Freelancer and aspiring journalist from Adelaide. Visual Arts graduate & current journalism student. Fashion, lifestyle, entertainment, art & food. I also write for The Adelaidian // theadelaidian.net/author/georgina-tselekidis
Published February 21st 2016
To Charcoal or Not to Charcoal
The Hilton Hotel recently had an impressive makeover; a $5 million dollar one to be exact. Coal Cellar and Grill is the latest dining establishment of the hotel, previously home to renowned chef Cheong Liew. However, this revamped space brings you true Australian flavours by highlighting South Australian produce through a unique menu that comprises a nice selection of starters, sides and an extensive charcoal grill variety.
Upon entering, I was impressed by the decor and interior, as I especially liked the pendant lighting and layout of the space. However, as I sat at my table soaking up my surroundings, I sensed that the restaurant lacked substance and felt a little sterile; particularly in colour. I felt disconnected to the place, and as an analytical and visual person who enjoys a great dining experience, I wouldn't say that this was my best one. I believe that when dining out, one must feel totally immersed in the atmosphere, as though for a brief 2 hours, we are a part of another world, culture, or experience. However, this wasn't apparent; nothing popped, the colour palette was very monochromatic and almost dreary - browns, blacks, wooden panels, chairs and tables, and a tartan patterned carpet.
Waiters bustled out from what seemed to be the kitchen, yet it felt so distant, and hidden. A new, hip and upcoming eatery like this should really attempt to connect with its customers, and an open kitchen allows this. Places like Jamie's Italian succeed in creating a welcoming, warm and interconnecting dining experience, yet Coal Cellar and Grill fail to achieve this. Similarly, the music was like that of an elevator. It felt like an awkward cliche dinner scene that was pulled straight from a movie.
A dozen oysters served with lime ponzu arrived as a starter, and they were as good as they could be. Oysters are a simple choice that never disappoint. I didn't try any of the lime ponzu dressing, as it didn't appeal to me. Although a slice of lemon would have been nice and appropriate as a side with the oysters, regardless of their accompanying dressing. However, this wasn't the case. On a positive note, they were well priced and fresh.
Following the oysters, we opted for the seafood grill for two, consisting of mussels, prawns, calamari and snapper. Now let's start with the positives - it was reasonably priced, the snapper was delicious and cooked to perfection and the platter was adequate for two people. However, I was a little disappointed that the menu didn't state how the seafood was seasoned prior to grilling. What's more, I specifically chose to dine here due to allergies; I usually opt for restaurants that offer simple grilled foods.
The waitress informed me that the prawns were cooked in a tandoori sauce, the mussels in a white wine and garlic broth, and the calamari was coated in a salt and pepper flour. It all sounded delicious, however It would have helped to know this before, as I can't consume a variety of ingredients. The waitress assured me that the chef was accommodating to this and would only use salt and pepper.
The seafood plate looked phenomenal and extremely appetizing, but it didn't really hit the spot as much as I'd wanted it to. The snapper was seriously good though; delectably soft enough to melt in your mouth. The calamari was average - a little overcooked and rubbery. The garlic and white wine mussels were fairly tasty, but I had assumed that all the seafood would be cooked in a plain manner, and on the charcoal - I guess not. The prawns were also a let down, as they were really difficult to eat and were tightly enclosed in their shell, making them hard to peel. My hands were so dirty and greasy that I felt incredibly awkward attempting to clean and eat them in public. What's more, I could still taste tandoori, and as I peeled the prawns I noticed evident traces of sauce. I was certain that the prawns were just rinsed under water before grilling.
In addition to the seafood plate, we ordered the nomadic pastured chicken skewers which were coated in lemon and oregano. $22 bought us two chicken skewers that were quite tasty. They weren't exactly mind blowing, but the chicken was tender and I admire that they implement ethical meat into their menu.
All in all, Coal Cellar and Grill seems to be a popular dining destination for South Australians. However it's 2016, and with an array of reputable and notable restaurants taking SA by storm, I was a little disheartened with Coal Cellar and Grill. Perhaps their various other dishes would do the place justice, but from what I experienced, It's unlikely that I'll return. They succeed in capturing typical Australian flavours and ingredient combinations, yet for authentic charcoal, I don't think they quite have it.
I'm hoping so. I can see their potential but they haven't achieved what they set out. I find there are mixed reviews, from totally opposite spectrums. It just depends on the person and their experience.