The evolution of communities is often subtle, and then every so often something will catch the locals off guard in the same way architects turn classic into funky — a mark on the streetscape that leaves some to ponder: “Where did that come from?”
Travelling to Adelaide for leisure was once a like row of quaint Victorian terraces. Tidy, elegant with a warmth and charm of an old aunt. Just like auntie, where you would pop in and see her while passing through to the real destination, so to was Adelaide, the stopover to the Barossa or Clare valleys.
But staying in Adelaide. For a holiday. Without leaving. Just on foot? That would have once been the same as asking to spend a week at Nan’s rather than go to Schoolies week. Unfathomable if you weren’t the casino-dwelling 50-plus type.
The very heart of Adelaide is busting out of its foundations. Its dependable and functional locale was still very much connected to its formative years, as functional buildings sat looking drab next to the heritage-listed charmers. However, there wasn’t a whole lot of edge.
Despite the city’s former reputation for being a little too much on parks and churches and not enough on arts, gastronomy and funky places to sip your favourite tipple, there has been an uprising. Now only those who have never been would say such things.
The city has come alive. But not in the blinged-up Kardashian way. It’s, well, cool — and nailed a listing in Lonely Planet’s Best of Travel 2014 publication. Make no mistake, though, it has always been there — just not obvious.
A well-placed government source suggested that the fusion of cultures is the city’s best asset: “Adelaide is a big small city — an eccentric community. A place where it is okay to be a little quirky or left-of-centre and where our diversity has been reinforced in our broad array of experiences and offerings.”
Local writer Connor Tomas O’Brien adds: “Adelaide is a confused city. It doesn’t know what to be best at — so had a go at everything, and now boasts top quality in a befuddling diversity of areas. It’s weird but it’s awesome.”
The city is also now home to the Adelaide Fringe Festival and WOMADelaide, two world-renowned arts and cultural festivals.
The eccentric mish-mash of the city’s demographics has also produced the perfect offspring when it comes to food, wine, dining and downtime. An edginess has always been there, but it has now grown up and left the stifling family home.
This latest batch of businesses have adapted a gold standard of food as fine dining. A growing gaggle of foodies understand that only the best will do, and many city restaurants now need bookings if you want a seat.
As other capital cities become ghost towns at night, the Adelaide folks are going the other way.
Filmmaker Dan Peters showed the world his Adelaide through the 1000 Steps campaign, which aimed to turn corporate travellers into extended-stay weekend city adventurers and gastronomic purveyors.
It gave Adelaide a backhanded compliment about the small city delivering big.
This was because travelling types don’t go to Adelaide for work then stay. Come Friday, they once would head home or extend their stay at the Barossa or one of the many other wineries at the city’s doorstep. No one really ever stayed in town. But now they are.
Enter another local who knows his way around town: Sam Giles from the Smiling Foodie. He proudly boasts his southern roots and with the body fat count of a greyhound, brags that he is a food lover “on the constant hunt for mouthwatering food. Restaurant reviewer with a mammoth appetite. Yes, I will have dessert twice if I feel like it”. He also says he is gay. Sure you are. Two desserts.
Someone should catch up with Giles when he hits his 40s and see if his is still smiling with that mammoth appetite. Based on the rich diversity in creative cuisine from street food through to degustations, he also better get a good tailor to take out those pants. But back to Adelaide.
When not downing two desserts, Giles and his rainbow cohorts move between the laneway bars to their favourite coffee joints, such as the Chocolate Bean, which is also a hit with the LGBTI locals.
Giles, without a hint is disappointment, says Adelaide’s “LGBTI scene is not that prominent” but “most bars and restaurant are really welcoming”.
He couldn’t help mentioning the Barossa and Clare valleys, mostly because of their impact on raising the standard of food in the South Australian capital.
As close to an hour’s drive from the city await world-class wineries and cellar door dining, so the high standards are inevitable.
When it comes to cocktails, Giles directs us to the Laneway Bar and tells of “other small bars popping up” ever so discreetly, adding that a few in the city can serve in the streets. Be warned, they know booze.
Continuing in that frame, the Clever Little Tailor’s claim is simple enough: ”Quality liquor and delicious bar snack food.”
The popular Peel Street hub also thrives. Giles also seems drawn to modern hospitality that is infused with just enough elegance to make it chic, which this part of town delivers.
The Gallery on Waymouth adds a dimension and a point of difference, laying claim to the city’s only rooftop dining.
They have also taken the Spanish art of tapas to a rich and hearty level, combining figs, buffalo mozzarella and endive salad and pear reduction. Don’t worry, there are also options for the inner caveman.
Now getting the sense that Giles may be a covert operative for a weight loss clinic, he suggests Jenny’s Bakery. For a cronut. Yes, a croissant and doughnut.
People drive in from far outer reaches just to try the love child of American and French treats. You can hear the exultations from Paris now: “Sacre bleu, Jenny has mutated our national snack and those classless Aussies can’t get enough.”
Then there is the Press Food and Wine, whose owners, with a hint of nonchalance say: “We simply want to bring the best products from our patch of the earth to the table and have fun doing it.”
But then to stand out from the rest, they add: “We look at cooking as a skilled craft not as art. We’re a bit ‘in-house’ when it comes to curing, pickling, baking, brining, smoking… we’ve got loads of passion and a good dose of ethics.”
They forgot to mention using their master craftsmanship with the grill or that they can serve you a full mini-pig on a piece of wood and pull it off with some class.
From Adelaide Central market if building a feast is your schtick, to the laneway bars, to Peel Street where foodie chefs and cooks feed off each other for modern innovations masked as main meals, to the bookstores and galleries — Adelaide comes together like a cultural trifle. Very different textures and tastes but it works nicely as one.
Before the inevitable comparisons between Melbourne and Adelaide are made, don’t be too quick to call it. Adelaide isn’t Melbourne. It’s not part “old world classic” charm, nor part petulant teenager not wanting to play by societal norms.
Adelaide is in fact welcoming and doing it for the result, not the show — making it all the more compelling city adventure.
Check out the videos below for more on what to see and do in Adelaide: