It’s a little different from Masterchef. It’s a little different from My Kitchen Rules. It’s more like The Block. It’s a real pop up restaurant that you get to eat at!
I went on the first day it was open to the public, however have written this both before and after watching the first episode – so I now know that the Adelaide team are a set of chefs, so I feel my initial impression of the place matched the expected calibre of the contestants.
When I first saw the shed present on my weekly trip to Central markets, I thought, that looks interesting. Then ignored it for a good while.
After a while, I decided it was worth checking out what this commotion was all about. It’s yet another reality TV cooking show, but appears to focus on the setting up of a restaurant and running its everyday matters, rather than a pure amateur cooking competition. Having had my fair share of dining experiences (mostly high end), I decided I’d give it a go and taste the food there. I agonised for a while how I’d judge the place (for my own purposes, not anything to do with the actual show rules) – would I compare it to an average restaurant? Would I compare it to a fine dining establishment? Was it going to be a disaster where I was left for hours without food? There was only one way to find out!
On a freezing, rainy afternoon, I decided to inspect the crowd that would gather. I have the ability to be quite judgemental and snobbish, so I was already judging the 5:30PM turnout for the 6PM start. The line was shorter than I expected, and the main two groups I noticed were a family, and reality TV cooking show enthusiasts. It was a smaller turnout than I had thought, even by Adelaide standards – perhaps it was due to the poor weather. The camera man outside was the time-lapse photographer. Poor guy, he had to stand in the wet and chill for the longest time!
During the wait in the cold and rain, one of the presenters came out and interviewed the family and one of the cooking show enthusiast groups. They were asked questions like “what’s the atmosphere like here?” and “what do you think the price of the meals here will be like?” I was thinking to myself, $15-$20 for entrees and low to high $30 for mains. I am out of practise with normal family restaurant prices so that is what I assumed to be the normal cost of food. I’d just have to wait and see!
Shortly after 6, we were able to go inside and were promptly seated. It was a cosy, bright space, at my guess, seating approximately 60 people (my initial estimate was 40). All the staff greeted us warmly (pun intended) and were very accommodating for solo diners – when I looked around, there were about four solo diners including myself that night.
The service was quick and efficient and you could tell how new and short notice everything was because the waitstaff were continually reciting the table numbers to refresh their memory. There was only the one camera man on the inside that covered the kitchen and the floor.
The menu was quite extensive for the size of the restaurant: 5 entrees, 5 mains, 4 sides, 3 desserts, 2 kids meals, 3 hot drinks and 3 cold drinks. The items were also quite varied, ranging from rabbit tortellini to seafood bouillabaisse, to spanakopita. With such a large range of styles, I opted for those that I could criticise and analyse the best – that meant things I had eaten or cooked elsewhere.
My goal was to order 2 entrees, 1 main, 2 desserts. Here’s how I went:
Seared scallops with paprika, chorizo, potato puree and apple cider reduction
The waiter recommended just a single entree when I asked about the serving sizes. I chose seared scallops, and the heirloom vegetable garden. I figured these two would both be quite light due to scallops being naturally expensive for their serving size, and that the vegetable garden would be dainty. I was a little worried when the kitchen remained quiet after receiving their first orders – it was too organised! The food began to came out, and I received the scallops just before the vegetable garden.
Now for my critical and analytical hat to come on. Presentation wise, the scallops were smaller than I expected, and the potato mash larger than I expected. I would have liked half as much mash to be able to get the right balance between the paprika potato and the scallop. The apple batons were slightly large and they looked clumsily placed, and my microherb scattering was unappealing – not only is the scattering uneven, the stems were very long and didn’t look properly trimmed to my liking. From the second shot, you can see that the scallops were also uneven; the second from the left obviously got pressed a little too hard.
When each scallop was cut open, I checked to see how cooked through they were. When I see “seared” on the menu, I expect near-raw insides, with cooked and tender being the upper acceptable range. The scallops ended up being opaque on one half, and translucent on the other. Overall tasty, but to be perfect I would have expected them to be slightly less cooked.
