Emma McCaskill

Emma McCaskill is glad to be home. After fine-tuning her craft at high-powered international kitchens including Narisawa in Tokyo, Sat Bains in Nottingham and Tetsuya’s in Sydney, she’s back in Adelaide where she’s heavily involved in teaching and inspiring the chefs of tomorrow. While she’s no longer in (restaurant) kitchens as much as she once was, McCaskill still knows a thing or two about good eating and drinking, as demonstrated by her hit-list for Adelaide.

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This guide has been produced in partnership with Australia’s premier food and drink festival,Tasting Australia.

Karena Armstrong will join Netflix Chef’s Table BBQ star Lennox Hastie and Luke Burgess to cook a lunch that celebrates the delicious possibilities of cooking over open flame. For details about this event and Tasting Australia’s program, visit its website tastingaustralia.com.au

Why I Love Adelaide

The reason I wanted to come back and live in Adelaide was because of its size. I find Adelaide similar to San Sebastian in Spain: it has a lot of history, it’s so accessible and – because of its size – Adelaide has a beautiful community of winemakers, producers, chefs and restauranteurs. When you familiarise yourself with that food community, you become a part of the family. Something else that I find quite attractive about Adelaide is that it’s affordable. I was able to buy a house quite close to the city which I wouldn’t have been able to do in Melbourne or Sydney. In that sense, it feels like a much easier and calmer lifestyle. There’s also amazing produce here, especially down in the Spencer Gulf region where there’s Coffin Bay and Port Lincoln. It’s kind of very untouched still, which is what’s beautiful about it. And now because planes can fly there from Adelaide, you can get there in an hour instead of having to take a six-hour drive.

“I Want To Make a Mess and I Want To Share Food”

If I’ve got industry friends coming to visit, I would take them to Afghani restaurant, Parwana. It’s tricky to get into, but I just love that style of eating, especially if it’s with visiting chefs. It’s shared food. It’s run by a family – dad’s on the floor, mum’s in the kitchen. It’s just really hospitable. The food’s delicious. I love the Afghani dumplings that are stuffed with meat and chickpeas, pan-fried, and served with labne and sumac. They’re definitely a go-to. The biryani rice is also really delicious. It’s not hugely expensive and you can BYO. That’s the sort of place I like to take people to: a bit more relaxed and a where you can socialise and make noise and it’s fine. I like eating where I feel comfortable and don’t like having to be quiet. I want to make a mess and I want to share food and not be interrupted by different courses coming.

Handcrafted Gelato By The Beach

If I have friends over or want to meet up with family, we always go for gelato at Bottega Gelateria at Henley Beach. Adriano Macri, the owner, is a traditionalist who makes gelato the very old fashioned way. He’s very particular about the produce that he gets. For example, he makes pistachio gelato and he’ll only use pistachios from Wilunga. When he makes the gelato, he wants the whole flavour of the pistachio, so he makes it with the pistachio shell as well. The gelato is stored in long cylinders called pozetti which is the traditional way to store gelato so it doesn’t get icy. It’s a really good place to visit.

A Taqueria Making Its Own Tortilla

Another place that is a little bit low-key that I think deserves a lot of credit is La Popular Taqueria, a Mexican restaurant in Port Adelaide that’s just around the corner from Pirate Life. It’s a 20-seater where they make everything from scratch. It’s run by Daniella Guevara who’s the chef and her husband Kor who does the front of house. She’s a marine biologist and they moved to Adelaide and ended up cooking underground dinners in people’s houses. They loved it so much that they decided to open up a taqueria because there’s no authentic Mexican restaurants here. It was the first time I had horchata in Adelaide. It made me feel like I was away again, which was good. We decided to let them feed us and they just brought out lots of snacks and pork crackling. For main course, we had beautiful, slow braised pork and two different handmade tortillas: there was one with masa which was really good and soft. For the other tortilla, she made her own corn flour that she nixtamalized [soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution] and the differences was game-changing. I don’t know anyone cooking Mexican food in Adelaide on that level. The restaurant is really like their home. You feel so welcome. It’s small, the whole open kitchen is Mexican and staff dance and sing during service. It’s a really amazing place.

