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August 22, 2019
Habits

At the table at Allegra Dining Room

A look at the 28-seat, plant-based restaurant's inaugural menu.

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  • Words: Johnny von Einem
  • Pictures: Nathan Smith

On a wet August night in the middle of a relatively mild winter, Gilles Street glistens under a thin film of slowly falling rain.

CityMag approaches restaurant and pizzeria Etica, where the kitchen’s wood oven has created a warm sanctuary away from the outside world. We open the door to a gentle hum from the Sunday night crowd, and proprietor Melissa Pisanelli greets us.

Remarks

Allegra Dining Room
Level 1, 125 Gilles Street, Adelaide 5000
Open for dinner Thursday to Sunday

Book via the website

We’re led upstairs to the recently opened addition to the building: the 28-seat, wholly-plant-based restaurant Allegra Dining Room, which officially opened at the beginning of the month.

There is a subtle shift in tone with every step, as the ground floor’s confluence of conversations dims and is replaced by a contrasting soundtrack of alt-indie electronica and pop, and the occasional moment of Ethio-jazz.

Federico Pisanelli, Melissa’s husband and business partner, welcomes us into the new concept, and we’re sat across from two large artworks from Melbourne-based (but former Adelaidean) artist Gabriel Cole, hanging above a bank of booth seating.

In the eight years since Etica opened, Melissa and Federico primarily used the upstairs space as storage, but it has history as a restaurant. It was known in the ‘80s as Glo-Bo’s, and the couple is excited to return the room to the hospitality scene.

From the owners’ perspective, the concept behind Allegra is simple.

“We identified what is important to us and what we seek in a restaurant and decided to create it,” Federico says.

“Our menu is driven by flavour, nature and innovation… We present a full-course dinner, celebrating what’s in nature and expressing those flavours through diverse preparation methods.”

Allegra’s polenta dish

 

Allegra’s style of service is warm and dictated by the level of interaction required by each diner.

While the restaurant’s plant-based focus grabbed headlines in initial reporting, the real intent underlying Allegra is not what kind of ingredients are used, but how they are presented.

Café’s, bars and restaurants have collectively acknowledged the growing vegan market and have created vegan-specific dishes, and dedicated sections of their menus to match the trend.

With much of the groundwork done, plant-based dining now needs refinement. This is the aim of Allegra.

“There is more focus than ever to treat vegetables with thought, care and respect, both in kitchens and on the farms. We think it’s the perfect time to introduce something like Allegra,” Federico says.

“We want to translate the warmth of hospitality and comfort that is experienced downstairs at Etica. We recognise what is important to us and we are ready for the challenge of providing an elevated dining experience.”

Allegra offers its guests a set 10-item menu, designed by head chef Elliot Vials.

“We have been working with Elliot for the past 18 months,” Federico says.

“He holds talent, motivation, excitement and direction in the kitchen. We work incredibly well together, sharing drive to create a welcomed addition to South Australia’s dining culture.”

The menu will change incrementally from week to week, resulting in a true representation of the current season.

 

On the night CityMag visits, a small dish of salt and vinegar chickpeas is placed on our table as greeting.

Soon after, starters are delivered: pickled vegetables and soy butter with sesame oil, Jerusalem artichoke and Costa Rican coffee pureed and topped with truffle and chips, potato and kimchi croquettes, and two buckwheat wafers topped with beetroot.

Dishes continue to emerge from the kitchen at a comfortable pace, carried over and introduced by Federico or Melissa: polenta with thinly sliced broccoli romanesco; an orange and fennel pasta dish; then a trio of plates – celeriac on a bed of kale, a pear and lentil salad with crisp curry leaves, and a puffed rice salad.

As we slice into the celeriac, the weather outside turns and the room fills with the sound of heavy rain. We relax into our chair and a nostalgic sense of home suddenly washes over us – the feeling of warmth, comfort, care, and, most importantly, a full stomach.

Chef Elliot comes out from the kitchen to deliver the final dish: a medley of rhubarb, meringue (made from aquafaba produced by the introductory chickpeas), gelati, pistachio and cacao.

Chickpea meringue: way better than it sounds

 

Well and truly at our limit, we turn down the offer of tea or coffee and take a moment to digest. Our coats are collected and returned to us, and we’re farewelled by both Melissa and Federico as we descend the stairs.

Elevated is one way of describing the experience, but doesn’t capture anything of the warm and personable nature of our hosts.

A sitting at Allegra is $70 per person, and an extra $65 for wine pairing. The wine list ranges from local wineries, French and Italian, as well as short lists of beer, aperitivi and non-alcoholic options.

Vegan and plant-based diners have long combatted a mainstream food culture that scoffed at requests for more inclusive menus.

With chefs worldwide now turning their talents toward making vegetables the heroes of their most interesting plates, Allegra, with its broad variety of dishes, presents a strong case for the ascension of plant-based food into the mainstream of not only restaurant and dining, but everyday eating culture.

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