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The D’Arenberg Cube Is a Zany, Adult Fun House


MCLAREN VALE, South Australia — The Cube rises from neatly tended rows of grapevines in the middle of the d’Arenberg winery like a meteorite from some faraway jagged dimension. Housing art galleries, a restaurant and a wine tasting room, the giant glass geometric structure is both impressive and confounding from the outside. That confusion only intensifies once you enter the five-story building, where you are greeted by a statue of an upended life-size cow, cradling a large vintage polygraph machine in its outstretched legs.

Since its opening in 2017, the d’Arenberg Cube has attracted about 1,000 visitors each day, making it one of South Australia’s most popular tourist destinations. Its twisted, blocky glass facade — inspired by a Rubik’s Cube — has become a recognizable symbol for the region and the eccentric winemaker who built it.

This is exactly what Chester Osborn, a fourth-generation winemaker at his family’s 108-year-old d’Arenberg winery, had in mind almost 20 years ago when he conceived of the Cube. “I wanted something iconic, like the Sydney Opera House, with its own amazing architecture that tells a story,” he said. The building cost $15 million to $16 million Australian, $2 million of which was provided as a grant from the South Australian government.

The ground-floor Alternate Realities Museum is made up of a series of spaces plastered with art and objects curated by Mr. Osborn: A room with walls made of flowers and plastic fruit has jars holding various foods, with air pumps that blow the scent from each jar into your nostrils; a 360-degree video room plays a loop of psychedelic animations projected onto the walls. The second floor is a gallery for rotating exhibitions — it currently holds Salvador Dalí sculptures.

To run the restaurant on the third and fourth floors, Mr. Osborn hired two South African chefs, a husband and wife team who had been working at the nearby Leonards Mill. Brendan Wessels and Lindsay Dürr were given one main directive: D’Arenberg should be the best restaurant in the world.

The fourth-floor dining room carries on the aggressively zany theme of the rest of the building, with chairs upholstered in multicolored harlequinesque velvet. A mishmash of artwork and objects hangs from the ceiling, including a full-size cafe racer motorcycle. The restaurant serves only lunch, a set $210 tasting menu, from Thursday to Sunday. Wildly mustachioed sommeliers recommend pairings, either drawn entirely from the d’Arenberg collection, or comparing d’Arenberg wines with international labels.

The first course, labeled on the menu as “down the rabbit hole,” sets the tone for the extravagance and folly to come. Presented in a hollowed-out replica of the book “Alice in Wonderland” is a black sphere that contains foie gras mousse, a puffed and crackly “mochi” made from duck fat, and a vial labeled “drink me” that contains a rich duck consommé.

Mr. Osborn is heavily involved in the planning of the menus, an effort which, according to Mr. Wessels, included a 3 a.m. text message instructing the chef to purchase a 3-D printer for the kitchen. This extravagance has resulted in a dish of coconut labneh that is printed into a hexagonal honeycomb shape and presented on a plate alongside tiny squeeze bottles of colored “paint.” The red paint is made from pickled red cabbage, the green from cilantro and mint, and diners are invited to decorate their 3-D printed labneh object however they desire.

While you’re hard at work creating your edible masterpiece, the final part of the dish arrives: a puck of juicy goat meat flavored with masala and coated in wiry wisps of shredded vadouvan, made by turning vadouvan paste into a solid with hydrate methyl cellulose and then grating it.

This is almost certainly the most ridiculous dish I’ve ever been served, down to the weird viscosity of the paints. It was also undeniably fun, and the complete dish actually tasted … good. Better than good! All of those meaty, creamy, fruity, juicy, crunchy elements added together — miraculously — equal deliciousness.

A rosette of thinly sliced, crisp potatoes is presented at the table and then drowned in a densely chickeny and umami-rich “chicken cream.” Mr. Wessels explained the method for making the meaty goo, a process that involved two chicken stocks, one made from feet and wings and the other from whole chickens, which are pressure-cooked and ice clarified, then steeped with kombu before being strained and combined with cream. Over crackly oily potatoes, it tastes like an outrageously elaborate version of that great Australian snack, the chicken-flavored potato chip.

In the hands of lesser chefs, these shenanigans would come off as pure gimmickry, and there are times during a meal at the Cube when all the playfulness falls flat. The final dessert course features a vial of powder and a mirror, along with an oversize American $100 bill emblazoned with Mr. Osborn’s face. The powder is a sherbet made from acai berries and ground-up popping candy. The experience of sucking it up through the rolled bill (you are instructed not to snort it) isn’t especially enjoyable.

Mr. Wessels said the dish is “an attempt to illustrate the polar extremes between childish naïveté (sherbet) and complicated adult taboos and vices.” O.K., sure. I’m not convinced that philosophy is this restaurant’s strong suit.

However, most of the food served at the Cube puts flavor and gimmick on roughly equal footing. It’s almost refreshing, in this age when most high-priced Australian restaurants focus on local or native ingredients, to see these chefs worry about nothing except luxury, deliciousness and a giddy sense of fun. Everything about the experience is exceedingly silly, but there is a lot of thought and technique and effort behind making that silliness work.

You do not have to eat at the restaurant in order to visit the Cube; most visitors pay the $15 entry fee to see the wacky artwork and to taste d’Arenberg wines in the bright, airy top-floor tasting room. This fee provides entry to the third floor, home to selfie-friendly wax sculptures of Mr. Osborn and his father looking distressingly like rubbery animated corpses. The third floor is also where you’ll find the bathrooms, which are set up like mirrored fun houses, making them purposefully confusing to get in and out of (all the more so if you’ve had a few wines). The men’s room features urinals that double as giant gaping clownlike faces. Yes, their mouths are the, um, receptacles.

Sound juvenile? It is. But that streak of immaturity and not-quite-right shabbiness is part of what gives the Cube its wonky, and sometimes disturbing appeal. The first piece of artwork that confronts you upon entering the Alternate Realities Museum is a bright painting that depicts a large yellow creature impaling a man with its penis while simultaneously devouring the his head. This may be a fun house, but its themes are decidedly adult.

At a nearby vineyard owned by another family, I spoke to some local winemakers who were discussing the Cube and its impact on the region. “It’s kind stupid and daggy in some ways, but that’s why it’s great,” one said. “If it were all slick — if it took itself too seriously — it would be unbearable.”

She was right. The d’Arenburg Cube is quite wonderful, mainly because it is so very stupid.

Do you have a suggestion for Besha Rodell? The New York Times’s Australia bureau would love to hear from you: nytaustralia@nytimes.com, or join the discussion in the NYT Australia Facebook group. Read about the Australia Fare column here.

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