Restaurant Awards

Restaurant of the Year: Restaurant Botanic

Adelaide, South Australia

Photo: Jonathan Van Der Knapp

Jonathan Van Der Knapp

Dégustation restaurants are by nature expensive, time-consuming and, with so many moving parts (multiple courses, drink pairings, ingredients, interactions), an accident waiting to happen. They’re as much an exercise in logistics as cooking and, if not careful, a chef can forget that. Alongside being a showcase for their own brilliance, dégustation dining must also be fun and flavoursome.

Justin James, the former Vue de Monde head chef who took the reins at Adelaide’s Restaurant Botanic in 2021, doesn’t forget. His 20-something “course” menu (many of the courses being single-bite) brings new life to the puffed old trope of restaurant meal as journey in a way that makes dining here feel more adventure, less forced march.

The key is unity of vision. Botanic is in the middle of Adelaide’s rightly adored Botanic Garden and James has been given full access to that bounty. This means there are plenty of native plants involved – hot towels are scented with anise myrtle, Murray cod is wrapped in paperbark, Davidson plum lands as sorbet wrapped in fruit leather with lemon balm – but the garden also provides plants from far-flung locales so you get makrut leaves teamed with baby abalone or marron claw matched with shisho leaf. Like the beautiful mix of natural chaos and imposed order in the surrounding gardens, James never succumbs to attempting perfection on the plate. He embraces the beauty of irregularity. Garnishes are not always uniformly shaped, skewers are twisted sticks, plates land surrounded by pine branches and snacks are hidden in loosely tied bunches of foliage.At times it feels a little mysterious and witchy, in the best possible way.

The room shies away from being too poised and perfect too, all undressed tables and windows free of drapery to take full advantage of the garden view. It’s comfortable and relaxed, the atmosphere assisted by a soundtrack that swings from classic soul to Pink Floyd to REM. Service follows the template too, never missing a beat but always happy to go off script and chat, so that you might feel like you’ve made a new friend by the end of the four-hour relationship.

Gorgeous moments of luxury – a slowly scrambled emu egg served in the shell, thrillingly brilliant roasted and honey-glazed duck, sublime oysters topped with green ants – balance the rusticity and the skill level of the cooking never wavers.

Botanic is a bravura performance, worthy of sustained applause. We’re happy to lead the ovation.

Restaurant Botanic

Plane Tree Dr, Adelaide, SA

(08) 8223 3526

Chef Justin James

Price guide $$$$

Bookings Recommended

Wheelchair access Yes

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