Surprising Cooking From a David Thompson Alum

Peel Street is a place where I always want to go if I have a night off. It’s always so busy and serves delicious food at a really good price point. Jordan Theodorus is the chef and he’s fantastic. He’s always been grounded in Adelaide and had a place down at Goolwa before opening Peel Street eight years ago. I was so happy when he did because his food is really delicious. It’s a really quirky menu that has Middle Eastern and Thai flavors which seems a very odd combination. But the reason there’s Thai – and not many people know this – is because he used to work for David Thompson. But he also loves cooking Middle Eastern food which is his background. I love going there and sitting at the bar. I love that the menu is on the wall and it changes. They’re not pretentious or trying to be something: they just do what they want to do.

An Italian Favourite (That’s Open For Breakfast)

I love going to Chianti. It must be 20 years old now, maybe even more. It’s run by a husband and wife and they have two children that operate a bar next door called Torino. Chianti is a nice place to go out to dinner with your family. It’s not formal, but it’s a step up from casual. The food is really simple, produce-driven Italian cuisine. Beautiful pastas, steaks. It’s not trying to be inventive, but what it does is always delicious and fresh. They’ve got a really strong following here and really loyal customers which have followed them and supported them for many, many years. What’s really nice about the restaurant is that it does breakfast as well before flipping over to an a la carte lunch and dinner menu. And the breakfast is really, really good. I usually go there for breakfast because I’ll have the kids with me and there’s always fresh fritole – Italian doughnuts – on the counter. And you just know that when you get poached eggs, it’s going to be properly poached.

Market Fresh Produce

The Adelaide Central Market is always beautiful to look around. It’s got everything you need from cheese to bakeries, seafood to meat, and delis to fresh produce. There’s also the Chinatown Market as well which has good Asian ingredients, but I also like the Adelaide Farmers Markets which is on a Sunday in Wayville and set up in a show ground. It’s where most producers that sell to restaurants set up a store and sell to the public. There’s one more Sunday market called the Torrens Island Market in Port Adelaide which isn’t as cool, but it’s a really good experience. Most of the fruit and veg producers towards the Barossa Valley way will bring their trucks and set up a stall. You’ve got eggs, seedlings and heaps of fruit and veg and it’s at wholesale prices. It’s on from 8am till about 11am and lots of people get there early, but what I do is get there at quarter to 11 when they start selling boxes of tomatoes and stuff really cheap to get rid of them. So I’ll buy $5 and $10 boxes of tomatoes to make passata. The market is just on the edge of the wharf and you can see the water. It’s really nice.

Getting My Laksa and Dim Sum Fix

I really missed the Adelaide Central Market when I was abroad. For me, there’s nostalgia around having a laksa at Malacca Corner with my aunty whenever she came back from travelling. It’s not cool whatsoever and it’s not trendy. It’s also in a bit of an odd spot on the outer skirt of the market. I usually go for the prawn and chicken laksa which doesn’t have too much coconut milk. The restaurant also does Hainanese chicken and the price is good. It’s pretty busy for lunch: a lot of office workers that love food go down there on their lunch break. Empress is a family-friendly place outside the city in the eastern suburbs that I always take the kids to. It’s another family-run restaurant that makes everything from scratch. It serves really fresh yum cha, beautiful custard tarts, chicken feet, and delicious dumplings.

Where I Go To Destress (With Wine and Cheese)

I’ll often jump in the car and drive to McLaren Vale and visit Alpha Box & Dice. Not only is it a short drive to get out of the city, it’s easy to settle into a bottle with friends and destress. If I have a group of friends or family and I’m going out to McLaren Vale, that’s the cellar door that I want to go to. Food wise, It just serves platters – but it’s more of an experience. It’s in an old shed and feels kind of folky. There are vintage lamps and an old piano that you can play and all these random couches. There are 26 wines: one for each letter of the alphabet and there’s a story for each one. The winery also works with a lot of Adelaide designers who design each letter of the alphabet for each wine. There’s a big old tree outside and you can sit under the tree, drink, eat cheese and then roll back to the city.

A Classic South Australian Pub

I love pubs. There’s a great one just down the road from my work called The Golden Wattle. It’s on Pirie Street, just a few doors down from Osteria Oggi. It has a really good pub menu with lots of classics including a fritz and sauce sandwich, just for laughs. There’s also a really good selection of beers and wine. It kind of reminds me of the pub in that Mick Molloy movie, Crackerjack, but a cool version.

Guide last updated April 2021

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