The introduction of a bold young chef has reaffirmed this stately Barossa restaurant's relevance among a high tide of outstanding dining options in the state's wine areas. Appellation stands proudly within a Relais & Chateaux hotel, overlooking vineyards and dressed with soft hues, discreet furnishings and tasteful modern art, but behind this poise, Daniel Murphy has brought a jolt of fresh energy to the kitchen. Embracing the seasonal output of local farms, he teams figs with farmer's cheese, a sprinkling of hemp seeds and rich pumpkin seed oil, fusing sharp and sweet notes. The smoky grunt of finely scored squid cooked over coals plays off against a rich yellow-bean mousse sharpened with lime. Charred cauliflower, meanwhile, comes atop rich sweetcorn purée, tempered by shaved roasted walnut and the salty burst of karkalla. The new level of creativity in the kitchen has motivated the service team and brought joy into the dining room. It's aided by smart new wine pairings through the five-course menu, selected from a monolithic cellar of outstanding Barossa and international wines. With its sense of purpose and identity revived, Appellation is one to watch.
The Louise, 375 Seppeltsfield Rd, Marananga, SA, https://thelouise.com.au
No rules apply inside the cube. The huge Rubik's-inspired tasting/dining structure erected at d'Arenberg vineyard in McLaren Vale is both gorgeous and gregarious, at every bite and swallow. Tribal artefacts combine with winery ephemera, modern art and harlequin leather thrones. The dégustation offers an even wilder ride, and many dishes don't appear as they seem – grapes filled with foie gras, a savoury biscuit filled with eel purée. More mystery: what's in a black Riedel glass? Sake, perfectly cutting through whole-baked shallot matched with a finely chopped mushroom ragoût, and wicked fried chicken pressed between wafers. There's mischief at each step. You receive a mortar and pestle with herbs and a vial of seasoned oil to make your own salad dressing. Strips of wagyu are grilled on skull-headed skewers. What delights is the consistent deliciousness, and the floor staff keep proceedings fun. d'Arenberg wants its own wines at the forefront but there are many options in a 10-chapter drinks menu – almost two dozen internationals by the glass and a long list of sake. It's a luxurious trip, and most definitely not a gimmick. Relax and enjoy the ride.
Osborn Rd, McLaren Vale, darenberg.com.au
The bond between the region and the kitchen is intrinsic at Coriole. Grape vines and olive trees, visible from the McLaren Vale winery's enclosed courtyard dining patio, are responsible for the estate wines, marinated olives and tapenade that arrive promptly at your table. Chef Tom Tilbury then looks a little further to create a broad array of well-considered regional signatures, best enjoyed over a long, lazy lunch (the chef's selection menu is an ideal choice). An homage to the lower Fleurieu Peninsula coastline combines mulloway and cockles with fronds of oceanic karkalla and sea blite, all wrapped in a film of leek to resemble a tart. Moving inland, kangaroo tail is cooked low and slow, almost sliding off the bone into a bed of macadamia purée, with honey-roasted macadamia nuts and crisp-fried saltbush bringing bite and crunch as a smart counterpoint to the rich meat. Coriole's Italian-variety wines are a fine match with the food, be it whatever cheese (from Woodside Cheese Wrights, also owned by Coriole) the waitstaff suggest, or a prosecco with honey brûlée and melon sorbet.
79 Chaffeys Rd, McLaren Vale SA, https://coriole.com
History never repeats at Hentley Farm. Mindful of Barossa's proud heritage, this winery restaurant understands regional traditions but applies modern ideas to dishes that frequently shift and evolve with a bold, dynamic dégustation. It's a keen and sharp vision that suits the grand setting – a sleek glass box overlooking stately gum trees, cool slate floors and dark timber tables. Farmhouse meets penthouse, call it. Chef Lachlan Colwill also gets the balance right from the opening stanza of preliminary snacks – witlof leaves topped with pickled pepper and shaved cheddar, say, or preserved slippery jack mushrooms on puffed quinoa with an intense mushroom XO sauce – and through to more substantial offerings, such as a slice of fatty tuna belly exquisitely teamed with tart kangaroo garum, shavings of Granny Smith apple and smoked artichoke. Hentley Farm-only wines limit drink choices, but the kitchen makes certain every dish is wine-friendly. And each plate presented to the table is irresistible photo fodder from a pretty dessert of fig-leaf ice-cream with quince jam framed by fragrant jasmine flowers, to a rich quail Scotch egg piqued with mustard and wittily presented in a woven vine nest. Heritage evolving.
Cnr Gerald Roberts and Jenke roads, Seppeltsfield SA, hentleyfarm.com.au
Changes at Maxwell Winery in McLaren Vale have reshaped the cellar door and eating spaces, providing the right platform for Fabian Lehmann's rising talent. An enclosed patio offers casual plates to share, while a separate contemporary dining room – with limestone walls, a dramatic custom-made marble-topped central table and low-slung soft leather chairs – serves a choice of two dégustation menus. Tricks are at play throughout – a spherified oyster skin pops with a shot of gin and tonic, for example – but the common thread is richness and generous flavour, teased out by classic European cooking techniques. A buttery medley of mushrooms, grown in the winery's limestone cave, is crowned with crisp potato ribbons and tarragon. Rare aged duck breast with crisp skin sits on an earthy turnip purée, dressed with pea tendrils and cress. Service is brisk and informed, but the offer of mostly Maxwell wines (with a few internationals) leaves notable gaps in drinking choices. Although savoury-edged desserts are pleasing, the "traditional ploughman's lunch" – a hefty cheeseboard with seven Australian cheeses and condiments – provides an outstanding finish.
Olivers Rd, McLaren Vale, SA, maxwellwines.com.au