Great Italian in McLaren Vale – Vasarelli Cellar Door Restaurant
The main street of McLaren Vale, one of South Australia’s excellent wine districts, is dotted with various cafes, bars and restaurants. Indeed, the last time we were in the neighbourhood (more than 10 years ago), we raved over a caramelised onion tart we had at a particular establishment and spent many attempts in the kitchen back home trying to recreate it.
That restaurant, the Limeburner’s Cafe, has since closed down. We admit we struggled initially to find a spot for dinner that we really wanted to try. Having booked at one place, albeit grudgingly because the time slot allotted us wasn’t optimal, we decided we’d had enough wine tastings for the day and headed slightly out of town to the Goodieson Brewery. A patio space at the back of the tasting shed, overlooking vineyards, was a very pleasant spot to sit and sip an ale. But given we were driving we needed to keep ourselves nice and headed back to Main Road.
We stopped at the top of a small hill to check out some other possible dinner venues but none really appealed. Then, we spied an old sandstone homestead, set slightly back from the road and decided to check it out – expecting nothing.
Rattling the front door of Vasarelli, we were dismayed that it was locked but a member of the wait staff came bounding up and was very happy to show us the dinner menu. Stepping inside, we were immediately sold. The aromas from the kitchen as the chefs did their prep for dinner were absolutely tantalising. Best of all, they had a table available at our preferred time. Cancelling our other booking, we happily trundled back to our hotel to drop off the car, head to another spot for a pre-dinner cocktail and presented ourselves back, ready for a feast. If you’re looking for great Italian in McLaren Vale, this is the right place.
The restaurant also operates as a cellar door and the wine list understandably features a number of the winery’s own products. Greedy Girl selected the Vasarelli non vintage Prosecco (served with a halved strawberry – a nice touch), while gluttonous husband took a 2015 Shiraz ‘Cavaliere’ from Curtis Family Wines, another local producer. He commented it was possibly the best red he’d drunk that day.
The chef here is Roberto Cotugno who heads up a produce-driven kitchen. There is plenty of choice on the menu, featuring some exceptional seafood dishes. Greedy Girl started with the dish featured at the top of this post, whisky-cured salmon with citrus cream cheese, caper berries, avocado mousse, radish and cucumber ribbons.
Superbly presented, this was a lovely dish. In our humble opinion, it could have done with a bit more tang from the citrus but it was a light, tasty and enjoyable way to start.
Gluttonous husband took the house made duck liver pate, served with a spiced relish, cornichons and lavosh. What the menu didn’t tell you was the cluster of caramelised walnuts on top of the pate, which were utterly delectable. This was a very spectacular combination. The menu stated the relish was tomato but certainly didn’t taste like it. We would have bet it was quince-based because it definitely had a fruity quality. An unqualified yum.
And so to mains. Gluttonous husband spied a fillet of barramundi, pan seared (with some crispiness in the skin), sitting on top of a lobster and prawn broth, farro (a wheat grain), plus capsicum, pickled onion, dill and watercress. The fish was perfectly cooked and the richness of the broth utterly splendid. We’d be happy to get fish of this quality, cooked this well, anywhere in the world.
Greedy Girl took a pasta dish – taglierini al granchio. The sauce of South Australian crab, tomato, leek, garlic, chilli, parsley and flamed brandy was luscious – and there was plenty of it. Another delicious plate of food. Greedy Girl would have been more than happy to scoff the lot but she allowed gluttonous husband a taste.
And having had a huge meal the night before in Adelaide at Restaurant Orana, we were happy to leave things there. As we were presented with the bill, a further treat – some homemade crostoli.
This was accomplished cooking in a very relaxed setting. The wait staff were brilliant (even offering gluttonous husband a taste of the Vasarelli Shiraz, which wasn’t available by the glass) and the whole experience felt a bit akin to sitting in an Italian family’s dining room. They also introduced us to the local purveyor of good coffee, sitting at the next table.
Sometimes the simplest summaries are the best – this is great Italian in McLaren Vale.
169 Main Road, McLaren Vale, South Australia