A few steps away from the bustling Rundle Mall and tram stop sits the former Australian Mutual Provident building. The slim, but grandiose historic building on King William Street is now home to Ai Fiori, the newest fine dining Italian in the city.
The interior is a spacious and extravagant open dining room. In one corner is the bar with old wine barrels for bar tables, while the opposite corner is the kitchen where the chefs are busy at work. The tall ceilings, interlocked marble, brass window frames, European street lamps and ornate, classical leather chairs transport you to a whimsical, old-fashioned dining experience.
After taking in the surroundings, it was time to make our way to the tables to see how the food fared.
Pane, $6.00; Olive Verdi, $5.00
The evening started off with their bread of the day, served with Ai Fiori’s blend of roasted almonds, cashews, walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachio, sesame seeds and Grana Padano. Served alongside the bread is an assortment of confit garlic, rosemary and thyme marinated Kalamata & Sicilian green olives. Fresh, soft bread and a fragrant, slightly sweet nutty dip. So far, so good.
As an entree, I opted for a standard Italian primo, arancini.
Two lightly crumbed and fried risotto balls sit atop a spoonful of tomato passata, or puree, garnished with snow pea tendrils, a sliver of crispy oven baked prosciutto, and shavings of Grana Padano. Cut into the arancini, and you’ll find hot and fluffy risotto with pumpkin and blue cheese. While the pumpkin and blue cheese is subtle in flavour, paired with the salty tomato passata and prosciutto, it made for a deliciously warm and satisfying entree.
The friend beside me ordered the maiale – slow cooked Murray Valley pork belly, served with a pan seared Japanese scallop, green apple compote, walnut soil and sherry vinaigrette.
Between the entree and the mains, we were served salad to share. What looked like a normal plate of salad dressed with the occasional fruit and edible flowers, was actually a very refreshing mix of rocket, orange, grapefruit, seasonal herbs, and extra virgin olive oil. The grapefruit and orange slices added a pop of colour and juiciness to the peppery rocket. The most surprising flavour to come through each forkful was the dill pollen sprinkled throughout. An interesting choice, but a pungent and pleasing addition.
Bistecca 350g rib eye steak; $36.00
Not long after, came the mains, or secondi. I chose the bistecca, 350g chargrilled grasslands yearling rib eye steak served with cafe de Paris butter, chargrilled Sterilgarda mascarpone polenta and grilled asparagus.
This was a uniquely crafted rib eye steak dish. The steak sat on a pillow of creamy and sweet mascarpone with grilled polenta, a brilliant combination. The polenta was chargrilled, giving it burnt specks of smoky flavour. And the smooth mascarpone complemented the grainy texture of the polenta. The steak was cooked to a perfect medium, but I found it to be a little greasy and slightly chewy. The herb-y cafe de Paris butter gave it extra flavour and the dish was topped with roasted asparagus, adding some green and tying it all together.
Yet the highlight of my night was – you guessed it – dolce. For dessert, I went with the Semifreddo.
A tower of chilled almond mousse, placed upon Italian sponge cake, or genoise, all encrusted in honeycomb. The mousse and cake was served with crema pasticcera al lime, a common pastry cream popular in Italian dessert, but Ai Fiori added a lime flair. Light and airy, the almond mousse was delightful with the sweet and sticky honeycomb. The sponge cake gave the dessert substance as it soaked in the tart and refreshing citrusy cream. A one of a kind combination of flavours and textures that – tied together – was satisfying without being overwhelmingly sweet. Yum!
With a menu straying away from the typical pizza and pasta array of mains, Ai Fiori has defined itself as a fine dining establishment through its diverse selection of seafood, meat, and unique flavor combinations. Though prices are more on the higher end, it sits in the heart of the city as a ready option for those hungry for Italian.
[dbites was invited as guests to Ai Fiori]
21 King William Street
Adelaide SA 5000
P 08 7230 2527