FINO at Seppeltsfield in the Barossa, SA, has won many awards in the four years since it was established, with co-owner Sharon Romeo recently adding 2018 Restaurant Manager of the Year to her gongs.
Story Ken Eastwood Photo Josie Withers
Just over four years ago, business partners Sharon Romeo and David Swain were more than content. With a comfortable coastal lifestyle, they were running a little restaurant called FINO in Port Willunga, SA. They’d opened in 2006 and regular customers couldn’t get enough of their gorgeously presented share plates. “Most of the time people would say, ‘Feed us what you want – surprise us’,” Sharon says. “We had this reputation of trust.”
One such regular was Warren Randall, who had financial interests in McLaren Vale wineries, and became the major shareholder of Seppeltsfield, which he was spending several million dollars renovating. He begged the duo to lease some space at Seppeltsfield, 120 kilometres inland, near Tanunda in the Barossa Valley, in order to set up FINO as an exemplar destination restaurant. “We resisted for a little while because we liked our lifestyle,” Sharon says. “We lived by the beach. We had a little restaurant and we had no idea how to transfer this intimate little 30-seater restaurant to something like that.”
But Sharon and David eventually agreed, and they opened a very classy 140-seat eatery in the old bottling area at Seppeltsfield. European plaza-like terraces, complete with fountains, lead to a light-filled cavernous space with bluestone features and simple, elegant décor.
Sharon serves as the restaurant manager, often as the maître d’hôtel in charge of seven front-of-house staff, and David is the executive chef, working with sous chef Sam Smith. “Sam worked at FINO Willunga and he enhances our philosophy and truly understands it,” Sharon says. “David’s kind of in the background, mentoring. It’s definitely Sam’s menu.”
The food is borne of Sharon’s Italian heritage, in the Cucina povera or Calabrese peasant cooking style. It focuses on fresh, sustainably sourced local produce (most ingredients are sourced in the Barossa or within 100km of the restaurant), cooked simply and then presented beautifully. “In Italian, fino means ‘fine and delicate’, and it’s David and Sam’s finesse on rustic peasant dishes that makes FINO what it is,” Sharon says. “I came from a beautiful, peasant southern Italian family and David absolutely embraces that style of food.”
Rather than a vast à la carte offering, the menu features a dozen or so mid-sized dishes that you are encouraged to share, with most people choosing the $65 five-plate option, which includes dessert. The almost off-putting lack of flowery descriptions on the menu (such as “Beetroot, fetta, rye” or “Lamb, chickpeas, kale”) means it is a delightful, sensual surprise when the dishes arrive, gorgeously and colourfully arranged. After savouring a dish or three with accompanying wines, it becomes less of a surprise to hear that Australian food critic John Lethlean describes FINO as “the best place in Australia for a long lunch”.
This story excerpt is from Issue #122
Outback Magazine: December/January 2019