For your average diner, the presentation is great, the scallops were tender and sweet, the mash had great depth of flavour and moreish due to the paprika and chorizo, and the apple gave this dish a nice acidity.
The dish cost $18.90, and my conclusion is that this dish is worth $16-$18.
Heirloom vegetable garden – roasted carrots, beetroot, parsnip, zucchini flower
This dish was gorgeous looking, and I had ordered it simply for the heirloom carrots. I didn’t read that there was zucchini flower (because I’m presumptuous like that), and I did get excited because the menu didn’t say what was inside. When I unfurled the petals, there was a light, tangy, herbed goat curd. It was a little too runny for me though, I would have liked it a little firmer. The flavour was great, so I really couldn’t fault that based on my personal preference.
I had a very large white carrot running the length of the plate, and I don’t actually like the flavour of carrots, but I do like the way it was roasted and how the skin separated from the rest of the carrot. The carrot was cooked to the point of being soft, and as I ate through it, I noticed that my white carrot was a little broken due to its softness for it to bend around the plate like it did, as if the chef was being forceful with the vegetable. My little purple carrot was pretty tasty though. Little bits of the tops remained on all the vegetables, so while they cleaned them the best they could, there were crunches of dirt in most of the bites – I didn’t mind this though.
There was roasted beetroot and shaved raw beetroot, where the whiter ones were sweet and earthy. I noticed that I had two slices of beetroot that hadn’t been separated (more visible in the bottom picture), where I should have only received a single one. I loved the addition of beetroot leaves onto the dish as all too often they’re discarded instead of eaten.
The parsnip puree was smooth and retained its own flavour.
Overall, the presentation of the dish was great and it pretty much was spot on with what I imagined it to look like based on how I expect my vegetable dishes to be presented as well as how it was described on the menu – if anything, it reminded me a little of Celcius’ vegetable garden when it was on the menu a long time ago.
The dish cost $14.90, and my conclusion is that the dish is worth $14 – $16.
Smoked kangaroo loin seasoned with wattleseed and Murray salt, garnished with beetroot, hazelnut and cauliflower.
There are two reasons I chose this dish – the use of wattleseed as a native Australian ingredient, and because kangaroo, if not cooked properly, ends up a disaster. The main actually came out reasonably quickly; I was expecting to wait up to 10 minutes more for a main to come out. The waiter also deftly swapped my cutlery around to have a steak knife instead of the standard knife before this dish arrived, which was great. There was a lot of colour on this dish, red from the beetroot, green from the kale that I wasn’t expecting, and yellow from wattleseed, hazelnut and salt crumbs.
When I cut the kangaroo fillet, it looked like it was just past medium rare, so I figured it was well rested and a little more cooked than I like – I believe kangaroo should be more towards rare. However, I was impressed that the kangaroo had great flavour and was still tender, so I enjoyed it. At first I wasn’t sure what the crumble was, but after tasting it, it was salty and nutty, so immediately I accompanied it with the kangaroo for every bite. There was a lingering umami flavour to this dish, which I suspect came from the crumble. That was a plus for me.
While the vegetable entree had roasted and raw beetroot, this main had a third beetroot element – pickled – lightly so, but I could taste it. Personally I found that there was too much meat on the plate – there was a large piece and a smaller piece. I was actually alarmed at just how much there was, my estimate places it at 400g of meat or just under. I believe that between 200g and 300g would have been reasonable if an entree, side and dessert was ordered with it in a single sitting. I knew that I might not get through this, especially as the scallop entree was also heavier than I anticipated, so dessert was already at risk of being skipped altogether! I can’t tell whether this is because I’m used to the small serving sizes of degustations and tapas style menus, or if it was simply because I’d already over-ordered by choosing two entrees. I consider myself a capable eater, even when alone dining though, so I concluded that it was still a bit too much food for a single dish.
