Restaurant review: Andre’s Cucina & Polenta Bar

Oct 04, 2013
Andre's Cucina & Polenta Bar. Photos: Nat Rogers/InDaily

Andre's Cucina & Polenta Bar. Photos: Nat Rogers/InDaily

This homely Italian restaurant should lose the tag of being a “polenta bar”, as it offers far more than the name implies. In fact, it is one of Adelaide’s best restaurants.

Situated out of the way on Frome Street, Andre’s is one of those places you drive past wondering exactly what it is.

Owner Andre Ursini found fame as one of the first Masterchef contestants, back when the show was semi-serious and not so self-indulgent.

His success since the 2009 series – Andre’s was this year named one of Australia’s top 50 restaurants – is testament to his passion for hearty Italian food and his keen emphasis on textures and sauces.

Upon entry, it feels like an Italian grocer – pastas, sauce jars and bottled oil are among the fine produce lining the walls. The setting is bare wood and purposefully cluttered; paper napkins line the tables.

Scribbled on a blackboard is the offer to “let us feed you” for  a set price of $59 per head, which seems reasonable considering the main courses are priced as high as $40.

The wine list is small and on the expensive side, but there are plenty of choices by the glass as well as a few cocktails and traditional aperitifs.

We chose to let the chef feed us, and the meal started with a salmon trout carpaccio with salsa verde, served with a bowl of bread. The salmon trout, with a deliciously oily texture, maintained its strong ocean flavour with subtle hints of lemon and vanilla cutting through the parsley of the salsa verde.

Next to arrive to the table was a selection of cured meats and a pair of arancini, or suppli, as it appears on the menu. Sitting in a spicy mayo, the risotto retained little texture and the delicate flavours of porcini and pea were somewhat overwhelmed by the asiago cheese and what seemed to be a triple coating of oily panko crumbs.

The selection of meats was varied and there was quite a lot to share between two – chorizo, salamis, mortadella and salty prosciutto were among the best. It was not said if any of the meats were cured on premises, although the grissini seemed to be house-made and carried a nice crunch.

The next dish was a delightfully light and fluffy house-made gnocchi in an earthy beef ragu, probably the star of the night and the ultimate comforting dish on a stormy evening.

At this stage, it became obvious that the $59 menu was extremely good value for both the amount and variety of food.

Main course was the first and last polenta dish of the night, as well as a classical rolled and stuffed garfish in a cockle and saffron sauce and a salad of rocket and radicchio.

For someone who finds the whole concept of polenta as a restaurant dish bemusing, this loose version with venison and pork ragu, latte, cocoa, beetroot and pecorino was complex and tasty. Served like a savoury creme brûlée, the rich meat sauce and bitter cocoa were beautifully balanced by chunks of sweet beetroot.

It was an impressive dish.

The night was topped off with an “Italian Mess” or, more appropriately, sugar lots of ways. Fairy floss, honeycomb, ice-cream and syrups thrown on the plate for an intense, sweet end.

What did let the night down somewhat was the attentive but seemingly uninformed floor staff. There appeared to be an unusual unfamiliarity with the menu, which was a real pity.

The food, however, was exceptional: hearty serves cooked with care and served in an uncomplicated, rustic fashion. There was also plenty of bread to mop the many sauces – which really were the highlight.

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The menu fisso ($59) is a great idea and takes diners out of their comfort zone to try dishes one might not ordinarily order. It is also amazingly good value – if the courses were ordered separately the food would have hit the pocket for more than $170.

Andre’s Cucina and Polenta Bar has a focus which goes way beyond polenta to other regional and rustic Italian dishes – which is a great thing.

If you were one who may have turned their nose up to dining on a historical type of porridge, Andre’s is far more complex and offers much more variety than many would be led to believe.

It is for these reasons that Andre has created one of the city’s most unique and best restaurants.

Four out of five.




Andre’s Cucina and Polenta Bar

94 Frome St Adelaide

8224 0004

Opening Monday 5.30-11pm; Tuesday to Saturday 11.30am-3pm and 5.30pm – late.

Cuisine: Italian


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