It was a stormy weekend in Adelaide, and all about were bruised skies belting rain and hail. It was also a birthday for the Great Provider and I was treating him to a weekend in the Barossa Valley.
In the cocooning warmth of a fast car with heated seats (or “hot bot” as they are affectionately known), we took the Mount Torrens route, eschewing the ugly housing estates of Adelaide’s north east for the bucolic countryside and charming townships of the Adelaide Hills. If you are travelling to the Barossa, it’s a far more scenic route and takes the same amount of time. There are plenty of stops along the way, from the roadside orchard stalls of Verdun and Balhannah, to the antique stores of Woodside and the cosy pubs of Mount Torrens and Mount Pleasant, but we were on a mission, and besides, it was bucketing outside.
We sped through vine-clasped Springton and Eden Valley and on to the heart of the Barossa, where we checked into The Louise. Although very centrally located for all that this rich winemaking area has to offer, the Louise is a bit uninspiring at first glance. Its low lying peach-rendered buildings looked unimaginative and my heart sank a little as I remembered its previous incarnation as a Peppers resort. However, it was nicely landscaped with open grassed areas and hedges of fragrant rosemary and lavender.
We checked in to our large suite and were immediately comforted. Conservative but incredibly cosy and well designed, I couldn’t have been happier. After spending the afternoon in front of the fire with a wool blanket over me, listening to the rain beat on the roof and reading my book, I dragged myself to the Nespresso machine to whip up a companion for the homemade chocolate and macadamia cookies left for us. A little later, I went for a candlelit swim. In the bath. And then (where did that time go?) it was time for dinner.
It’s hard to say whether Appellation is a restaurant with rooms, or The Louise is a retreat with a restaurant. I suspect the former. The dining room has a whiff of the corporate about it – lots of beige walls and downlights, but fear not, Appellation is at the forefront of the Barossa Food movement, with chef Mark McNamara very active in the food community. His food is, frankly, superb at the moment not least because, unlike a lot of fancy-pants peacockery showcased at certain restaurants, it’s damn tasty. Interestingly, Appellation creates its degustation menu back-to-front: a wine flight is chosen, and then dishes are created to match. Both the wines and food were superb. The standout dishes included a duck and prawn sausage with lemon butter paired with a bone dry citrus Riesling; squid ink noodles with toasted buckwheat in a mandarin and saffron tea served with a savoury rose; and a tiny flaky lamb shank pie with a smear of savoury onion and anchovy sauce perfectly complemented by a rich pinot. The course which gave me the most childish delight however was the petit four, a rich sticky caramel wrapped in a fine clear sugar toffee which looked exactly like cellophane. Okay, so that was a little bit fancy-pants - but I almost clapped.
We ran back through the rain to the warmth of our suite, where, full as googs, we settled down in front of the fire with a Connery-era James Bond on the flatscreen. Although I went to bed with my familiar post-dinner refrain “I’m never going to eat again”, our in- room continental breakfast soon made a liar of me. No flaccid fruit or stale pastries here – a silver tiffin box hid small bowls of hot porridge swimming in jersey cream with brown sugar melting on top. A germanic savoury plate of rye bread, white curd cheese and soft pink folds of ham competed with a smoked salmon and spinach breakfast tart, and local raisin sourdough with sweet butter and cloudy apple juice rounded things off nicely.
We left with the sun breaking through the clouds and spent a happy day buying fortified wines, handmade local jewellery, and pretty much the entire contents of Maggie Beer’s farm shop. Finally, we departed the Lyndoch bakery with oompah music in our ears and house-sized slabs of cream filled honey beesting. I’m never going to eat again. Well at least not until I go there again: bring on the next rainy weekend, I say.