How to kill a pub: The British Hotel

•07/02/2009 • 3 Comments

We’ve been in Adelaide now for nearly a year – it’s been a great year of discovering new restaurants, wines, wineries, pubs and cafés.

One of the first places we stumbled upon in North Adelaide (not far from home) was a lovely old pub called The British Hotel. One of its claims to fame is it has one of the oldest licences in the city, and has been an operating pub since 1838. You can feel the age when you walk in, which is something amazing after 171 years have elapsed. It had a wonderful cosy feel split into four sections – a classic ‘front’ pub for the daggier crowd, a small back bench pub with open fire for a casual pint, a lounge with also with a hearth and a large back room pub restaurant with standard (rather tasty) pub fare. You can even cook your own steak on the central barby!

And we loved it. At the time, the Little Dictator would take a little pre-dinner kip around 17.00, which was a perfect time to walk her in the pram from our house to the pub when Foodie didn’t feel like cooking. LD would fall fast asleep during the walk across the park, we’d arrive at The British, have a quick pint of Guinness (Mother’s Milk) to whet the appetite, and then typically have steaks or roo with a glass of wine. Now, the Guinness was good (as usual), the steaks typically cooked perfectly, the roo was tender and they served these great, probably sinful, crispy crispy roast potatoes to boot.  There were tellys, but they were small and tucked up high and although they might be turned on, they were for the most part unobtrusive.

Three major disappointments were the wine selection – absolutely shocking for an (comparatively ancient) Adelaide food establishment. There’s really no excuse in this part of the world. And the salads were woeful (too much onion and the tomatoes tasted like nothing, much to Foodie’s chagrin; see her comment about her quest for a good tomato in the Sparrow post). And they had this funny little area in the restaurant that was sort of outside-ish, closed in by plastic sheets where they let people smoke, but if you were sitting next to that area it was just like the smoker was sitting right next to you blowing their smoke in your face.  However, for a quick night out in a cosy setting that was baby friendly, a warm fire in the winter or cool and dim in the summer and full of (mainly) courteous staff, we couldn’t really complain.

The real problems started in late winter/early spring 2008 when we returned from some overseas trips – we discovered to our shock and horror that each and every room of our lovely little old pub was fitted with horrible, huge, flat-screen televisions that cast a sickly blue glow over evey thing and sucked your unwilling eyes upon them without fail. They even installed the biggest one of all in the restaurant!  Foodie is still in shock about this one.  Who puts a television in a restaurant?  It was henceforth impossible to enjoy our little Sunday night or weeknight getaway in peace. Now, we’re fans of a good rugby game now and again in the pub when the time is right, but being bombarded by relentlessly mind-numbing rubbish on televisions that blared silently in the background while eating is totally unacceptable. The place turned from a classic and beautiful old pub into a something that was trying to be a ‘sport’ bar with as much character as John Howard at a CHOGM.

Almost worse still was the fact that our Guinness pints shot up by nearly $1.50 overnight, as did most things on the menu – the result? Our quiet little Sunday dinner with the sleeping baby ended up costing over $100 for two people FOR PUB FOOD, while we were subjected to the horrible flickering, brain-numbing stupidity of the television programs surrounding us.  Which was the last time we went there.

Bloody hell – to all decent publicans out there – don’t let this happen to your pub!

Groggy and Foodie

P.S. We noticed recently that the pub is for sale. May the gods choose a worthy publican!

P.P.S.  Please let us know about your favourite lovely old pub.  We are in the market for a new one.

Advertisements

Review: Lobethal Bierhaus

•06/02/2009 • Leave a Comment

Over the holiday we found ourselves in the unnecessarily touristy main street of Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills. It was a hot day (not as hot as it has been lately), but relatively pleasant and the crowds of fat tourists were not too annoying. We ended up in a little random café, sat down to a little lunch while the Little Dictator slept, and enjoyed a quiet meal in the garden corner for half an hour.

Upon paying the bill, I noticed a little colour advert extolling the virtues of a new-ish micro-brewery in a little village called ‘Lobethal’ not too far north of Hahndorf – the Lobethal Bierhaus. “Well!”, I exclaimed. “I know where we’re going next.”

So, we did – we drove for about 30 minutes along the lovely Lobethal road that still has some decent remnant bush lined with picturesque orchards and vineyards. The Bierhaus is a little way into the village and is easily one of the better-looking buildings on the street. Once an old woollen mill, the main building houses a restaurant, the brewery itself, and some fairly modern-looking tables and chairs in a main dining area. The older charm of the woollen mills somehow remains despite the new look.

But, I couldn’t have cared less – I was there for the yummy beer and so we tried a little taster of all 6 brews they had on tap. Wow. Now, I love a good home-brew, but these didn’t taste home-brewy at all. Very professional, but unique. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of them before and that I couldn’t get the beers easily at my local pub.

They have something for every beer-lover’s taste – a hefeweizen, a Pilsner, an American-style pale ale, a classic IPA, a porter and a stout, plus some others I couldn’t just taste. At the time, the Pale Ale and Pilsner really appealed to me, but I liked them all and suppose there is a time and place for each one.

You know what they say about beer: “Beer is good; more beer is better.” (well, I say that if it’s good beer).

Another interesting feature is that you can get 2-litre bottles of the stuff in what they call ‘growlers’ – fits in well with the previous pearl of wisdom.

One unfortunate aspect was the price – these beers cost about double what you’d pay for even the higher-end brews you can buy at the bottle shop. Not the sort of beer you’d take to any old mate’s barby, especially if you were expected to share.

Still, I thought it was worth it and would recommend going back. The restaurant seems pretty good too – we only tried a few nibbles but vowed to come back and ‘review’ it properly.

Just reading their website now I can see that some of the Bierhaus beers are available in Adelaide (e.g., the Lion, Elder Park Café, Jasmin Indian Restaurant, Village Indian restaurant) and various pubs/restaurants throughout the Hills. Hopefully more establishments will pick them up soon.

Groggy

Restaurant Review: Sparrow

•31/01/2009 • 7 Comments

I don’t know if I really want to write this blog, since I am not sure I want you to go and make it more difficult for me to get a table at my new favourite restaurant – Sparrow Kitchen and Bar (Italian/Spanish/Australian).

I happened to pass by Sparrow while walking up O’Connell Street on a gorgeous day in early January, and I thought happily, “Hey….this is new!”  The place has enormous street appeal- a shady garden with herbs in terracotta pots and a nice view leads into a spacious but cosy dining room.  At the far end there is a marble-topped bar with a wood-fired pizza oven, and big windows that open out onto the street.  The decor blends modern and vintage aesthetics, combining old-fashioned timber architectural details with sleek tables and funky clay ceiling lamps.   The place just oozes taste and quality; the blend of formal and casual (Riedel glassware on the tables, but barstools on the footpath) is perfect like a cashmere jumper worn as a sweatshirt and tossed in the back seat of the car, if you know what I mean.

Sparrow opened just before Christmas and they say they have been flat out since then.  And not surprisingly – their lovely space is open all day for breakfast, lunch and dinner and feature an extensive range of  reasonably priced food and grog, highlighting local products.  It is one of those places where you are equally comfortable in a suit and tie as you are in jeans, and you can splash out and spend $300 on dinner for two or just have a no-cook pizza weeknight with a carafe of cleanskin and a salad for around $45.

I made a booking for Tuesday night the following week.  Despite the already filling dining room, we were greeted the minute we stepped in the door and were invited to have a seat at the bar while they set a table for us (we had booked for the garden but changed our minds as soon as we arrived, “no worries” they said.)  We shared the always delicious mix of Coriole olives, I had a glass of the Spanish sparkling, and Groggy had a schooner of the McLaren Vale Ale.  The bartender told us that their intention  is to change the taps periodically to feature local artisan brews (so we of course plugged the Lobethal Bierhaus, in the hopes that we can beef up their presence in our fair city.)

We wandered over to our table at our leisure and then we had the joyful challenge of choosing from the expansive menu.  They have a long and creative list of tapas, pasta, thin-crust gourmet pizzas, seafood, meat and vegetarian dishes – pretty much anything anyone could want.  I even checked out the kids’ menu (which has their darling sparrow logo on the back  for the kiddies to colour in with the coloured pencils displayed artfully in glasses next to the register) and was impressed that they went beyond the usual array of fried things for kids, offering a  steak for $14 and featuring veggies and salad among their sides.  While we were deciding, we had a bread plate for two, a changing palette of locally baked artisan breads accompanied by French butter (I don’t want to love French butter.  I have a personal duty to buy locally, but man,  what is it that the French do to their butter?  They make something so ordinary so sublime.  And so I guiltily gobbled it up, almost with a spoon.)

