Back in the early 1970s, federal officials in South Carolina declared a wetland of national significance and proudly dubbed it the Congaree Swamp National Monument. It is, by all accounts, a hauntingly beautiful place but tourists stayed away in droves. Nearly 30 years later, the penny dropped that the Swamp had a branding problem. So Congaree National Park was born and tourism numbers instantly doubled. What a difference a word makes.
After a fair bit of cash and soul-searching, Jock Zonfrillo’s second restaurant has been rebranded Bistro Blackwood – and it’s gone from what seemed a downstairs afterthought to his famed Orana to a place you’ll want to visit in its own right. Walk down Rundle Street and light boxes bearing the word “Bistro” – converted barber shop poles – are the first change you’ll notice. They’re not the last.
You know Zonfrillo; he’s the Scot whose food at Orana mines indigenous flora and fauna with more commitment and style than that of any other chef in the country. But the downstairs joint? First christened “Street” then relaunched as “Blackwood”, it always felt like the casual restaurant that was only there because Orana was upstairs and the lease was for two floors.
That’s changed. Bistro Blackwood is a smarter, more elegant streetfront two-level dining room that comes without the need for customers to buy into a chef’s “philosophy” or “vision”. Just a place with a menu people will recognise and desire. And well-trained staff who want to serve. Yep, it’s upstairs for thinking, downstairs for drinking.
Gone are the communal and high tables; banquettes and booths now cosset diners at marble-topped tables, some in springy, nicely upholstered modern carvers. There are candles, white linen napery, excellent glassware… the amenity is no less luxurious than in Orana. And you can eat at the bar.
Waiters can only work in the Bistro after three successful months upstairs in the fine diner, we’re told, and it shows. And with a new, open kitchen at the back, we can see Zonfrillo himself is giving this relatively new baby all the love it needs. You can taste it.
Amazing sourdough with hand- made butter comes with excellent baba ghanoush napped with parsley yoghurt, in custom crockery. Perfect Coffin Bay oysters, opened to order and soused with a subtle, effective jalapeno/lemon vinaigrette. A superb take on vitello tonnato (pictured) has the pink, poached, finely sliced veal on top of a fine tuna sauce with fried capers.
A gentle, complex house-made fermented chilli sauce comes with the Bistro’s take on roti, golden-fried with a prawn filling. Local San Jose pancetta teams unexpectedly with smoked potato puree.
It’s an eclectic mix assembled with produce that reflects direct supplier relationships. A fisherman has called with fresh whole snook, the byproduct of his regular catch. Wood grilled in a jerk paste, served with grilled cos lettuce and jerked sweet potatoes, it’s pretty good.
A wet but generous salad of shaved fennel and zucchini is far less interesting. It’s the one slip-up. But a dessert of flavoursome macerated strawberries with a hint of eucalyptus oil and snow-white yoghurt granita on top is, as Barry Humphries’ character Debbie Thwaite once remarked, so me I could have wept.
Wine is interesting and fairly priced. Bistro Blackwood is a remarkably complete package. One small word has made one helluva difference.
Original article: The Australian