Having emerged from the depths of winter, chefs around the state are celebrating new season produce.

Words Alexis Buxton-Collins

The Salopian Inn

The Salopian Inn, McLaren Vale

McLaren Vale comes alive in spring, when the rolling hills surrounding the region are lush and budburst adds a splash of colour to the rows of vines. Everything on the menu at The Salopian Inn is local and seasonal, and for co-owner and chef Karena Armstrong the advent of spring always brings a rush of excitement at the new growth in her three-quarter-acre organic kitchen garden.
“Our menu is dictated by what’s happening in the garden,” she explains, and “that’s why spring makes you feel better, because all the greens are there.” The garden is so abundant that the menu can change up to twice a week but there are a number of mainstays across the season. Karena is “beside myself excited” about her first crop of asparagus, and broad bean leaves will be another regular feature – “we plant a lot because they’re good for the soil,” she explains. Another new addition she’s eager to introduce is globe artichokes, fried in parmesan and served with ajo blanco, a white almond soup so thick it can be used as a dip.
And while the vegetables will rotate regularly, the proteins will stay constant throughout the season. A lot of local vineyards use sheep for weed control among the vines rather than pesticides, meaning smoked lamb shoulder will be a mainstay of the spring menu along with wild rabbit pie with asparagus. The website always features the latest menu, but if there’s a dish that you just missed, call in advance and Karena just might be able to make it reappear. “We bring back old dishes for our regulars”, she says, “because we’re very much a customer focused business. If there’s a request, we’ll bend over backwards to accommodate it.”

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Line & Label, Eyre Peninsula

The fine dining restaurant set among the vineyards of Peter Teakle Wines only opened in late 2017, but already it’s gathered a reputation as one of Australia’s best regional restaurants. Set on a hilltop with stunning views all the way down to the water, it takes advantage of the ocean’s bounty to provide some of the freshest seafood you’ll find in Australia.

But that’s far from the only local produce – a walk through the gardens on the extensive grounds reveals bulbs poking their head above ground after winter and more than 450 fruit trees that attract bees with their blossoms.

Next to the restaurant, almost 90 garden beds provide much of the restaurant’s produce and guests are welcome to wander through to see garlic, eggplants, cos lettuce, broccoli, carrots, baby leeks and kohlrabi emerging after winter. Nearby hothouses are filled with microherbs and chillies for garnishes and general manager Diana Williams says with all this at the chef’s disposal, “the possibilities are endless for our spring menu”.

Guest chef Jacinta Cannataci and chef Jono Sweet have worked on a menu that has “a focus on vegan and allergy free dishes, allowing us to showcase the best produce that everyone can enjoy.” That means dishes such as kohlrabi puree with baby leeks and chargrilled broccoli, or baby carrots in a salad with locally grown Pope’s Honey and nuts. And for those trying to avoid sugar, desserts such as avocado mousse with coconut rocks and fresh berries are perfect. Alongside the fresh garden produce, there’s still plenty of seafood on the menu, and spring is the best time to try plump Coffin Bay oysters just hours out of the water or the signature Spencer Gulf squid ink prawns.

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Pipers Of Penola

Pipers Of Penola, Coonawarra

Coonawarra may not have any beaches, but it’s firmly located in the Limestone Coast region and the cool winds that travel up from the ocean make for a long ripening season. That gives the fruit that goes into Coonawarra’s famous reds an intense, long-lived flavour and you’ll find plenty of local delights on the wine list at Pipers Of Penola.

The region’s standout fine dining establishment also takes advantage of the ocean’s proximity with a strong seafood element in the new spring menu. Among the highlights are steamed hand-caught King George whiting fillets stuffed with prawn and garlic chives and served with a Pernod dressing, roasted pumpkin puree and salmon roe. And the seared scallops are so popular that when co-owner Erika Bowen tried to take them off the menu, locals rebelled and demanded they stay on.

Spring lamb and wagyu beef are mainstays at Pipers during spring, but the ingredient Erika is most excited about is the elusive morel mushroom. “They only come up for about a month every year,” she explains, and their exact location is a closely guarded secret but collecting them is a labour-intensive task so they’ll feature as a periodic special.

Erika says that spring is a delightful time to visit Coonawarra, with blossoms sprouting everywhere and the days warming up, but she cautions that the mornings and evenings can be frosty. She still keeps a fire going on cold nights but her husband, chef Simon Bowen, has found an even better way to warm up: a Kalangadoo apple, brown sugar and sherry turnover with crème brûlée ice cream and almond crumble.

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