When Penfolds Magill Estate Restaurant reopened in late August after a 21-month hiatus and an extensive refit, its stated ambition to be among Australia's leading restaurants ensured it would attract close scrutiny. And does it make the cut? It's not there yet, but it could be on its way.
The interior fashioned by designer and restaurateur Pascale Gomes-McNabb makes a strong initial impression. Clusters of bespoke dark furnishings now draw the eye as much as the views across the vines to Adelaide's skyline. Bare blackwood tables and low-slung leather wingback chairs are dramatically offset by slashes of red-hot neon and clusters of Emma Lashmar's illuminated glass orbs suspended above the tables. The décor softens the mood of a once-austere room - it's more casual and relaxed.
New executive chef Scott Huggins, previously of Nihonryori RyuGin, Tokyo, and the Royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld, strives for harmony, balance and the pure expression of hero ingredients rather than dazzling spectacle within his five- or eight-course dégustation menus ($135 or $185; $265 or $435 with matched wines). Lightly cured belly of bluefin tuna with asparagus smoked in hay, egg yolk and dehydrated olive crumbs is a shining example. Gentle flavours ensure the luscious tuna texture remains the highlight of this dish. Less cohesive, perhaps, is a lightly poached Coffin Bay oyster in cucumber purée topped by frozen pebbles of bitter apple, the contrasting warm and cold elements seeming awkward rather than intriguing. Pastry chef Emma Shearer impresses though, with a dessert of toasted hay-infused ice-cream offset by crumbled walnut and a dark wafer of coffee and linseed.
The main course shows Huggins's intentions best: wagyu striploin (seared, chilled, rested in 62C oil, sprayed with soy and rosemary then grilled over charcoal) is modestly seasoned and embellished with roasted sesame dressing and confit baby garlic as a foil beside powerhouse red wines: Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon for the five-course menu, or 2008 Grange with the eight-courser. It's a tough gig for any ambitious chef; Penfolds wines are always going to be the star of this show.
Penfolds Magill Estate Restaurant, 78 Penfold Rd, Magill, SA, (08) 8301 5551