When once asked about her longevity, that splendid woman Julia Child attributed it to “red meat and gin”. When it came to gastronomy old Julia wasn’t wrong about much and I’m happy to take my guidance from her in these things, particularly in the case of a good drop of gin. Given there is a selection of 168 different gins at McLaren Vale’s Salopian Inn I find myself in an agony of indecision over my pre-lunch drink, faltering at the first hurdle – and this is before I’ve even glanced at the selection of hundreds of local, Australian and international wines on the most comprehensive wine list I’ve seen in some time.
But it is lunch time, after all, and I’ve got to keep myself tidy for the drive home so I turn my attention to finding out a little more about the latest hand at the tiller of a much loved piece of South Australian culinary history which is nestled amongst the vineyards of McLaren Vale. The Salopian Inn has had a place in the hearts of South Australian and Australian gastronomes since the 1980’s, when Zannie and Kerry Flanagan rescued the old 1851 inn, restoring it and installing Russell Jeavons behind the stoves. With Zannie guiding it, The Salopian was one of the very first South Australian restaurants to embrace the use of local and seasonal foods and new owner and chef, Karena Armstrong, continues on with that particular tradition – in spades.
A repatriated local South Australian, Karena’s culinary credentials are exceptional. She began her career at the Sheraton Melbourne, completed her apprenticeship under Alla Wolfe Tasker at Daylesford’s legendary Lake House, worked alongside Karen Martini during the heyday of The Melbourne Wine Room and finessed her baking training in San Francisco. Once she arrived home again she returned to Melbourne and worked with Greg Malouf at O’Connells, then rejoined Karen Martini as soux chef to open Icebergs and later went on to work alongside Kylie Kwong at Billy Kwong. Whew.
Karena and husband Michael eventually headed back to South Australia where she focused on her young family for a few years before taking on a new project and opening the Salopian in June 2013. Karena has an uncompromising approach to her food and a deep commitment to the use of high quality, ethically sourced produce which she always tries to source locally. Her commitment to this was clearly demonstrated when I enthused gushingly about her duck in masterstock which was, for me, one of the stand-out dishes of the meal. Sadly, this dish is now off the menu for the time being. It seems I had enjoyed one of the very last of the free-range, local ducks that she could get her hands on so, until she can source some more, everyone else misses out. Sorry, guys.
Karena enjoys playing with a diverse range of flavours and techniques, fusing star seasonal ingredients with various culinary traditions and her menu is supplemented with an increasing range of her own home-grown produce. These include various greens, fresh herbs, heirloom radish and beetroots and she has just finished planting 15 different types of potatoes. Bless her – I’ve never met a spud I didn’t like.
As you all surely know, I don’t do food reviews on this blog, but I’m always happy to share a great local food story and this is definitely one that South Australia can be very proud of. It is no surprise that The Salopian Inn has been chosen as one of the featuring dining experiences for the Restaurant Australia initiative.
Karena has very generously offered to share one of her recipes with you, my lucky readers. These little dumplings will make everyone happy – vegetarians and vegans included – and Karena tells me the dressing goes brilliantly with simple steamed greens, too.
Cnr McMurtie & Main Rds., McLaren Vale Ph. (08) 8323 8769