Adelaide, otherwise known as the city of churches. I’m not religious, I am catholic, but churches and religion were not the reason I was here. Was I searching for a spiritual experience? Unlikely. Meditation is about as close as I get to spirituality and a necessary tool to quieten my overthinking mind. I didn’t have to think too hard to get where I was going. A short train ride from the Adelaide Hills delivered us to the central train station. We emerged into the middle of North Terrace, the city's main arterial road.

Caffeine, and plenty of it, was essential. The two-hour time difference from Perth wasn’t much, but it was enough to wake up ‘early.’ I had regrettably left my aero-press at home. Meaning the first few hours before sunrise was agonisingly caffeine free. Office workers in the Adelaide CBD are spoilt for choice. Many espresso-slinging hole-in-the-wall operators keep productivity high and banter flowing. We headed for a spot on Leigh Street, Coffee Branch, under the guise of a recon mission to locate and scope out a wine bar for later. It was already over 30 degrees Celsius. With a cold brew in one hand, and a flat white in the other, I headed onwards in caffeinated bliss.

Lunchtime rolled around quickly. I was on vacation. Champagne is always a good idea - particularly before midday. A visit to a French brasserie changed from optional to necessary. Hey Jupiter did not disappoint. Hey Jupiter has grown, to the point where the opportunity to expand into the adjacent space was taken up quickly, much to the delight of the creatives calling this part of Adelaide home. The offering is classic and well executed, and the list of champagnes by the bottle is impressive, especially given the issues Australia is experiencing with supply chain and ration-esque allocations of the stuff becoming almost political, but that is a story for another time.

As the frites settled and combined with the champagne and a glass of local Cabernet Sauvignon, more caffeine would help to fuel the inevitable wanderings through the city. Exchange Speciality Coffee was in my line of sight. And the coffee from their beautifully maintained Synesso machine was impeccable. The espresso was balanced, almost buttery in texture. Typical soft red fruit flavours were noticeable and distinctive in the Colombian-based blend. A stop at the Art Gallery of South Australia and a stroll through the Botanic Gardens started the afternoon. All were within walking distance, but with a dinner reservation at Africola later, we were keen for refreshments now. The Exeter Hotel was the point of call.

A rough exterior disguises a community focussed venue offering egalitarian respite from the faux-polish of gentrified pub culture prominent at so many style-over-substance pubs throughout the country. The Exeter’s handwritten blackboard menus, ultra-craft and commercial beers on tap and a surprising wine list with local gems and international heavy hitters were the boot to say everything needed. The drinks were cold, the hot chips well seasoned, and the people watching top-notch. All the pub essentials checked off nicely. As afternoon turned to evening, the weather pivoted from hot and sunny in the morning to cloudy, humid and even a little rain within two hours. Summer rain isn’t unusual. Still, it was one of the driest Australian summers on record. I had not come prepared. Regardless, I needed to refine and refocus my palette before dining at a restaurant I had been following and awaiting the opportunity to dine in since the world went a little crazy.

It was back to Leigh Street for wine. Leigh Street Wine Room is housed in a converted laundromat and provides a relaxed, casual and welcoming interlude from the bustle of the CBD. I perched myself at the bar. Given that it was still early, I had the full attention of the bartender, who helped me navigate their extensive list of wines by the glass. Having just changed their wines by the glass, the crew at Leigh Street were fresh out of staff training, so they offered a few bits and pieces from the old list. I can’t recall exactly what I had - something Spanish with a varietal I hadn’t heard of (or couldn’t pronounce) and a French wine. Adelaide corporates and cork-dorks are lucky to have a venue like this. I couldn’t stay for long, but I would come back to Adelaide just to perch at the bar over a glass of something delicious at Leigh Street Wine Rooms. Suitably refreshed and refocussed, the time had come for dinner at Africola. A short and somewhat wet wander was in my future, but the anticipation of dining at a venue I had been following for years kept the momentum heading in the right direction.

Africola’s owner and leader, Duncan Welgemoed, isn’t scared to share his opinions. His views aren’t always what the Australian hospitality industry wants to hear, but his commentary usually provokes discussion. Even without his upfront and opinionated nature, his food would say more than most chefs could articulate throughout an entire career. I would have loved to sit in the pitch meeting for this restaurant with an African restaurant showcasing the best South Australian produce in a bustling, casual setting in a city of fewer than two million people. Tell him he’s dreaming! Reality check - it’s good. It’s incredible. On arrival, we were greeted and seated quickly in the alfresco area, the last spaces available for a last-minute Tuesday evening dinner sitting. The sticky, humid weather, grey skies and light rain only added to the ambience. The weather might have proved problematic, but it all fit the experience. This a dispassionate reminder that the best meals are seldom in ideal conditions.

I opted for the set menu, graciously allowing for several ‘must haves’, but I trusted the service team with a dealer's choice situation and was not disappointed. A glass of delightfully cold local Gewurtztraminer worked well with the broad bean falafel, followed by poppies with kale, ginger and clear fermented chilli broth that induced coughs when slurped incorrectly. The produce-oriented dishes were clean, simple and smartly crafted.

The cauliflower came out with the right gnarly grill marks only fire can create. The contrast between the soft interior and the crisp bitterness of the exterior was great to eat. The Boston Bay pork loin with mustard leaf gremolata was delicious, maybe slightly overcooked, but still tender, juicy and devoured within moments. The pork loin worked wonderfully with the chilled red from local heroes Ochota Barrels, providing a welcome respite from the humid conditions and sensory bombardment I had just gone through. The time passed quickly, and before I knew it, we had our server standing endearingly and awkwardly holding a sparkler because he couldn’t get a grip on the sorbet dessert course, to mark the celebration I had mentioned earlier (the actual date was months earlier, but they did ask what I was celebrating that night) but it was time to move on. I’ve had a lot of meals out in recent years, but the enthusiasm, energy and authenticity of the meal I just had at Africola will stay in my mind for a while to come. I left feeling full, informed and happy. That’s a win.

A moment of reflection was in order. I do my best thinking over a Sazerac or Manhattan. I had heard a New Orleans-style speakeasy was around the corner. I didn’t need much convincing to head in that direction. Nola was the nightcap destination. The dark wood and leather interior with occasional neon accents made me feel at home. Even nostalgic for the incredible American road trip I completed in 2009.

The bar was bustling with people coming and going. I perched on a stool towards the venue’s rear to assess the goings on, not to mention the sizeable range of whiskey, bourbon and other southern delights. My Sazerac had arrived. As my fingers grasped the chilled tumbler, I had a moment of clarity. I toasted to the city of churches as the faint suggestion of absinthe drifted from my drink. It was one of the most exciting days of food, wine and urban exploration I have had in a long time. Cheers to you, Adelaide. You unassuming marvel!