“Telling people you’re from Mount Lofty House opens a lot of doors around here”.
Queensland-born chef Wayne Brown has cooked in Michelin- and triple-hatted kitchens throughout Australia, Europe and Japan, but he’s looking forward to becoming a South Australian local.
He invited Broadsheet into his shiny new kitchen at Hardy’s Verandah Restaurant – now operating at the 165-year-old heritage-listed Mount Lofty House – for a first look at Adelaide’s most anticipated fine-dining experience.
Brown’s four- and seven-course omakase (Japanese meaning “leave it to you”) menus are the products of extensive experience in venues such as Quay, Tetsuya’s and Sake in Sydney, and Stokehouse and Urbane in Brisbane. His food melds fine Australian produce with traditional and contemporary techniques, and he has been keenly exploring the region to forage for local ingredients.
Leading his kitchen team bushwhacking along Seventh Creek and through the botanical gardens, he plots any locations worth revisiting on a secret map. Much of the land is privately owned, so the chefs knock on doors seeking permission to pick what they find. “Locals are generally happy to share,” he says.
This “valley to verandah” approach is at the forefront of Brown’s food philosophy. He wants diners to experience a connection between produce and region. With a dining area that overlooks the stunning Piccadilly Valley, there is a real sense of immersion.
Things are still very new. Designer Georgie Shepherd (Hither & Yon, St Louis House of Fine Ice Cream and Dessert) will soon add final touches to the main dining room and Arthur Waterhouse Bar (a cheeky hat-tip to the infamous parties hosted by the Waterhouse family over the years). Other refinements – casual, less starchy tablecloths for example – will also be in place when the venue officially launches in February.
Brown is also looking forward to the completion of his new garden – laid out a few feet from the kitchen's back door. With expert tips from the Mount Lofty Botanical Gardens team it will expand over the next six to 12 months.
“I got most things on my wishlist,” says Brown. The only missing gadget is an ice-cream-making soccer ball he saw advertised on Japanese TV. “You fill the frozen core with cream and kick it around the backyard for, like, half an hour, and it makes ice cream.” Instead he uses the admittedly more sophisticated Pacojet to churn fresh desserts during service.
Brown cooks on a custom-built charcoal pit fired by bamboo coals, coaxing subtle flavours in the style of traditional Japanese barbeque. His ox tongue with pickled apple and sesame-soy glaze combines accessible, “fashionable” produce with street-style yakitori grilling. Brown’s ocean trout – which he hopes to substitute with local river trout – with beetroot-and-blueberry marmalade and brown-butter sour cream exemplifies his style of meticulous composition masquerading as simplicity.
Brown also trained in French-Japanese pastries at Tokyo’s Two Rooms Bar and Grill. “To me, cooking is spiritual but desserts are very technical,” he says. “If you get it wrong, they don’t work.” There’s a cherry blossom-inspired peach sorbet with plum wine ice shards and, for a little pageantry, a chocolate sphere served on passionfruit ice-cream and shrouded in liquid nitrogen.
Patrick White (Magil Estate) is curating a wine list to complement the food. It will offer an opportunity for guests to select vintages stored in the house cellar, an expansion of which is nearing conclusion.
Hardy’s Verandah Restaurant is now in a soft-launch phase with the official opening scheduled for February 23, 2017.