When my good friends in the Barossa, Dan and Tarnya, mentioned that a new Asian restaurant had opened in Tanunda it didn’t really raise any expectations for me. I must admit my vision was of bain-maries, sweet and sour pork and BYO.
How wrong could I be!
The new Asian restaurant was fermentAsian and over the last five years it has become one of the great dining experiences in the free world. Period.
We travel to the Barossa at least twice per year to visit relatives. Before we book flights we book - twice! - at fermentAsian. One visit is just not enough.
On a recent visit, my wife, Maria, visited a homewares store to wind down the minutes to dining time. She mentioned to the owner that she was going to fermentAsian for lunch. The shop owner was a regular traveller and had the means to eat in the world's great restaurants. In her opinion fermentAsian was the best food she had eaten.
You don’t have to just believe a random shop owner….or even me. Just go to Trip Advisor and scroll through. Of 783 reviews of fementAsian 610 are “excellent” and another 122 are “very good”.
The restaurant premises was originally a charming old bluestone cottage and diners were distributed throughout the various rooms. Additions have been recently completed to provide a larger function room, bar, glassed in wine cellar and new modern amenities. It’s a pretty cool place for traditional historic Tanunda.
The food is sublime.
Not sure what the alchemy is here but the flavours and textures are just stunning. Chef and owner Tuoi Do has a gift of being able to weave individual ingredients into a tapestry of dining heaven. Many of the herbs and leaves come from the restaurants own kitchen garden and this freshness is omnipotent as it elevates the food from a flavour and texture perspective to the epic level.
All of the senses are engaged as you stare wistfully at the beautiful simplicity of each arriving plate and are held in thrall by the seductive aromas that curl their way up to your nostrils. The mouth waters…… and then the feeding frenzy begins.
We have loved every dish that we have ever ordered and in two visits are able to get through the entire menu via sharing plates. But for the record our favourites are betel leaves, Hanoi spring rolls, Barossa chicken and coconut salad and the amazing pork belly with ginger and orange. Oh...and the lime brulee and coconut panacotta are pretty awesome as well. Little wonder that Tuoi won SA Chef of the Year a little over 12 months after opening.
The other attraction of fermentAsian (especially for me!) is the wine list.
It is presented in Bible fashion, in all its three-centimetre-thick glory. Chef Tuoi’s partner in life and the restaurant, Grant Dickson, is the curator of this tome, and its breadth of exotic and eclectic offerings reflects his absolute passion for the world of wine.
In the Barossa Valley it is usually considered heresy to have non Barossa wines on the wine list. But Grant has embraced our entire planet when pulling together his list and the restaurant has now become a place where winemakers can come and see what styles are hot right around the globe.
The wine list is wonderfully accessible, with all wines described in a modern, joyful style. There is a strong contingent of organic wines but the emphasis across the board quite clearly is on flavour, drinkability and above all the ability to harmonise with the wonderful flavour profiles of the fermentAsian cuisine.
I could spend the entire evening reading the list and tasting through some styles that are new to me, but that would not be well received by my family. They usually allow me 10 minutes to pore through in silence. Once I receive the kick under the table I find Grant and let him unleash whatever is currently taking his fancy upon me. It is always a rollicking journey. It did not surprise when this restaurant 75 kilometres north of Adelaide in a town of population 4672 won Australia’s Wine List of the Year in 2016.
You cannot imagine my elation when Grant asked me to send a selection of my Italian wines for him to look at with a view to putting some on the list. It was a great day when he ordered the Gavi, Ignobile and Desideria.
Grant and Tuoi are delightful, passionate and gentle people who have managed to create a hallowed venue that projects their unique vision of the marriage between food and wine. It can hold its place amongst the best restaurants in the world but still carries its original casual but professional ambience that is so charming. If you don’t visit on your next trip to SA then you are bonkers.