As is so often the case in the country, everyone in McLaren Vale seems to know each other. Chatting to a staff member at Samuel's Gorge winery she asks what are plans are for the rest of the day. We admit that we are killing time before our late 2pm lunch booking at d'Arry's Verandah. She begins telling us in an animated fashion that she used to work there, that the food is fantastic, and that we have to try the house baked bread; "I know you think it's just bread and butter but it is so good." We promise her that we will follow her recommendation.
D'Arry's Verandah is the restaurant arm of d'Arenberg Winery, a long time favourite located in the McLaren Vale wine region. Some of the things that make this winery a stand out for myself are that they produce an amazing selection of wines at differing price points, from $10 quaffing bottles to expensive vintage wines for special occasions, they use some of the less common varietals like my favourite Grenache and the winery for all of its 110 years has remained family owned and run.
When we arrive the restaurant is bustling and the waitress is thankful when we offer to do a few tastings at the cellar door in the adjoining room. I don't mind in the least. It gives me a chance to decide what wine I'm going to drink with my lunch. My choice surprises me. I pick The Dry Dam Riesling. I'm not generally a Riesling fan but this one tickled my fancy, as it was quite dry. That's the beauty of having lunch at a winery you can taste the wines before picking one. Imagine asking to do that in a typical restaurant.
Unfortunately we couldn't also do a tasting of the entrée options before deciding but we were still very pleased with our decisions. What's better than an olive? An olive that's been crumbed and fried accompanied by a creamy aioli. What's more the pit was edible, its look and texture resembling an almond. We also ordered the beef tartare. Raw beef isn't to everyone's taste but when it is done well it's a personal favourite and this version with capers, a spattering of onion and a raw egg yolk to mix through and give the dish a creamy texture was perfect. Not a scrap was left in the bowl when the waitress took it away.
Of course we also ordered the house baked bread and butter. I selected my main to complement my wine, rather than traditionally doing it the other way around. My baked fish of the day was perfectly cooked and came on a bed of impossibly creamy mash.
My husband never gives up the chance to eat duck and so picked the confit duck leg and breast with peach, rocket and pancetta salad, polenta and marsala reduction.
We also ordered a side dish, a warm salad of green peas, snow peas and chickpeas with minted labne. We probably didn't need it. Our mains were quite large. But we ate it anyway because the freshness of the greens cut through our mains and let's face it; we can't let good food go to waste.
In the end it was a big meal and although I looked enviously at other diners while they picked away at their desserts there was no way I could order one for myself. We couldn't even order one to share.