Carrington Street
Adelaide, South Australia
Tel: +61 (08) 8227 0766
Lunch Wednesday to Friday 12pm - 3pm
Dinner Wednesday to Saturday from 6pm