The dish cost $33.90, and my conclusion is that the dish is worth $30 – $36 for this serving size all the way down to 200g and the price point would still be reasonable.
The camera man was filming the first table to order and receive the dessert special! I also observed the maitre d’ walk around and introduce herself and describe the team, the restaurant, and the competition to various groups of tables, however, I also noticed she didn’t approach the solo and duo diners. It was also the large groups that got ushered into the feedback booth – this was just from my point of view and from a single night’s sitting though.
My waiter checked in again once my main had been finished to confirm if I’d ordered dessert or not. I ordered a flat white because I was asked if I would like tea or coffee. Nice work, waiter! If he hadn’t asked, it would have been revenue they missed (the show is also about making the largest profit). It’s my safe go to drink when I like an after dinner drink but don’t want to risk bad coffee. I asked about dessert since I wanted to try the special as well as a tasting plate, but I honestly didn’t have room for both. I actually asked him which he thought was prettier, and he said the special. I chose the tasting plate as it was three items of chocolate; I would choose the special if I still had room because it looked like a fairly small dish.
Athena’s tasting plate – chocolate mousse, chocolate nut truffle, chocolate raspberry shard, chocolate fudge
The top picture is how the dish was originally presented. The middle shot is what it looked like after I shuffled the truffle over, and the last shot is my standard angle shot. Do I mind that it wasn’t a perfect quenelle? Not at all. I am perfectly happy even at a high end restaurant to receive an attempted quenelled mousse. However, the lack of attention to the placement of the truffle did disappoint me. All the portion sizes on this was small, which was great – and both the fudge and the mousse were really light! I felt good eating them. The truffle was naturally heavier, in its ball of shaved nut (I think hazelnut or almond?) and its rich melt-in-the-mouth inside. And that’s an objective description of the truffle, for I am not a fan of truffles, only of the mushroom variety. The chocolate shards had a raspberry and honeycomb topping. It was a light and perfectly balanced chocolate dessert.
However, this dish cost $15.50, and my conclusion is that this dish is worth $9 – $12. It was overpriced in my opinion.
At this point I was having a “Hartsyard heart attack” – the effect of ordering and self-force feeding of too much food. I couldn’t physically eat anymore, but at the same time, to my disappointment, my waiter forgot about me! I got one more water refill from another waiter long after I’d already finished the dessert and coffee. I sat patiently, expecting to be asked for the bill or if I wanted another drink, but no, he began drying the glasses over at the bar!
I was so sad. I would have chanced the other dessert which was a raspberry and pistachio verrine, which from the other tables, was a cute little crumble/curd with fresh raspberries and a white chocolate (possibly biscuit interior) stick in a stemless glass. It also looked light enough that I could get through most of it and get my money’s worth. At $13 for the special, to me it looked like a $10-$14 dish. So I simply asked for the bill and due to that drop in service, missed out on an extra little expenditure from me.
Overall, I liked this experience. My total expenditure was $87.40 for myself and included 2 entrees, 1 main, 1 dessert, 1 coffee. I consumed all of it. The service was great (except that last bit) and having the experienced waitstaff really helped. The ambience of the restaurant worked well too – it was clean and professional and you’d never know it was actually set up in a mash of 8 shipping containers. The customers were well behaved, albeit rather too quiet for my liking. Most of the tables did fill up, though the restaurant wasn’t full during my time there between 6PM – 8:30PM. The food came out faster than I anticipated, though having no kitchen experience or research I’m unable to determine why or if it’s a good or bad thing, if at all. I’m actually impressed I noticed all that I did with the food – mainly because I’ve never properly analysed food to that detail before. I’m usually too busy raving about high end restaurants, and due to their reputation, would overlook a lot of these details, so this was great practise for me.
I would love to go again when things change, for example, if the contestants switch sites or there’s some other unseen challenge. I estimate that the restaurant will run as-is for approximately 2 weeks before anything gets thrown into the works.