Most would agree that the best dining experience is not always about uber-fancy food with unrecognizable ingredients served with spume this and micro that, in a presentation so intricate you don’t know where to start. Often a good time with good friends and sharing good food is what moves us most. Africola is arguably Adelaide’s most exciting restaurant whose recipe consists of all of the above with a no holds barred serving of some damn good cooking as well.
Africola is located in Adelaide’s trendy East Terrace among the row of gastro-pubs, eateries, and restaurants. It will be easy to spot because it will be the liveliest one of the lot, with tables full of guests along the sidewalk and inside as well. You’ll also hear the music before you can smell the food, pulsating beats in a mix of pop, salsa, and high-energy dance tunes that makes you want to move it as you make your way to your table.
And the high-octane vibe does not end there. The restaurant, like the food and the cult of personality, owner and executive chef Duncan Welgemoed, is bright, bold, and brash. The interiors scream for attention with walls filled with loud Andy Warhol-esque artwork and quirky objects d’art. The open kitchen offers culinary theater where chefs move in rhythm to pots that sizzle, flame, and then serve. It’s nothing more than a food party as the switched-on waitresses seem to actually enjoy working there and laugh at their own cheeky jokes with guests in between their efficient delivery of a stream of courses.
Africola is one of Australia’s most highly acclaimed restaurants. Mainly because of the cuisine but also because of what it has done for the country’s culinary palate. Africola has added a layer to the patina of the rich Aussie food culture, created on top of indigenous “tukka” influences with a flood of immigrant fare from European, Asian, Latin, and, with Africola, flavor-packed African cuisine. It’s not easy to get a table at Africola and for good reason. Foodies get in where they can fit in for the African-inspired plates of roasted vegetables, sizzling smoked meats, and decadent flatbreads with a flavor-rich menu that changes seasonally if not each week based on what’s fresh, ethically farmed, and available.
The brains and the brawn behind Africola are South African culinary maestro Duncan Welgemoed. Today he is a driving force and a heavy influence on Aussie cuisine with a loyal following of patrons, chefs he’s trained, and weekend kitchen heroes who try their hand at his dishes from one of his top-selling cookbooks. He’s an overnight sensation created by decades of toiling in some of the top kitchens around the world. Duncan obtained his first Michelin star at a small restaurant in the UK’s Oxfordshire hamlet which opened doors for tenured posts with the UK’s culinary royalty at Restaurant Gordon Ramsey, Raymond Blanc’s two-star Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, and ultimately the Fat Duck under Heston Blumenthal. Not a bad pedigree that allowed his culinary world view to be formed under a sky filled with Michelin stars.
Today Duncan has become Australia’s adopted son, kitchen god, and go-to celebrity chef where he regularly appears in newspapers and magazines as well as in television shows as a celebrity judge. However, his foundation was much more austere. He takes his cooking DNA from his father who was a Swiss chef as well as the culinary influences from growing up in Johannesburg. His most prized recipe for himself and his patrons is his Peri-Peri chicken. Forget the bland chain restaurant peri-peri chicken from that god-awful franchise. This is peri-peri the way it is supposed to be, hot, spicy, and a taste you’ll think about on the drive home -it’s really that good. This is his father’s secret recipe that lives on to the delight of his fortunate guests.
The saying goes that if you’ve got a big mouth you’d better be able to back it up. It just so happens that Africola and their celeb chef have got that covered. This is fun food done seriously with a flat rate and you pick an entrée, side, main, and dessert from the well-rounded menu. After a quick survey by the waitresses for dietary restrictions and spice desire levels from five-alarm fire to mild, the whirlwind of food begins. The dishes are made for sharing so a couple would receive eight courses to mix and nosh along the way. What diners will love on equal par to the ambiance and service is the in-your-face flavor.
Each dish is a party in your mouth so full of complexity that ranges from crunchy to smooth, savory to picante to sweet. The menu offers a who’s who of palate pleasers, but the standouts are the Tea Sandwiches, fried chicken skin on white bread with peri-peri dipping sauce as well as the Boston Bay Mussels with fermented chili and garlic. For the entrée, the aforementioned Peri Peri Chicken is simply beyond yummy. Duncan is also quite focused on how and where he sources the ingredients for each dish and demands ethical and sustainable local producers. The wine list follows suit with a healthy list of small organic local producers.
Great food is not always about degustation or fine dining. Africola has carved its own niche as the king of sexy, fun, and flavorful dining. The bold cooking and popping ambiance are just a few of the reasons why Africola is at the top of every best dining list in Australia as well as why you may have to get on the waiting list to experience a meal that is nothing short of hedonism on a plate.
Image Source: Just Luxe