Interesting ingredients are found throughout South Australia. Magenta lilly pilly. Murray River cod. Port Wakefield squid. King George whiting. Goolwa pipis. Spencer Gulf prawn. Kangaroo. Jilungin tea. Riberry. Eucalyptus. At Restaurant Orana, they form alkoopina.
Alkoopina is an Aboriginal term. The Diyari people ate snacks as they foraged across South Australia’s arid land. Jock Zonfrillo, a Scottish chef, discovered the grazing practice when he started exploring the Australian continent. He now serves a small-plate dinner, his own version of alkoopina, at Restaurant Orana.
Restaurant Orana opened near Rymill Park, one of Adelaide’s most popular parks, in 2013. Chef Zonfrillo may have had an Italian background and French training, but his heart was clearly Australian. He celebrated Australia’s unique ingredients and vowed to showcase Aboriginal food and culture. He even hired a full-time forager to search the Australian bush for these items. The balanced, intricate dishes he creates has started earning Restaurant Orana a lot of awards. The restaurant was named Australia’s Restaurant of the Year award twice and was placed on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
Restaurant Orana sits atop Bistro Blackwood, Chef Zonfrillo’s casual, lively second restaurant. It’s a perfect spot for a pre-dinner cocktail. A staircase on the back of the building leads upstairs to the elegant, intimate space. An enormous wine island stands in the center of the room. It’s covered with unique decanters and native flowers. Ten tables, holding just 20 people, surround the island. They’re made of Tasmanian blackwood and charred to resemble a bushfire. The room is undoubtedly Australian.
It flawlessly matches the food. The alkoopina menu features 20 courses. Instead of bread, each meal begins with two round balls of potato damper, smoking over hot coals, with a pot of roast lamb butter on the side. Magenta lilly pilly (cherries), and macadamia and native thyme soup quickly follow. Seafood comes next. The Murray River cod sits in a bowl with leek and eucalyptus. Hot and sour Port Wakefield squid is presented on a simple wooden spoon. Goolwa pipis and local beach succulents swim in foam. While Spencer Gulf prawns are placed next to green ants. Yes, even the ants are endemic to Australia.
You’re just getting started. More dishes include cacio e pepe (a nod to the chef’s extended family), crocodile, pickled kohlrabi, toro and king brown mushrooms, and kangaroo. While tea, sparkling ice cream, riberry jam, and honey close your palate at the end of the meal. By the time petit fours, made by a famous Australian chocolate company, are set on the table at the end of the meal, you’re deeply satisfied. You’re also eager to start exploring South Australia with a new focus.