When David Horbelt bought Mount Lofty House in 2009, he had a vision of turning the 1852 sandstone manor at the top of the Adelaide Hills into the best boutique hotel in Australia. And one of the most important steps was creating a sophisticated on-site restaurant. It took eight years, but he finally achieved that goal when Hardy’s Verandah Restaurant opened in 2017, incorporating the property’s old verandah to offer spectacular views over the Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens and Piccadilly Valley below.

Grounded in old-world fine dining, it was part of an overarching plan that included a thorough refurbishment of the hotel’s 32 existing rooms and construction of 14 ultra-luxurious suites on the escarpment in front of the main building. (The latter will launch as Sequoia in February.) Two more additions will open in early December: a downstairs champagne bar with leather booth seats, chesterfields and timber wagon wheel lights, and an outdoor bar set around a long timber bench at the very edge of the valley, perfect for a pre-dinner drink or a late-night cigar.

And as the property has evolved, so has the food offering. The cosy Arthur Waterhouse Lounge once offered casual dining, but has now switched its focus solely to drinks and local charcuterie platters (if hotel guests want a low-key meal they can order room service).

That allows the spotlight to shine on Hardy’s Verandah, where Korean head chef Jin Choi, German restaurant manager David Schnur and sommelier Liinaa Berry preside. And just as the guest rooms retain a sense of old-world grandeur alongside more modern flourishes, the restaurant also combines classic and contemporary takes on fine dining.

“For a long time this place has been associated with an old-school stiff style, but it’s not like that,” says Berry. “We still want to do old-school hospitality, but we’re allowing it to be a bit more casual and fun. We want people to know that if they come here they can have a good time, they will laugh.”

Part of that shift has been a move to expand the wine list. Since arriving in January, Berry (who spent five years at Melbourne Supper Club’s rooftop bar Siglo before stints at Crafers Hotel, 2KW and Leigh Street Wine Room) has added 300 new lines to the cellar, bringing the wine list to 900 encompassing “everything from barolo to Basket Range”.

If you’re after a champagne or burgundy there are still plenty of options, but they’ve been augmented with a strong range of natural wines, offerings from cult wineries around the world and a healthy dose of Berry’s “absolute obsession”: Loire Valley chenin blanc.

Even in the newly expanded cellar the focus is still firmly on the food. “For me it’s all about chef, it’s about his food and his inspiration and I want to make the wine an extension of the dish,” Berry says. “Every sommelier has their passion and at the moment mine is food and wine matching, getting to a point where nothing is dominating, everything is in symbiosis.”

In the kitchen, Choi regularly incorporates ingredients such as miso, ponzu and nori into his dynamic, subtly Asian-influenced menu that changes frequently as new produce comes into season. His creations are imaginative without straying into gratuitous experimentation; simple listings such as “King George whiting, mustard dressing, kohlrabi” only hint at a dish that’s served on “coral” made of dehydrated fish cuttings and spices with kohlrabi that’s been pickled for a year and a Korean dressing of chicken stock, mustard, apple, shallots and garlic. Diners can opt for the four course à la carte Short Story or the Long Story, a seven-course degustation that usually finishes with a spectacular “chocolate disaster”.

The Long Story also comes with both standard and premium drink pairings, the latter “a vinous journey around the world” that might include unicorn wines such as Maxime Magnon from a magnum or “one of the last few bottles in the country” of 1973 pedro ximenez.

It is, as the brief suggests, fine dining with a sense of fun.

Hardy’s Verandah Restaurant
Mount Lofty House, 1 Mawson Drive, Crafers
Mon to Sat 6pm–9pm
Sun 12pm–9pm