Groggy went for a selection of tapas, including the duck doughnut (pretty good, but a little on the gooey side), the smoked eel croquettes (lovely and mild), the blood sausage  (excellent, maybe a bit too light which for some would be a good thing in the land of blood sausage) and the octopus carpaccio (stunning).  I had the rocket and green bean salad which was beautifully executed with fresh peppery rocket and perfectly cooked crisp-tender beans, laced in a lemony vinaigrette , and the pissaladiere pizza, a lovely marriage of sweet onion confit, creamy SA goat’s cheese, salty anchovies and fresh thyme. This is where we discovered the Bress Shiraz (read here how we benefited from Dan the sommelier’s expansive wine knowledge). I finished with the lemon tart: a tapas size, tiny, perfect serve for the sort of person who just wants a bit of sweet to end the meal, which is us.  Not being a caffeine-at-night sort of person, I also ordered a glass of the  NV Chandon brut, which, while a nice drop, wasn’t the right choice (I should have consulted Dan, see below.)

We went back another night, with some friends.  I had the gorgeous, rich sweet /savoury pappadelle with chicken livers and sage, Groggy had the braised goat (which he liked but he said he wished he’d ordered my pasta.)  Our companions had the tuna tartare, the octopus carpaccio (again, yum yum),  the goat pizza, and the fusili, all of which garnered rave reviews.   We finished with the crema Catalana, which was creamy and perfect, and the peanut butter and chocolate doughnut which I was told was amazing and was apparently too good to share.

Groggy and I also shared the generous tomato and bocconcini salad.  Before I ordered, I asked our server, “Are the tomatoes really good?”  And she assured us they were, but to my disappointment, they were just those same weak, tasteless tomatoes you get everywhere, which in the summer in South Australia seems particularly silly.  I personally feel that if you can’t get great tomatoes, you shouldn’t serve them.   If there had been enough basil or vinaigrette or bocconcini to hide the inferior tomatoes, they might have done it,  but they were trying a dish to highlight tomatoes that just didn’t have the character to pull it off.  Please note that this is a bit of a crusade of mine.  If you find somewhere that serves good tomatoes, please let me know.

(An aside – except for this one snafu, we have been very impressed with the service at Sparrow.  Very friendly and personable, professional but relaxed.  They actually check back shortly after you have been served to make sure you like everything, and I know that the restaurant has dinners so that the staff have tried the menu so they know what they are talking about.  I admit that I am a difficult patron and ask endless questions about how this was made or where that was from, and the staff was unfailingly cheerful and helpful throughout. We are particularly fond of Dan the sommelier who speaks to our hearts when he discusses matching our meal with his obviously beloved selection of interesting wines.  Do be sure to take advantage of his knowledge and enthusiasm.)

Three other very small negatives, in case the owners stumble upon our blog: the beautiful Riedel glassware was streaked with our oh-so-sad South Australian water.  It would be good to see them polished with a cloth to properly display your lovely wines.   And twice the clean up wasn’t as stringent as one might like – once we had to have our table wiped again as it was sticky with something, and another time there was a scattering of breadcrumbs on the banquette next to me when I was seated.   And perhaps you might be able to tuck in a changing table in the loo to accompany your high chairs in the dining room?  Those of us with dining-out babies would really appreciate it.

Okay, I have already exceeded what Groggy tells me is the ideal blog length, so I’ll say no more.  Except don’t eat at Sparrow – leave more space for me.

Foodie

Restaurant Review: Estia

•29/01/2009 • Leave a Comment

It was a bit spur of the moment, but Foodie picked me up from work and suggested we go out to a new restaurant because she wasn’t able to make it to the market. So, she booked us into a restaurant we had passed by many times on the main street in Henley Beach – Estia (Greek cuisine).

We are big Greek food fans – when living in Darwin we would often grab some dolmathes and taramosalata from the local Greek market, and Foodie would buy some lovely lamb chops from our most favourite butcher to accompany the dips. Combined with some home-made tzatziki and horiatika (elleniki), we’d enjoy a little Greece while sweltering in the north Australian heat.

