In 2011, acclaimed chef Lachlan Colwill returned to his Barossa Valley roots to launch a proudly provincial eatery at Hentley Farm in Seppeltsfield. By Merran White
After four years at Adelaide fine-dinery The Manse and stints behind the stoves at Michelin-starred venues around the globe, Barossa-bred chef Lachlan Colwill was tired of cooking with less-than-fresh ingredients—not to mention the eco-unfriendly ‘food’ miles racked up on the journey from paddock to city-restaurant plate.
“Even in top city restaurants, getting truly fresh ingredients is challenging,” he says. “Couriers can’t get access; transport logistics mean delicate produce like seafood arrives not at its best. I was frustrated by it all round the globe.”
Colwill, voted world’s third-best chef in 2007, turned down a lucrative position in Shanghai in 2011 because “it would have been more of the same: working with produce that had come from miles away. I thought, ‘I don’t want to do that anymore’.”
While toying with starting a culinary venture in the Adelaide Hills he heard that Barossa Valley winery Hentley Farm was looking to launch a restaurant. That restaurant picked up Restaurant of the Year at this year’s South Australian Awards for Excellence.
Back to the farm
Colwill, who’d downed many a Hentley Farm red back-of-house at The Manse, was up for the challenge. With its abundance of fine produce and tourist traffic, the Barossa, an hour’s drive from Adelaide via the newly opened Northern Expressway, seemed tailormade for his purpose.
“What ultimately sold it was that I’d lived up here and done part of my apprenticeship in the Barossa—so I had connections, suppliers,” he explains. “I knew the best spots to forage. And I had access to my parents’ produce garden and farm.
“Basically, we structure our menus around what we can grow, what’s ready to be picked, and what’s in the fields around us right here, right now.”
Lachlan Colwill, head chef, Hentley Farm
“I wasn’t convinced people would drive an hour out of the city to come here. But I was wrong.”
From the ground up
Hentley Farm restaurant, built from the ground up in consultation with Colwill, opened in mid-2012. “We started with no front-of-house team so in the early days, the chefs would do everything; serve food, pour wine, tell stories,” he recalls. “And we realised pretty quickly that diners were really interested in that.
“By 2015 we’d built up to about 55 people, but this year we’ve decided that, for the best connection with guests, we should limit diners to 40 per service. Because the style of restaurant we’ve created is ‘connective’, people come expecting to talk about the food with me and my sous-chef. And we don’t have time to have 55 conversations!”
The restaurant is open for leisurely lunches on Thursdays and Sundays; lunch and dinner, Fridays and Saturdays. This leaves Colwill—who resides in a cottage onsite with two sous-chefs-turned-‘farmers’— ample time to tend to the kitchen garden, orchard and livestock, visit suppliers, taste and cook produce, and plan oft-changing menus based on what’s best and freshest.
“We’re not promoting a ‘locavore’ menu or particular cuisine style,” he notes. “Right now, there are Japanese influences and some Chinese flavours—but basically, we structure our menus around what we can grow, what’s ready to be picked, and what’s in the fields around us right here, right now.
“As you get close to the Barossa, you’ll see canola, soursop and wood sorrel, olives and prickly pears; it changes with the seasons. Right now, there are almond blossoms along the highway and lambs on the hill—so we’ll have lamb and almonds on the menu. Everything you saw on the drive up, you’ll likely see on your plate.”
Keeping it local
The bulk of the restaurant’s ingredients are produced onsite, he explains. “We have pigs, chickens, ‘guardian’ geese and quail—my parents bred quail, so that’s kind of a hobby of mine. All meat has to be slaughtered offsite, but we butcher it here. All our eggs are farm-fresh.”
“All industries, restaurants included, are going to have to look at themselves in terms of sustainability in five to 10 years. We’re just getting a jump on the rest.”
Lachlan Colwill, head chef, Hentley Farm
Herbs, seasonal vegetables, and fruits including peaches, nectarines, apples, oranges, plums, even mulberries, are plucked from Hentley Farm’s garden and orchard. Dairy comes from a family operation 10 minutes down the road; lamb, almonds, olives are all proudly Barossan, too. “The furthest we’ll go to source produce is the SA coast, a 90-minute drive, for seafood.”
This focus on fresh local ingredients demands culinary creativity—you can’t just rush out and buy a pineapple, or out-of-season veg.
“We have to forgo many commercialised products, and we’re constantly adjusting to the natural season—and seasonings,” Colwill says.
That’s not the only challenge on his plate: another is convincing diners that plant-based cuisine’s worthwhile as Hentley Farm moves towards less meat-heavy menus.
It’s a new style of dining, championing simple, sustainable farm-fresh food, and connecting consumption firmly to production. Some may drag their heels, but Colwill contends it’s really the way of the future.
“Clearly, veganism’s a huge trend. And all industries, restaurants included, are going to have to look at themselves in terms of sustainability in five to 10 years,” he declares. “We’re just getting a jump on the rest.”
So far, diners seem satisfied: Hentley Farm restaurant’s growing swag of awards is bolstered by positive word of mouth.
“Around 60 per cent of our business is from tourism,” Colwill admits. “We’ve also been very lucky with awards (including Best Restaurant at the SA R&CA Awards for Excellence). But our best advertisement is return clientele. They might not come back on their own but every time they have visitors, they’ll bring them here. It’s probably my proudest achievement.”