A heritage homestead with very of-the-moment cooking, melding Asian flavours with farm-to-table cooking from the extensive biodynamic kitchen garden and top local producers. Perfect lunch and dinner spot when in the Vale, but the bar is just as popular for gin and wine lovers.
The nuts & bolts
- Opened 2013 (current ownership)
The Salopian Inn is about as iconic as a regional restaurant gets, setting the tone for McLaren Vale dining for decades. Karena Armstrong took over that revered 1851 homestead in 2013, and she has elevated it even further to be one of South Australia’s most acclaimed dining destinations, as well as a mecca for wine and gin lovers.
Before settling in McLaren Vale, Armstrong had racked up some serious hours in some very serious restaurants. Training at Daylesford’s Lakehouse, she then worked with Karen Martini at the lauded Melbourne Wine Room, subsequently helping open Iceberg’s Dining Room & Bar with Martini and Maurice Terzini. A stint at Billy Kwong wrapped Armstrong’s Sydney experience, followed by roles at The Star of Greece and Victory Hotel before taking over The Salopian Inn.
Joining Armstrong as an owner is old Icebergs alumnus Alex Marchetti, who wears the tags “Innkeeper and Gin Slinger”, managing the front of house operations, while Armstrong tends to culinary matters that stretch to planning the crops in their organic kitchen garden. That garden is the lifeblood of The Salopian, with supplemental produce coming from local, like-minded farmers.
“We have taken our focus on local and sustainably farmed and produced ingredients even further,” says Armstrong, noting a deepening commitment as of 2021. “We have increased our kitchen garden with more native ingredients and work closely with farmers and fisherman on sustainable produce. We are also working hard on actively reducing our carbon footprint in the restaurant. We have installed solar and have a rigorous recycling program for soft plastic, composting, etc.”
Armstrong’s food is “eclectic”, spanning influences from her career that may drift around the Mediterranean or get moored in Asia – you’ll always find exemplary steamed pork buns and prawn dumplings on the menu – but the core principle is a produce-first approach. An imposing dry-aged rib-eye steak or half roasted local duck to share supplement the half dozen mains, with the bounty of the kitchen garden ever present.
Armstrong and Marchetti both share a passion for gin, accounting for the formidable collection of juniper infusions, with about 200 renditions available, including a co-lab with Kangaroo Island Spirits. They work with KIS to bring together local ingredients – often outside the classic botanicals – to fashion a suite of ever-evolving gins. As said, they like gin.
Though gin gets a lot of airtime, that’s not to distract from the equally impressive wine cellar. With over 500 lines, the list delves deep into local gems, both from those established and the new guard, as well as roaming across the country and into prime zones of the old world. About 25 wines are offered by the glass. And if you’re more of a visual person, a wander downstairs into the stacked stone cellar is encouraged, if not for the wine, then for the sheer charm and sense of history.
And while the Salopian is firmly a dining favourite for many, the casual visitor can just as easily access its charms for a glass of wine or two and a small bite to eat. “We have a very popular bar for sipping gin and wine while having a cheeky pork bun or bowl of dumplings,” says Armstrong. “You may be able to strike up a conversation with a local winemaker doing the same.”