The road less travelled. Adapting through COVID-19: food, wine and the rest of it

There’s no doubt the hospitality industry has endured many adversities in the wake of this global pandemic. OTR reporter Annalise Toms talked to some of Adelaide’s most funky and delicious restaurants to hear how they’ve adapted to this ‘new normal’. (Image source: Part Time Lover Facebook)

By Annalise Toms | @annalise_toms

What a year 2020 has thrown at us, thanks a lot Mother Nature, gods and the lords above!

Unless you have truly been living under a rock, you would be well aware of the global pandemic of a deadly infectious respiratory disease that suddenly took the world by storm – storm COVID-19. 

During these crazy and unprecedented times, it has been very fascinating hearing and seeing on social media what types of at-home cooking extravaganzas and sourdough baking expeditions have been taking place in the average suburban kitchen thanks to restaurant restrictions.

However, since the easing of restrictions, I too have found myself indulging in a few socially distanced restaurant dining experiences, and it has been nothing short of unusual.

In saying this though, no matter how unusual it may seem to the average diner, this is such great news for the recent struggling hospitality industry after what they have had to endure over these last three pandemic months.

While we were all locked down, it was very interesting to witness how some of our iconic and adored local restaurants were creatively reinventing and innovating the limits and bounds of the hospitality industry in order to adapt to this new lifestyle that we oh so quickly found ourselves in.

I reached out to a few CBD restaurants to find out how they had adaptedto this ‘new normal’ and what life is looking like post-storm COVID-19.  

Gondola Gondola – Peel Street

(Image source: Gondola Gondola Facebook)

CBD Asian fusion delight Gondola Gondola saw themselves operating with takeaways, deliveries and in addition, launching online ordering available for TGI Fridays and Saturdays during the last 3 months during the lockdown.

Co-owner Annie Liang said the first week in which they closed their doors was without a doubt a challenging week.

“Our staff came to our thoughts first, along with other financial and general concerns. We kept the communication going with all of our staff, we speak constantly to update each other on any news updates on the lockdown,” Annie said.

Since the easing of restrictions, however, Gondola Gondola has started to operate with a brand spanking new menu overhaul that took the whole of lockdown time to concentrate on.

Gondola Gondola have implemented social distancing rules between tables according to the one person per four square metres rule. Alongside this, constant sanitizing of chairs, tables and door handles are responsibly being employed. 

“It means a lot to us. I can have all of my staff back at work, I can keep GG’s doors open and start serving our guests face to face”, Annie said.

For those unlucky souls who have not had the pleasure of tasting the succulent Asian dishes from this funky, compact and intimate dining experience, the food and vibe will surely entice those tastebuds.

“We are a family-owned Asian Fusion restaurant; we incorporate traditional Asian cooking methods on the menu with modern culinary styles to showcase the multiculturalism that we are blessed within Australia,” Annie said.

“We are funky, cozy, and we make our guests feel welcomed and they all love to stay. With an awesome cocktail menu to match the scene, you won’t wanna leave!”

Menu Highlights

(Image source: Gondola Gondola Facebook)

Their salt and pepper eggplant has been the most popular dish in the restaurant since day one, as well as the chicken and corn dumplings.

There’s also their chargrilled wagyu rump steak (in a Vietnamese style salad with palm sugar dressing), and the twice cooked duck leg with pomegranate, five-spice jus, beetroot puree and grilled root vegetables.

One of the highlights on their cocktail menu is called Jungle Jade – Indonesian rum, mango, pandan and lime.

Peel St – Peel Street

(Image source: Peel St Facebook)

The pandemic saw Peel St close their doors for two weeks after the announcement was made by PM Scott Morrison in March detailing the grinding halt of trade for restaurants.

During the initial two-week period, co-owner Ben McLeod spent his time trying to assess how best to keep their brand in the forefront of people’s minds, without damaging the brand by offering below-par food to takeaway.

“We started to offer a very limited selection of our customer favourite dishes for takeaway after two weeks, just on Friday and Saturday nights and this became a lot more popular than we had expected!” Ben said. 

“So, we continued to do this for the duration of lockdown. We used to have 200 diners come through on a Friday or Saturday night, suddenly we had takeaway only and no one eating in.

For us three owners we went from working long hours to not having anything to do, it was all incredibly strange.”

During this time of turmoil, some staff at Peel St were unfortunately stood down effective immediately, however with the takeaway adaptation reemployment of some kitchen staff members was possible.

“The uncertainty and unknown were the hardest elements,” Ben said.

Eureka! Sweet, sweet relief when restrictions were finally eased.  They are now open for 20 people inside currently, and 9 outside which is the maximum they can have due to the four square metres per person guidelines. Hand sanitizer at the ready!

Ben described the venue as as ‘fresh, simple, delicious’. “It is seasonal food using Jordan (Theodoros)’s background in Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine. The food we create draws on many influences and the menu changes almost daily. It has a casual feel and service is attentive but not in your face – which John Lethlean once described as ‘unfussy’,” he said.

Menu Highlights

(Image source: Peel St Facebook)

“The banana blossom chicken salad is probably one of the most popular dishes we’ve ever had. It’s all the punchy, fresh flavours we love, and the customers seem to agree. The peanut butter parfait is also so popular,” Ben said.

