When Broadsheet last visited Stem, in the former Caos Café digs on Hindley Street, it was all brick and concrete. Co-owner Tom Paxton described it as an “urban jungle”. Less than two weeks out from launching, the place is almost unrecognisable, and a whole lot more inviting.
The jungle part still rings true, though – the team, with plant stylist Emma Sadie Thomson, has installed lush greenery all around the site. “We wanted to soften it up a little bit,” says co-owner and general manager Paul Barber. He and Paxton, with other owners Lachlan Farmer and Chris Farmer, form the new hospitality group One Block West.
The group’s sprawling new wine bar and restaurant is a distinctly new offering for the western end of Hindley Street. “You’ve got Bank Street, you’ve got Peel, you’ve got Leigh … We thought there was something at this end of town that needed to be exposed, or explored,” says Barber.
Paxton and (Lachie) Farmer are both doctors with ties to the Royal Adelaide Hospital nearby and have watched the dramatic transformation of the strip. “[They] saw a need at this end of town for something completely different, which this is,” says Barber. “We’re looking at that casual fine dining – offering a higher end but without being cost-prohibitive.
“We’ve got a university over there, so we want the university kids to [be able to] come in, have a pizza, have two beers and go back to lectures, if that’s what they wish to do.”
The 180-seat venue blurs the line between restaurant and bar, comprising a huge main room, spacious wine cellar, open kitchen and private dining area (featuring a mural by local artist Nicole Black).
The food leans Mediterranean, with a focus on woodfired pizzas, share plates and some larger dishes: think oven-baked “lasagne-style” gnocchi; broccoli hummus with charred broccoli and chilli jam; roast pumpkin with burnt leek, pepitas and pistachios; and a honey-and-nut tart served with olive-oil gelato.
“We’re still finalising it but we’re going to try to keep it simple,” says head chef Mike Proud, who’s come over from Osteria Oggi (with sous chef Annika Carnie). “I just want it to be fun food that’ll go well with the wine, without adhering to any one cuisine … so long as it’s delicious.”
The imported woodfire oven is the domain of former Est pizzaiolo Jake Haughton. “I’m very happy to defer to him on all things pizza-related,” says Proud. “It’s his own dough recipe, and his own technique for hand-stretching it ... We’re not Italian, either of us, so we’re not going to say it’s any traditional style.”
The tip-top team also includes restaurant manager Imogen Henning, who's come over from The d'Arenberg Cube, and bar manager Monica Guilhaus (ex-The Port Admiral).
The once cavernous room has been given a sense of intimacy by the design team at Sans-Arc Studio, with planter boxes that double as partitions separating distinct dining spaces. “With such a large area – it’s 300 square metres – we had to think about what was best for the space,” says Barber. “We wanted to break it up between being as private and intimate as you like, or being as communal as you wanted.
“Everyone loves to people-watch, and that’s part of it,” he continues. “The windows will open up so you can see the outside world. Even in the elevated area, you sit and watch the chefs work or the watch the cocktail station.”
The “ruin-aesthetic” Paxton hinted at during our last visit is evident in the exposed-brick walls, textural concrete and overgrown greenery. American oak and terrazzo tables complement pale-green banquettes and dark timber wall panelling.
Outdoor seating along Register Street will feature planter boxes filled with lilly pillies and custom-designed wine coolers, which will contain holes so they can water the plants. Barber also hopes to block off the street from time to time so crowds can spill outside for special events: “One of the things I want to do is a rosé day – picket fences, rollout grass, cocktail dresses, bow ties, just a good day.”
Back inside, the centrepiece of the room is a sprawling three-tonne, ridged concrete bar set between two sheets of corrugated iron – it was formed on-site by Love Concrete. Behind it are 10 independent beer taps, which Barber says will include a “rotational tap of the weird and wonderful”.
“The back bar will be extensive without being too outlandish,” he adds. “I’m a strong believer that you need to move stuff through. It’s wonderful having $800 bottles of whiskey on the back, but if they don’t move it’s wasted.”
There’ll be five seasonal cocktails (you can also request the classics), up to 30 wines by the glass, and two Coravin pours “so you can have a burgundy”. For Barber and the team, it’s about offering something for every kind of customer. “The cellar will [have] a myriad of great wines … local, international, natural, old-school and new.”
The climate-controlled wine cellar has capacity for more than 1200 bottles (the collection will realistically start with 400 to 600). “If you’re sitting here and thinking ‘I really feel like something else’, knock your socks off,” says Barber. “We’re also thinking if someone comes before their booking is ready, [you can] go in there and have a glass of bubbles while you’re waiting.”
Stem will officially open on Tuesday August 27.
188 Hindley St, Adelaide SA 5000
Tues to Sat 11am–late
Sun & Mon Closed