It probably never crosses the mind of most Adelaide food goers, especially those who only frequent the newest restaurants and bars, as to the reason why certain venues have stood the test of time. No, it’s not because of old money. No, it’s not because they just have the same dozen customers each week. It’s certainly not because you go there either, but that’s something you really should change.
Institution can seem like a dirty word sometimes, like ‘moist’ or ‘politics’, but in the context of restaurants it should be a badge of acclaim and recognition of a kitchen that remains a bastion of taste and quality. In Adelaide, many of these venues aren’t the old fashioned relics people suppose them to be, in fact some offer experiences that more modern venues simply can’t because of their central location. Perhaps the archetype for this sort of eatery is Jolleys Boathouse, still one of only two eateries situated upon the banks of the River Torrens in Adelaide. Now, while this may change with the Riverbank Precinct set for some dramatic development in the coming years, nothing will replace the quiet laneway entrance, the runners going past during the daytime and the upstairs function room view across the University sporting grounds.
But unless all you use is Trip Advisor to plan your day (who does that as a local?), you need more than just a setting as a reason to visit a restaurant. And Jolleys has meals which might surprise. We stopped in to enjoy a snapshot of their $45 ‘Winter Of Content’ lunch menu, which covers three courses and a glass of wine. This tends to lend itself to long lunches, but there’s no reason why you can’t be in and out within the hour, and full to the brim! It’s all about how you want to play things.
Entree offers couldn’t be more different, but let’s start with the familiar, a tender Wagyu Bresaola with house made cheese, pickled quince and torn basil. This is a fresh, flavoursome and light plate, perfect for those who aren’t after something too heavy. The house made cheese could have been made by any artisan, and adds a personal touch to the beautiful meat on the plate.
On the other end of the menu is that surprise we alluded to. Salt & Pepper Barramundi Wings, with a sweet and sour cucumber dressing and Thai vegetable relish. The imagination in this combination is enviable, but you’d best prepare yourself for a challenge in the eating as Barramundi bones make for a tactile experience. The coating of the wings is crispy, the fish juicy and the sauces that accompany mean this dish could be three meals in one. You can choose the sweet, almost treacle-like syrup the fish is served in, or the sharp vinegar of the sweet and sour dressing, which picks up a lot of bite from the raw garlic and fresh chilli included. Best suited to those with some time on their hands, don’t attack this with only your knife and fork. There’s some real pleasure to be had eating the fish right off the bone.
Once again, we return with two options for mains which seem at opposite ends of the spectrum. Pan Fried Pumpkin Gnocchi with Adelaide Hills mushrooms, brussels sprouts and chestnuts immediately appeals to those after something hearty in the cooler weather. Light, fluffy pillows of gnocchi are bound in flavour with the natural juices of the pan fried mushrooms, a classic and scrumptious combination broken up by the textural crunch of the chestnuts.
Then we move onto the Roast Snapper Fillet with ham hock cabbage, pea and potato broth. In a lot of ways this acts like two separate meals combined, with the pea and potato adding a consistency that’s closer to soup than a broth. But hey, the ham hock cabbage combined with that flavour is a show stopper, and you’d be satisfied with it on it’s own. Which brings us to the crispy skinned, perfectly cooked Snapper. It’s a fish that demands it’s own attention and the flavours, when combined with the ham hock, make for a combination that took some getting used to. That said, after several bites, we began to discover what the kitchen were asking us to appreciate, with the smoky linger of the ham hock starting to reveal new depth to the snapper. Again, not the sort of surprise you’d expect.
Dessert will wrap things up nicely and while the menu offers a Whipped Pistachio, Puffed Wild Rice, Rock Melon, Coconut, Caramel and Cocoa Crumb combination which appears to have all the elements covered; light, salty, sweet and savoury, with crunch and creamy textures all in one. But they branched out from the set menu to show us something that’s not on any of the books, a slightly sweet, house made Sheep’s milk parfait matched perfectly with red grapefruit, granola and citrus shavings.
As the name of the menu says, you’ll definitely be content this winter with this menu, especially if you can make lunchtime work for you. But beyond that, the idea of avoiding packed dining rooms in Adelaide or North Adelaide come evening time, watching the lights reflect off the shimmering river and even taking a quite moment perhaps before you head to an game at Adelaide Oval, is an attractive proposition. This is the sort of dining experience that the Riverbank redevelopment is working towards, and it’s already here. It’s not quite back to the future, but Jolleys Boathouse without a doubt has a part in the future of Adelaide dining.