There’s no question that the life of a chef is tough. Long hours and late nights are just part of the daily routine for these hard-working culinary champions, who operate under gruelling back-of-house conditions to deliver their dishes to us.
Talent plays a part, but it’s audacity and passion that drive the best of the bunch down that tough road to ultimate success. Some are set for a life in the kitchen, working their way to the top, or happily supporting their comrades as part of the process, whereas others (due to a change in inspiration or burnout) might reach turning points in their careers that set them on another trajectory.
This story begins with the journey of three chefs, who each took very different paths but eventually wound up wandering down the same gravel road in Hindmarsh Valley, to visit a relatively unknown property with an old cellar door, a couple of outbuildings, and a vision.
It was here that Lost Phoenix Farm was born.
Andre Ursini was one of the first MasterChef contestants to get serious post-television. After competing in season one of the series he quickly became a recognised restaurateur, with a series of venues opened since his stint back in 2009, including Andre’s Cucina (now closed) the highly regarded Orso restaurant with adjacent wine bar Willmott’s Gastronomia, the exclusive, almost elusive, Villetta Porcini dining experience in the Adelaide Hills, plus a few side ventures that sees Ursini’s food landing on tables all over the place.
A fast-tracked career built in various kitchens saw Will Doak join Ursini as he opened Orso back in 2018. He was already a head chef despite only being a few years out of his apprenticeship, but Doak’s rising talent hadn’t gone unnoticed and he jumped between Press* Food & Wine, on to Orso, with a quick sidestep to help open Fugazzi, before deciding it was time to give the chef jacket a rest as he planned to step into the front-of-house role at the Farm.
If Doak was going to trust anyone with delivering food to his standard while managing a new team, why not one of his former chefs? Enter growing SA talent Bridget Corver, who spent some time working with Doak at Press*and Orso. A little research shows that Corver is not only a great chef, but also a bit of a dessert addict. I know how she feels.
Together, this newly formed fellowship agreed on a concept for the venue and the menu, and the rest, as they might say, is right now.
We’re seated inside the main dining area with views over manicured lawns and gardens. There are vineyards, open fields, rolling hills and distant forests. Cows roam in the paddock below. A wide verandah wraps around the barn-like building and the interior has been given a glow-up. Hanging pots of greenery hang from the ceiling via upcycled ladders; beige walls with hints of deep green and different tones of timber make this the perfect backdrop for a long lunch. A DJ spins lounge tunes and classics from decks set up under the enclosed terrace as we make our way through the menu.
First on the pass, it’s anchovy fingers, burrata, and tuna crudo. Lightly charred toast is layered with whipped ricotta and pepperonata then topped with Olasagasti anchovies. Subtle sweetness is overthrown by punchy pops of lemon. While the anchovy itself is a little lost between competing flavours, there’s a satisfying salty finish to each bite. A version without pepperonata has more balance and allows the fishy star to shine.
Then a bright and jumbled salad of sorts arrives, disguising a half-ball of burrata. This fresh take on a classic is a winner for its presentation and assortment of flavours and textures that culminate in nothing short of pleasure. There’s acid from orange segments, bitterness from radicchio, and pungent herbaceous notes courtesy of mint and dill. Added pine nuts might take this dish into Middle Eastern territory if not for the addition of agrodolce and vincotto, two Italian sauces that compete for attention on the plate in pleasantly contrasting fashion.
And then a little Japanese influence shows that there are no hard and fast rules here, while demonstrating that this is a kitchen that is well travelled, or at least well-versed in sauces, condiments, and spice. A miso glaze coats uniformly diced crudo-style tuna and some lightly cooked apple piled on top of a divine silky mash.
Local lamb cooked ultra-slow has the meat falling apart over a bed of labneh that swims in a jus of the lamb’s making. The dish requires nothing else, aside from a handful of mixed herbs on top. This simple style is present in other mains, too. A coconut broth pools beneath mullet and pipis that have been sourced from local suppliers in the Coorong and Goolwa respectively, showing that this region is a strong contender for some of the state’s best seafood. This is fresh and flavoursome, with the addition of herbs and bean shoots nudging this in a laksa direction.
The most robust of mains is a crumbed pork cutlet with its bone still intact. This helps the cut retain moisture and flavour inside, while the exterior is fried crisp. Shaved fennel is doused in a creamy dressing that has a hint of salt from capers and a fleeting fishy flavour from anchovies added to the blend.
It’s here that we realise (and recognise) that dessert may, in fact, be the most important meal of the day. A good sticky date pudding isn’t hard to make, but this one is something else. Dense with a caramelised base, coated in a butterscotch syrup that has barely had a chance to soak into the slice, topped with lightly whipped cream. It’s heavenly.
In their final act, Lost Phoenix’s kitchen delivers a parfait made using olive oil. Sounds unconventional, but it’s delicious. Piped on top seems to be some kind of whipped lemon curd crème, bettered only by a lemony syrup poured over the lot. Shards of charred meringue add a little more sweetness, crunch and drama, though it’s not really needed. We’re already entertained.
And that’s the thing. It’s the overall vibe that sets this place apart from many other regional dining destinations. It’s fantastic, it’s entertaining and most importantly, it’s different. You could spend a half a day here easily, and we will again, if not for the views, then for one more piece of that sticky date pudding.
Lost Phoenix Farm
34 Mont Rosa Road, Hindmarsh Valley
Open Thursday – Sunday 11.30am – 5.30pm
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