Vibrant energy sustains Africola – in its ostentatious décor, informed floor staff and in the busy open kitchen, where vegetables are heroes of an exciting array of dishes best shared. Start with the irresistible tea sandwich – crisp chicken skin and hot chicken fat squashed between white bread – then bite into outstanding falafel, bright green and herby, on feisty romesco sauce. Outstanding golden dhal is teamed with deep-fried chickpeas that pop then dissolve in the mouth. Salted cabbage is seasoned with the spicy bite of peanut achar. Seafood is treated with the same affectionate touch – a bowl of briny steamed pipis with the flare of chilli and salty bite of sea succulents, or sardines served whole on a bed of harissa. It's clean, fresh, simple, delicious. Meat lovers are also well catered for, with a deeply warming lamb neck curry served with vegetables pickled in whey and puffy grilled lavosh. On-trend wines and spirits come courtesy of micro-producers, and while it may look like a clubhouse for the cool crowd, Africola sits squarely among the nation's most affordable and accessible dining destinations of the moment.
4 East Tce, Adelaide, SA, africola.com.au
The dining experience is expertly framed by an idyllic setting at Botanic Gardens Restaurant. The quaint former tearoom in the heart of the garden, ringed by glass walls and whitewashed timber, has been modernised with blond wood tables and plush mustard-coloured low-back chairs, and the menu exercises similar poise. Paul Baker packs a lot into each dish – drawing more than 50 ingredients from the garden – yet his complex combinations show restraint, with flavours introduced with nuance rather than ostentation. Slivers of grilled squid and slices of baked pear provide lively crunch and chew with shaved pickled chestnut adding earthy notes. The bitter streak of roasted radicchio cuts through rich lamb tartare folded with lardo and quandong dukkah. Coffee-crusted kangaroo fillet is smartly teamed with smoked potato, pickled red cabbage and the vegetal bite of centella. Dishes are uniformly pretty, festooned with just-picked flowers and leaves. Garden ingredients also feature in seasonal house vermouths and beers that sit alongside an interesting list of mostly alternative wine producers. Discreet service ensures a serene scene where all is in balance, within the room and on the plate.
Plane Tree Dr, Adelaide, SA, botanicgardens.com.au
Penfolds insists its wines stand in the most luxurious dining context, and each aspect of its Magill Estate Restaurant dégustation is presented with extraordinary finesse and attention to detail. The dining space is idyllic– achic glass-walled pavilion, sumptuously appointed with leather chairs and blackwood tables, with a panorama of the vineyards. The atmosphere is calm, with soft-spoken staff guiding you through each morsel and glass. It's quite a procession. Chef Scott Huggins presents more than 20 tastes, starting with ingenious egg snacks; beluga caviar on a hot potato cake, ethereal mayonnaise on chicken skin, and trout roe with chives on a crumpet. Next comes a cold roll of shaved squid, then a rosette of smoked celeriac and crisp green apple, and sublime lamb rested in a warm oil bath then hibachi-grilled, accompanied by almond paste, a sprinkling of fenugreek and grated bottarga. Smart Penfolds wine selections are similarly flawless, presenting older vintages in their prime and ideally suited to the flavours of each dish. Luxury such as this comes at significant cost, but one can't quibble at the excellence on show here.
78 Penfold Rd, Magill, SA, magillestaterestaurant.com
Six years into his exploration of native ingredients within a fine-dining prism, Jock Zonfrillo keeps devising innovative combinations at a furious pace. His confidence lifts Orana's modest dining room to showcase a maverick Australia-first philosophy that feeds all the senses, from lemon myrtle-scented hand towels to Aboriginal artworks and comfortable Australian hardwood furniture, backed by enthusiastic and engaged service and a patriotic rock soundtrack. Side-stepping conventional rules, Orana's 18-taste dégustation explores anything from roti stuffed with flame-grilled Tommy Ruff smeared with a native jerk sauce to a shot of warm macadamia milk with native thyme oil. Interlaced between several must-remain dishes – cook-your-own damper on lemon myrtle branches to a final note of set buttermilk in strawberry eucalyptus oil– there are exciting new ideas. An ocean blast of pipis is presented in a briny broth of ruby salt bush berry and crunchy beach succulents. Rare 'roo loin is rested in house kombucha, adding a slightly fruity, a stringent edge that brings great clarity to flavour. The whole journey is enlightening and delicious. Like Zonfrillo, Oranadiners continue to discover a new Australia, one bite at a time.
Upstairs, 285 Rundle St, Adelaide, SA, restaurantorana.com
Serving luxurious comfort food in a casual contemporary setting, Orso has Adelaide swooning. Pasta, for one, oozes generosity, and embraces the same modern Mediterranean palate that informs the rest of the menu. Rich rabbit ragù is folded through fat pappardelle, sprinkled with fried sage leaves and roasted hazelnuts. Mulloway is dressed in a wonderfully savoury Italian XO sauce (cutely called Ciao XO) made with pancetta, parmesan, air-dried tuna, porcini and white balsamic. Potatoes are prominent, as a winning snack of croquettes filled with taleggio on Calabrese chilli aioli, or an essential side of crushed, roasted then fried spuds dressed with truffled pecorino – almost a meal itself, and destined to be a crowd favourite. It's not all dark tones and richness though: lively kingfish crudo, for example, features pearls of finger lime and crisp sugar snaps. Proprietor Andre Ursini has spared no expense transforming a former bluestone manor into an airy dining space dressed in marble and timber, its vast open kitchen setting a vibrant rhythm that gets the whole room buzzing. Add the attentive waitstaff and this type of polished neighbourhood eatery is very easy to digest.
36 Kensington Rd, Rose Park, SA, orsokensington.com.au
Zen calm at the kitchen pass provides an important clue – it's all about easy harmony at Peel Street. The laneway bistro's exposed brick and polished concrete interior may suggest on-trend urban cool, but it's sage soulfulness that defines the menu. A carefree collision of flavours and cultural inspirations plug directly into the zeitgeist of the modern Australian appetite. Vegetable dishes are a bright and inviting tumble of contrasting ingredients, such as turmeric-roasted cauliflower folded with cashew-nut cream, sprouted mung bean tabouli, pomegranate and lime yoghurt. Some favourites remain menu fixtures, including a bountiful salad of banana blossom and shredded chicken with chilli jam, peanuts, lime leaf and lemongrass. A similar formula – heaped chopped herbs and fresh leaves atop a mound of ingredients – informs many dishes, but the tantalising vitality in such health-conscious food is irresistible. Peel Street led Adelaide's embrace of cultural polyglot menus, thoughtfully combining Asian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean ideas, and perennially full tables prove it remains the preference for diners from all walks of life.
9 Peel St, Adelaide, SA, peelst.com.au
Shobosho brings the high-octane drama of Japanese dining to life – all blond pine panelling, buzzing neon signage, sizzling skewers of chicken parts, shouting chefs and choreographed chaos – yet forges an identity all its own. Chef Adam Liston looks beyond the Land of the Rising Sun for inspiration, stuffing dumplings with kimchi and frying rice with char siu pork, though the lure of first-rate yakitori and that killer katsu sandwich is hard to resist. More comprehensively composed dishes reveal considered cooking, with edge and finesse. Cubes of raw kingfish engage in a textural tug of war with edamame and black rice, all tied together by grilled nori and a smooth bonito cream with sea-sweet tang. A roasted leek arrives as a scorched log, split open and strikingly set against the yin and yang of smoked buttermilk and vivid emerald kelp oil. Suntory whisky highballs on tap are a spirited touch, much like the sorbet made from stretchy Hi Chew lollies and green apple skins. Playful, indeed, but also precise.
17 Leigh St, Adelaide, SA, shobosho.com.au