It’s not just the wine that the McLaren Vale region is known for, there’s also an exceptional local produce scene fostering a passionate food community like no other.
German chef Fabian Lehmann fell in love with McLaren Vale and its produce the moment he first passed through the region. He was particularly impressed by Maxwell Wines where he now works as head chef at Ellen Street Restaurant. “I thought it was beautiful,” he says. The vineyards were lovely and I was stunned by the view.”
Fabian has worked in some of the best restaurants in the world including fine dining restaurants in Germany and Norway, most notably Michelin Star restaurant ‘Oro’ by Terje Ness, and Qualia on Hamilton Island. When he took the reins at Ellen Street Restaurant in April 2016, his first task was to connect with local suppliers. “The little things are of a much higher quality than what I’m used to in Europe, particularly the veggies and the herbs.”
The region’s produce sparked curiosity and experimentation in the kitchen. “You can really taste things here.” Whether it’s figs from winery owner Mark Maxwell’s tree, fresh produce from Scoop, meat from Ellis Butchers in McLaren Vale where Ian Shaw can tell you a story about every piece of meat there, or mushrooms grown on site in the estate’s historic Lime Cave, Fabian loves to hear the tales and growers passion behind the ingredients.
“That makes the food stunning for me, there’s always a little story to tell about the food or the producers like Scoop. They are unconditional, seasonal and local, so it’s very good to work with them. Rachel McMillan, from Scoop shows me new produce and the butcher only has free-range local products, it is inspiring to work in such a region.”
“I feel like everyone is promoting and showcasing the region and proud of what they do.” Locals often turn up with excess home grown ingredients. “It’s village-like. People are thrilled about bringing in their produce, sharing it and letting a chef do something exquisite with it,” says Fabian.
It’s all good news for adventurous diners. Fabian changes the menu twice each season. “People love it. The menu now has eleven dishes and the tasting menu has about seven.”
The tasting menu comprises exquisitely presented dishes. Whilst on the plate, there’s finesse and attention to detail, the overall dining vibe is relaxed. “We want people to come and put their faith in the talent of Fabian and the rest of the kitchen team,” says Maxwell Wines’ Jeremy Maxwell. “So you can taste more of the region than you could in just one or two dishes’. It gives people the chance to try several small tastings of wine as well.”
“I think people are gaining more of an understanding about produce and they choose carefully where they go for lunch and dinner. It’s about trusting the chef. I learn new things every day. It’s a great adventure.”
There are a range of restaurants across the region offering fresh seasonal produce, presented by passionate and talented chefs. Enjoy a long lunch with wine, relax and taste your way across the region.
Top Tip – One of the best ways to taste the region is to experience the Feed Me menu offered by a range of restaurants across McLaren Vale and the coast.
Enjoyed a great dining experience in the McLaren Vale Wine Region? Share it on social media using the hashtag #mclarenvaleguide