“Hello Norwood. Let’s do this.”
Admittedly, the sign next to Arkhé belongs to the neighbouring branch of BankSA, but its sentiment holds true for Norwood’s newest restaurant. Since word got out in May that Jake Kellie – the former head chef at World’s 50 Best-ranked Burnt Ends in Singapore – was teaming up with Palmer Hospitality Group (Fishbank, 2KW, Paloma) to reboot the former Stone’s Throw site, interest in the project has been high. Tonight, after more than six months of construction and a couple of soft openings to put the team through its paces, it’s go-time, both for the team and Adelaide’s dining public, which has jumped on bookings fast.
The first thing you’ll likely notice about Arkhé is its considerable size (the space can accommodate 160 guests) and beauty. Transplanting the bar from one side of the room to the other has really opened up the space and created a clubby lounge area that’s both a holding station for the dining room proper and a standalone destination for drop-in visitors happy to pick at the snacks from the main menu (the bar, similar to the courtyard area, only accepts limited reservations, with most of the space designated for walk-ins). The dining room maintains the bar’s rustic-elegant aesthetic, with wood, stone and fire being the room’s main design features. The best seats in the house ring the open kitchen, where guests can watch Kellie and the team in action. Front-of-house guns Greta Wohlstadt (venue manager) and Sam O’Reilly (restaurant manager) – both formerly of Orana and Little Wolf at Mitolo – keep the service side of things humming.
Despite the scale of the Studio -Gram-designed room, the space is peppered with plenty of the architects’ trademark flourishes. Former railway sleepers have been upcycled into benches and banquettes. Jam Factory light fittings shaped like designer jellyfish beautify the walls and bathe guests in warm light. Norwood clothing brand ORTC is responsible for the waitstaff’s sleek grandpa-collared white tunics and the chefs’ flattering black shirts.
But as fetching as their leather-apron-on-black uniforms look, the kitchen’s MVP is its open-fire set-up that comprises custom-built dual wood-burning ovens, a smoke box, elevation grills, an open hearth and – impressively and perhaps sadistically – a tiny, cauldron-esque deep-fryer. But while plenty of diner discussion has revolved around Kellie’s interest in grilling, roasting, smoking and other ways of playing with fire, the contents of his shopping basket are equally notable. As someone who’s clocked time with Kellie at markets, gardens and grills around the world, I’ve seen his interest in produce first-hand. In the year-and-a-bit since he arrived in South Australia, he’s amassed a little black book of South Australian produce that includes Barossa-based Dairyman pork, Mayura Station Wagyu beef and taleggio cheese from Section28.
So how is our man cooking everything? Whereas Kellie’s Pirate Life pop-up kept things (relatively) simple, with beef bagels and barbequed seafood, Arkhé leans closer to the cosmopolitan, modern Australian barbeque style he developed in his time at Burnt Ends. Hash browns fried in beef fat are crowned with cultured cream and caviar. Kingfish collars are grilled with a sharp paprika, tomato and malt vinegar glaze till sticky and fatty in all the right places. The aforementioned pork is paired winningly with a preserved quince, Earl Grey and currant sauce. An outrageous brown-butter custard tart – jiggly of filling, short of base – might be credited to sous-chef Zac Goddard, but it chimes with the house policy of using fire and smoke imaginatively. Joining Goddard (Kellie’s former offsider at Pirate Life) in the kitchen are Luke Brown (ex-Coriole) and Maria Delengas (ex-Shobosho and Bloom).
The drinking keeps pace with the cooking, whether you’re talking cocktails from bar manager Vanessa Rech – tweaked modern classics such as Clover Clubs and Penicillins, say – or the wine list overseen by Bhatia Dheeraj, a former head sommelier at Penfold’s Magill Estate and Sydney’s Est who was last seen helping open Daughter in Law. Described by Dheeraj as “having something for everyone”, the 150-bottle list covers everything from big South Aussie shiraz blanc to off-kilter experiments such as a house rosé made with gamay and chardonnay grapes (among others) by renegade Basket Range vigneron, Comme Ci, Comme Ça. In short: Arkhé, despite the staff’s impressive joint CV, very much wants to be a neighbourhood restaurant for everyone.
“Doing something like this and having my place is something I’ve always dreamed of,” says Kellie, taking stock of things after the restaurant’s final family-and-friends test run. For Kellie and partner Ena Vujcic, tonight’s opening sees the fruition of more than six months’ hard work. (If opening their first restaurant wasn’t challenging enough, the couple also welcomed their first child earlier this year). “Tonight I got the chance to take everything in, and the whole atmosphere and vibe of the place. I have a family here now and Adelaide is my home, so I just hope we can bring something different to Adelaide.”