There is a lesson in dining at Art Gallery Restaurant, which overlooks a grassy nook on the University of Adelaide’s North Terrace Campus: don’t judge food by its facade.
It was a quick pre-graduation lunch in April. With a gown still to be found, guest ticket to be tracked down, and stage-fright to be suppressed, distraction was our unwanted dining companion.
When the first dish arrived – southern fried chicken, spicy Moroccan-style, with corn puree and watercress salad – i silently berated myself for not being more diligent when ordering. Three basic elements sat side by side on a thin, rectangular platter: two pieces of fried chicken, a mound of corn puree that must have been blitzed for all of 0.3 seconds given the chunk-factor, and a simple watercress salad.
My companion and I made eye contact, doubts were exchanged, and a derogatory reference to Kentucky Fried Chicken was made. Then we proceeded to eat our words, and every last speck on the plate.
Undeniably, the fried chicken looked like something that belonged in a KFC bucket. But the flesh was moist, the coating clung to it like an embrace, had a high crunch-o-meter reading, and was liberally spiced. In short – this wasn’t a bog-standard, grease-bucket number.
The pile of corn puree was unappealing in a regurgitated kind of way, but it was pleasing to see kernels that had stuck together – defensively – in neat lines where they had been sliced straight off the cob. It tasted of fresh corn. No more, no less.
On close inspection of the watercress salad, coriander leaves and finely sliced spring onions had been thrown in, along with a liberal squeeze of lime. It was zesty and refreshing. Was the dish worth the $30.90 price tag? No way. But it sure was tasty.
We quibbled over whether to order Piccadillo, which was described on the menu as a classic Cuban dish of ground beef and green olives with tomato nachos and avocado cream. It sounded like a fancy nachos and being priced at $30.90, as all the mains were, an expensive one at that.
We were pleasantly surprised, again. Instead of the usual a mound of soggy corn chips, two large, discs of corn were used to sandwich layers of refried beans, melted cheese, tomato salsa, and avocado cream.
A small mound of minced beef was heavily peppered, dappled with green chilli, and abundantly laced with paper-fine slices of garlic. The dish was generously scattered
with coriander leaves and splashed liberally with lime juice.
The restaurant sits at the back of the Art Gallery of South Australia on the university campus. We sat outdoors and were joined by a chorus of construction work. We didn’t mind. The sun was out. Russet coloured leaves tumbled down stone pillars from overhead vines. Soon-to-be graduates donned mortar boards and busied about.
On reflection, i like what they do at the Art House Restaurant: dishes are simple, ingredients are respected, appetites are satiated, and pre-graduation nerves are settled.
I’d like it more they charged less. Maybe there is another lesson, somewhere, in that.