Clementine Ford uncovers a hidden gem in Adelaide
As a former South Australian with a particular fondness for divine indulgence, I have great memories of nights spent on the Chinatown strip of Gouger Street. Accompanied by friends with an equally robust appetite for cheerfully cheap Asian food, we’d settle in for feasts of shantung chicken and e-shand eggplant, washing the lot down with the kind of carafe wine that can really only be justified because you’ve spent the previous three hours having pre-dinner drinks at the bar next door.
But the best part of these nights were how cheap they all were. South Australians are notorious for wanting top-notch food at basement prices; Adelaide’s Chinatown doesn’t disappoint in that department.
So it was with some interest that I discovered the exceptionally elegant From Orient, a Chinese Sichuan restaurant that bucks all the characteristics of its brethren fare across the city.
In comparison to the frenetic, kitchen calamity that greets you in some of those Gouger locations, walking into From Orient is a little like settling into a plush reading chair by the fire to read about the history of the Ming Dynasty while sipping on fragrant jasmine tea.
Blanketed in warm candlelight reflecting off crisp white tablecloths, it is with a dull hum rather than a roar that the pleasingly low-toned conversations and muted clatter of the restaurant waft through the room, the replacement songbirds for the decorative cages lining the floor.
With two of my very great friends in tow, the charming and attentive wait staff lead us to our seats and furnish us with the wine menu. With a list boasting just under 200 titles, we were immediately pleased to see that considerable thought had gone into the selection. From Orient has, in its own words, aimed to “not only have the best Chinese restaurant wine list, but to also rival any list in South Australia.”
We ordered a 2009 Penny’s Hill Cracking Black Shiraz. It’s probably not the best choice for Sichuan, but From Orient boasts a relaxed vibe that reassures its customers that convention is secondary to good old-fashioned enjoyment.
It’s this philosophy that permeates their food. Sichuan dishes tend to be very vibrant in colour, and even more so in flavour. Done with a heavy hand, they can be almost unbearable to eat, while too much attention to style rather than substance would be the inevitable downfall of a restaurant trying to woo critics rather than punters.
From Orient manages to strike a delicate balance between presenting hearty Sichuan fare served in a sophisticated setting. We especially enjoyed the diced tenderloin beef with crispy mild chilli and peanuts in a black bean, ginger and shallot sauce ($28.80). Never overpowering, the beef was so tender it melted in your mouth, while the spices and chilli danced around it delectably.
But it’s the chilled coconut parfait sandwich with crisp peanut dacquoise, chopped crunchy peanut praline and coconut sauce that really blows me away. The perfect antidote to the nasal clearing Sichuan, the praline is yet another demonstration of From Orient’s attention to detail.
In fact, the only disappointing part of the evening is the lack of other customers. It was a Tuesday night in Adelaide, so not wholly unsurprising to see empty tables. But it’s disheartening to see a restaurant with so much to offer seeming to beg for covers.
It’s less than a year old, so we can live in hope that some of the hordes who regularly make their way to Gouger Street in the evenings might start wandering down to Pirie Street. After all, the prices aren’t drastically different.
And though I may have spent most of my twenties battling for a table at one of the old standards, from now on I’ll choose to enjoy my Sichuan with the other sophisticated grown-ups.
What’s the gossip?
“Clearly, it’s a Chinese restaurant designed with an eye to western sensibilities, a thread that continues in a long, mixed bag of a menu that brings together quite traditional, regional dishes with some odd fusion moments.”
– Simon Wilkinson, The Advertiser
The AT Verdict:
Clementine Ford, who paid her own way and visited anonymously, says:
Tasty, punchy food in gorgeous surroundings. Loved the extensive wine list too!
Where: 125-127 Pirie St, Adelaide
Notes: From Orient is open for lunch on weekdays from 11:30am and for dinner from Mon through Sat from 5:30pm until late.
Contact: 08 8232 4020