A freelance writer living in suburban Adelaide, taking his first tentative steps. You can see some of his past work at bernhardsayer.wordpress.com
Published May 30th 2018
You don't need to be a foodie to enjoy and afford it here
Let's get the key facts out there from the word go – my wife and I are not 'foodies'. Similarly, we can't tell if the grapes juiced for our wine were grown on the eastern or western side of a vineyard. We just like a nice meal and a nice glass of wine. We both work full-time and so when our fifth anniversary came around and with the kids off our hands, we choose to dine at the Hill of Grace Restaurant, located on a mid-level tier of the Gavin Wanganeen Stand on the north-eastern flank of the Adelaide Oval.
Photo: Bernhard Sayer
Said to be the only five-star fine-dining restaurant in a sporting stadium in the world, on entering we are pleasantly surprised to find the walls devoid of sports star imagery. The restaurant is suitably dimly lit and subtly decorated. My wife, who loves anything carved from wood, falls for the table decorations immediately and we are blessed with a window seat overlooking the softly lit oval. We are here the day after a wet game the previous night, and a small section of the ground is illuminated by the brilliant golden glow of heat lamps. But otherwise, 50,000 empty seats wait outside the window, and save for one or two functions occurring on the other side of the stadium, we have the view entirely to ourselves and our fellow diners.
The restaurant is a joint venture between the Stadium Management Authority and the Henschke family of Eden Valley, who have operated the Hill of Grace winery for well over a century. Whilst the bride and I might both be blessed with full-time employment, and while we tend to only drink wine that has the word 'Shiraz' printed on the label, we aren't tempted to splash out the small sum of $1400 for a bottle of 1990 Hill of Grace Shiraz (or even the bargain offer of a single glass of the 2012 vintage for $195). No, we'll leave that for someone else. Thankfully, we were able to find a glass that was more fitting of our budgetary restraints, and it did the job nicely.
We also have to restrict ourselves with the meal options – but we knew that would be the case coming here. There are the options of the degustation menus – an eight-course option for $175 per person, or five courses for $115 (wine pairings extra) – which cater for both carnivores and vegetarians, which I think is a nice touch. However, we take the more accessible path of the à la carte menu, with the wife choosing the charred pork belly, with fermented apple, limes, salmon roe and pickled onions. My eyes go straight for the meal that
Charred Pork Belly: Photo: Bernhard Sayer
listed the humble 'quandong' among the ingredients, and I'm not disappointed with the choice. The adobo beef cheek is beautifully flavoured, which is only enhanced by the quandongs and wild cranberries (or 'muntries'). When we report to each other that our own meal is delicious, we undertake that common act that such restaurants probably privately frown upon when 'common' people like us turn up – we swap forkfuls and delight in the other's good fortune for having chosen an equally enjoyable meal.
Stout and Sour Dough Ice Cream - Photo: Bernhard Sayer
We also can't resist the call of dessert, and I surprise myself by selecting the pear ice-cream, served on a chocolate brownie. It doesn't last long. My wife equally surprises by selecting the stout and sourdough ice-cream (there's something I never thought I'd see on a menu), served with pecans, custard and marshmallows, and she leaves nothing behind either.
Readers of this article should not be troubled by the prices that were cited earlier – those are most certainly the extremes of the prices on offer. Granted, in celebrating our fifth anniversary, we were open to the idea of spending more than we ordinarily would. But we didn't spend so much that we couldn't justify it – yes, the night's expenses had three digits, but it didn't build to start with a '2'. (And if you have an Entertainment Book, it certainly takes some sting out of things!)
We loved our evening at the Hill of Grace. The service was lovely, the setting was beautiful and these two diners, who are no strangers to the venue in a sporting context, found the view to the empty stadium (that a mere 24 hours previously was full to the brim of football fans) a surprisingly enjoyable backdrop. But diners who don't know a drop kick from a donkey will not be disenfranchised by the setting – it is not a sporting add-on. This is a restaurant in a lovely setting that will please most people happily.