Restaurant Review: The Summertown Aristologist

Need an excuse to head to the hills? The Summertown Aristologist is your perfect justification for that 30-minute drive to Summertown to experience the best of the Adelaide Hills.

It’s been open for just six months but the Summertown Aristologist’s food is already evolving. Self-sufficiency drives a hearty menu and the Aristologist team have quickly made firm friends with surrounding neighbours – many of them supplying produce and wine. This is a journey that harks back to a time when Adelaide Hills folk had larders and made everything from scratch, from sausages to pickles. If they could make it, they would. Now, the Aristologist does just that.

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In the open kitchen, a giant meat slicer takes pride as a central feature and around it various stations are set up to prepare and cook. Fridges display hanging meats and house-made ingredients ready to use. In the dining space, guests are made to feel like the main attraction; a towering bookshelf display takes up one wall, the rest of the venue is white. A blank canvas of sorts. Handmade is a strong focus. The owners have acquired the space next door to expand on in-house production and establish their very own culinary workshop. Watch that space.

The Summertown Aristologist represents a Hills-change for Aaron Fenwick, the former general manager and maÎtre’d at the acclaimed Restaurant Orana. The previously clean-cut fine-dining figure is now bearded and casual. He has joined the weird and wonderful creatures of Basket Range and has certainly found his niche. Fenwick and his team will make you feel like an old friend dropping in for a bite to eat. The Summertown Aristologist is the kind of place that sets out to make people happy.

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With no set menu, we are in the team’s artisanal hands as we choose the ‘feed-us’ approach. They know what is fresh and what is best, and the wines that match. All local, mostly natural. Taras Ochota sits at the bar. Not the wine, but the man. The Summertown Aristologist loves its neighbours and they love it right back. The wine label Commune of Buttons pops up more than once, so does their good friend Lucy Margaux (and so they should, these wines belong to Fenwick’s business partners Jasper Button and Anton van Klopper).

Bread fresh from the oven is served with house-churned butter and pickled shoots and sprouts. Sides of house-cured shaved prosciutto and sliced comte cheese complete the starter. Alongside, roughly hewn potatoes are cooked in beef fat that brings back sharp roasting-pan-juice memories. Thinly sliced shallots cut through the charred flavour offered by the meaty jus and on top sits a warm egg yolk so delicate it breaks as the plate hits the table, smothering the glistening potato segments in a coat of creamy yellow.

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Baked carrots roam in grassy fields of freshly hewn hay and shiso. Underneath, a broth of roast onion offers a pungent taste between creamy licks of cow curd – all made in house. It’s quite a strange sensation eating smoked and seasoned hay, but the earthiness it adds to the dish provides outstanding balance to the light sweetness of the yellow and orange roots.

Tenderly poached mussels swim in a shallow, fennel-infused broth between chunks of freshly cut tomato and warm cucumber pieces. This is another dish that threatens to challenge the senses and could be way-off if it wasn’t for perfected balance in texture and flavour. We’ve noticed a lack of meat in the menu but then realise it’s not needed. Sure – the smoked lamb with beetroot and rhubarb may have gone down well, but our dishes have been meaty enough. Building character and robustness into dishes made from simple ingredients is where the Summertown Aristologist shines.

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At least I think so, until dessert arrives and smacks me right in my misguided assumptions. They do delicate and dreamy as well as strong and flavoursome. Slivers of unripe rockmelon are arranged in light rhubarb syrup highlighted and scented with a swirl of anise myrtle. Slightly hidden beneath a heavenly coating of shaved macadamia (that resembles finely grated pecorino) and a generous scoop of salted milk ice cream, the coated fruit sings and the toppings join them. This is like no dessert I’ve tried before and completely shifts my usual aversion to ‘anything with melon’.

But that’s what you should expect here – the unexpected. In an effort to keep epicurean tradition alive, The Summertown Aristologist has built a glorious little world, paying homage to the gastronomic history of the Adelaide Hills.

The Summertown Aristologist
1097 Greenhill Road, Summertown
Open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays 9am to 9pm
thesummertownaristologist.com

Photography: Jonathan van der Knaap

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