Aside from the world-class wine culture, the local food community arguably forms the heart of the McLaren Vale wine region, with an insatiable appetite and passion for regional fare.
Since the introduction of the Willunga Farmers Market in 2002, the presence and support of farmers and producers in the region has only continued to rise. Local produce has become a proud highlight of the area, with restaurants near and far eager to feature the high quality fare on their menus. Karena Armstrong, head chef and owner of The Salopian Inn in McLaren Vale, says it’s all about local support and appreciation.
“The region is passionate and people are supporting its produce, which is great to see,” she says. “People are gaining an understanding of local growers – who grows what and where. It’s becoming really normal around here to demand local food, it’s just what we do here now.”
It is her love for the region and its local food philosophy that has led Karena to run a very ‘locally-driven’ restaurant. “For me, the restaurant and the region are all about knowing the people who make your food – it’s all connected and you can see it. We’ve taken it that step further here by growing our own vegetables and fruits,” she says.
The Salopian Kitchen Garden, on Karena’s private property, is a four-minute drive from the restaurant. The Salopian menu is largely driven by what is available in its own garden, and other produce is also sourced locally where possible. “What we pick in the morning, we serve at lunch, which is amazing,” Karena says. “The chefs go and pick the produce and spend time there often. It offers that extra freshness and flavour burst, but as a chef, it’s also the ultimate situation as you have to think.”
The core produce grown in the garden includes salad greens, tomatoes, eggplants, kale and a number of young fruit trees. “We find that the lettuces, herbs and micro-herbs are what we get most benefit out of as we can cut and serve them straight away,” Karena says.
The garden is also as organic and even biodynamic as possible, with waste from the restaurant going back into the land. “We use coffee grounds from the restaurant to set up bug perimeters, and eggshells and juiced oranges to combat the bugs, and all our green waste is composted,” Karena says. But it’s not just her garden that follows this sustainable model, with an increasing number of local farmers growing fresh, no-chemical fare. “The whole region has an abundance and a variety of fresh, clean produce,” she says.
Karena says seasonal menus are the way forward for the region, as chefs endeavour to make the most of the ever-changing local produce. “Our menu changes about twice a week, it’s a truly seasonal restaurant and everything has to be from our backyard,” she says. With Australian sourced and processed seafoods, Fleurieu grass-fed and free-range meats and local dairy products, you’re guaranteed to sample a taste of the region on every plate.
Get Hands On in McLaren Vale
If you want to get a more hands-on experience during your visit to the region, why not try one of the experiential tours or cooking classes? Chapel Hill holds a variety of classes at The Retreat throughout the year which fill up fast. If you’re a wine lover, Fox Creek offers behind-the-scenes winery tours on Mondays and Fridays from its cellar door. For beer buffs, Goodieson Brewery is a McLaren Vale beer company offering cellar door tastings in full view of the brewery.
Have you had an amazing dining experience in the McLaren Vale Wine Region? Share it on social media using the hashtag #mclarenvaleguide