“I still haven’t been!” “Is that the one out north?” “Never heard of it.”

They’re all responses I’ve got when raving about Topiary, an (almost) out-of-town diner that flies far further under the radar than it should.

Chef Kane Pollard, who runs the cafe-restaurant in Adelaide’s north-east with his wife Adele Pollard, hears it too – despite a loyal local following and his new role as Tasting Australia’s 2024 food curator. “We talk about how small Adelaide is and how everyone knows everyone [but] it still surprises me how many people don’t know we’re here.”

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Newman’s Nursery, a garden centre in the verdant Tea Tree Gully foothills, is the unlikely setting for Topiary. It occupies a 140-year-old cottage and its sandstone courtyard, where you feel a world away sitting beneath the wisteria-wrapped arbour.

Much has changed since the Pollards took over the longstanding teahouse – once known for scones and high tea – nearly 12 years ago. They baked their own bread and churned their own butter from the get-go. They added a garden-to-table breakfast menu that’s among Adelaide’s best. They brought fine dining into the fold, with lunches and dinners that went big on sustainability and small on waste. And then, after Covid, they axed scones and high tea, “which made up half the business,” Kane says.

He knew making Topiary entirely his own would mean fluctuations in clientele. Some scone-lovers teetered off. But those who’ve stayed around can attest that the daytime diner’s latest iteration is its best yet.

“We have to be open seven days here, so we need to make sure our offering is something people want to come back for,” Kane says. Now, “it’s an amalgamation of everything we’ve done. Every single ingredient is hyperseasonal, coming and going with the week, and whatever looks great at the Adelaide Showgrounds Farmers’ Market.”

The reasonably priced à la carte lunch menu now balances fine-dining flourishes with a new crowd-pleaser: pizzas made with a sourdough starter that’s as old as the Pollards’ tenure at the venue. The bases are crispy, the crusts are beautifully blistered, and toppings might include brassicas, wild-herb pesto and whipped feta; sopressa salami, capsicum and garlic-spiked honey; or oyster mushroom, fior di latte and thyme.

Other current hits? Pretty, packs-a-punch pork meatballs encased in nasturtium leaves and served with veg-top salsa verde, and butterflied tommy ruff chargrilled in a pouch made of fig leaf (imparting all of the fig’s delicious flavour) that you get to unwrap at the table. Or you can go fancy with Kane’s five-course Forager’s Menu, with matched wines.

Sense of place and seasonality have long been ingrained in Topiary’s DNA, with the kitchen team going foraging within walking distance of the restaurant every morning. But menu-wise, Kane says they’d “taken it as far as we could in this particular location”.

Now his most conceptual, creatively charged cooking is reserved for a new nomadic dining experience called Place, for which he’s turned the destination diner concept on its head. “We’re taking the diner to the destination, putting a table somewhere they’d never imagine it, and serving them a meal informed by where in the world they’re sitting.”

So far he’s hosted two intimate events: one among the towering pine trees of Mount Crawford Forest, the other at skincare brand Jurlique’s Adelaide Hills flower farm.

As Place picks up pace, the plan is to become completely off-grid, relying only on solar and fire power in more show-stopping locations across the state, and potentially beyond.

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1361 North East Road, Tea Tree Gully

Daily 9am–3pm