“We’ve also shrunk our wine list and upped the amount of local wines we are listing due to demand.”

Part Time Lover – Pilgrim Lane

(Image source: Part Time Lover Facebook)

‘Rattled’, ‘shell-shocked’ and ‘isolated’ were some of the words described by co-owner Luke Turton when recounting the lockdown situation.

Part Time Lover did not qualify for JobKeeper for their casual staff members which was a heartbreaking outcome for the new kid on the restaurant block. “We all had worked so hard on this restaurant and we had to disband,” Luke said. 

Part Time Lover is in the same boat as every other hospitality venue as restrictions are easing and are only allowing 20 guests indoors to dine.

“Prior to that, we were in lockdown for most of the time and then we went to a ‘Lover at Home’ business model where we would prepare meals that were packaged in a way that you could ‘heat and eat’,” Luke said.

This mid-century venue is bursting at the seams with design; both graphically and interior. The food is an accumulation of flavours over a particular cuisine making it ‘modern Australian’ and has a vibe described by Luke as “a disco party”.

Part Time Lover enjoys food, music and booze – and they connect you with these three intertwined elements.

(Image source: Part Time Lover Facebook)

This is not your typical dining rodeo and Part Time Lover don’t talk of popular dishes, they talk of vibe…

“Only got fifteen minutes? We got you. Looking to celebrate and try flavours that you’ve never tried before? We got you. Looking for a harbour to gather yourself/yourselves? We got you. We vibe,” Luke said.

Luke described hospitality as a “part of the fabric of the community. It is an industry that employs the most youth of the country. It is where we go to connect. Part Time Lover is focussed on this nuance”.

Gaja by Sashi – Pirie Street

(Image source: Gaja by Sashi Facebook)

Former MasterChef Australia winner, Sashi Cheliah, and his newly minted Pirie street restaurant Gaja by Sashi, was too affected by storm COVID-19.

Sashi closed his restaurant for the first 6 weeks as it was not operationally productive to run a kitchen that was not designed for take away or delivery.

“Most delivery companies were charging the same 30 per cent or more during the pandemic period and it was not a cost-effective idea to implement a new system during the uncertain period,” Sashi said.

Once the Jobkeeper was approved, Sashi designed a simple takeaway and delivery menu using a small team to operate in the kitchen focusing on minimum wastage and packaging. His team, and even Sashi himself, were doing the delivery within 5km radius to save operating costs.

Going back to some sort of normality means everything to Sashi, “I am able to continue giving employment to my team. I am passionate about hospitality and serving my customers great flavours. That’s why ‘flavour is my hometown’.”

Gaja by Sashi is an Asian inspired restaurant incorporating classic dishes and flavours from India, Singapore and Malaysia. Designed around share plates, their food is authentically true to taste, bold, robust and full to the brim with flavours.

“The menu will explore the road less travelled, with dishes that appeal to the curious foodie in us all,” Sashi said.

Menu Highlights

(Image source: Gaja by Sashi Facebook)

Some of the most popular dishes on the menu include chicken pakoda, oyster with green chilli granite, sashimi, tea braised chicken with mushroom, squid and watermelon salad, fish curry and dry pepper beef.

This menu also showcases a great range of signature cocktails and local South Australian wines.

Reflecting philosophically, Sashi said, “Tough times don’t last but tough people do.”

Madre Lievito – Gilbert Street

(Image Source: Madre Lievito Facebook)

The authentic tastes of southern Italy with a twist of modernity to accompany it, Madre also found themselves adjusting to a takeaway style of business. 

Co-owner of Madre, Timothy Anderson, was uncertain as to what the future was going to hold which caused much angst amongst everyone in their team. Having only been open for 9 months meant that they too did not qualify for the JobKeeper government initiative.   

“The upside being that as we are a pizza restaurant, it works well as a takeaway item. We set up an online ordering portal and delivery service also so we could keep some of our staff employed as drivers,” Timothy said.

Madre is a traditional but modern Napoletana pizza restaurant. They are also the only pizzeria in Adelaide that uses seawater to make our dough which not only gives the salt content it needs but also minerals and texture you can’t achieve by just adding salt and water to the dough.

The cuisine is focused on Naples, with pizza being the hero.

The aesthetic of the venue is an interior designer’s delight. Timothy describes it as warm and inviting but modern and not over-done. The seating setup means that wherever you are sitting, no one has their back to the kitchen or the entrance; this was designed so that you get to experience the whole space and atmosphere as well as the food. It’s casual but very refined.

Menu Highlights

(Image Source: Madre Lievito Facebook)

Understandably, pizza is the clear standout showcase on Madre’s menu but there are some other popular dishes such as the pizza fritte – which is a calzone that is deep-fried instead of baked. Timothy describes it as, “incredibly light and delicate and the filling is perfectly balanced to create a beautiful dish”.

They also sell a lot of the Babo Sangiovese (Italian wine) which is said to be a match made in pizza and vino heaven.

Timothy and the team are looking forward to getting back to business and providing people with an excellent dining experience – something in which we all clearly missed.  

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