There aren’t a lot of Greek restaurants in Adelaide (surprising given the Greek population), so I was quite happy to go to one. We shared mezethes as is the custom: a seafood souvlaki special (skewered fish, scallops and prawns), elleniki, dolmathes, barbecued calamari and pita & taramosalata (see menu). The Little Dictator loved the fine feta, olives and cucumbers in the elleniki, of course ate the pita and had a bit of fish, and I was particularly impressed with the flavour of the feta and some of the seafood, but the calamari was a little rubbery (and I love rubbery cephalopods).

All in all a pleasant (light) meal. Nothing to complain about EXCEPT the price. We spent $90 on a relatively light meal comprising a few mezethes dishes that weren’t too substantial. My pocketbook shudders at the prospect of going there with a real appetite and trying some of the more substantial dishes. Times may be tough, but there was no excuse for such an expensive meal.

Good on the chefs for some classic Greek flavours by the beach, and the service was outstanding (we were served by 5 different people over the course of the brief hour we were there). Just keep it realistic.

Groggy

Bress Heathcote Shiraz 2005

•27/01/2009 • 2 Comments

I have to say I’m not very familiar with Victorian wines, and as a relatively new South Australian, I’ve become somewhat snobbish about our great Shiraz wines.

Well, last week we had the pleasure of being introduced to the hand-crafted loveliness of the Bress Heathcote Shiraz 2005 at Sparrow Kitchen and Bar (more on the restaurant itself in a future post). For someone used to the big, bold and earthy Shiraz of the Barossa or McLaren Vale, it was a bit of a shock to taste one more akin to an Oregon Pinot than what I would normally call a Shiraz.

The Bress website describes it as:

  • Colour: An intense and vibrant pungent crimson, almost ink blue
  • Aroma: The wine offers a complex array of fruit aromas of black fruit, spice, cloves and plum. The oak aromas are of char and vanillian spice
  • Palate: The wine is tightly packed full of black fruit, spice, cloves, and plum. The oak characters are beautifully integrated into the wine, giving the wine structure and adding power, balance and a savoury richness.

but I think I could sum it up as a ‘light, yet complex and round wine not dominated by fruit, but with a subtle spice that is balanced beautifully by a lingering finish’.

The sommelier at Sparrow, Dan, picked this excellent wine and vintage to go with my eclectic selection of tapas, and well, the wine was the best part of the meal. If you’re looking for an amazing Shiraz that doesn’t easily fall into any typical Australian categories, give this one a go.

I have no idea what the 2006 is like, but I reckon it’ll be pretty good too.

Groggy

The Quest for Coffee

•26/01/2009 • 5 Comments

© M. Prince

© M. Prince

We used to live in Hobart (Tasmania). Now, Hobart is a great coffee city. There are lots of cafés and they take pride in their coffee which made life good for us as snobby coffee drinkers.  Then we moved to Darwin, a crap coffee city.  No good coffee anywhere.  There was one café, called Relish, on Cavenaugh Street, but the owner got jack of it and sold the business to someone else, unfortunately to a lady who ran a fish and chip shop before and had no idea, absolutely no idea, how to make a coffee.  This made us very sad, but at this point we knew that we were moving to Adelaide so we took comfort in the knowledge that good coffee would be ours again soon.

And then we moved here.  And much to our chagrin, we couldn’t find a good coffee anywhere!  “What the…?”, we said to each other.  It made no sense at all!  Why would a city like this, a city that prides itself on its food and drink  in a state that prides itself on its food and drink, have café after café producing awful coffee at $4 a pop?  Why do they boil the hell out of their milk?  Why to they not seem to clean their equipment?  Why do they not train their baristas properly, and why don’t these baristas take pride in their craft?  So the quest began.

What were we looking for?  In an espresso and its brothers, a deep dark brew with a thick smooth crema on the top.  In a latte and her sisters, a rich, warm brown colour (never that oh-so-pathetic grey you get everywhere in this town) with a smooth, fine milk froth on the top.   Both with a warm, deep, dark and round flavour.  Is this too much to ask?

We are a year into the quest, and only a couple of weeks ago did we find a place in our fair city with a good coffee.  Finally, we sighed.  But unfortunately, they aren’t open on Sunday, one of our prime café coffee days, being working people and all.  In this review, we’ll start with the bad, and then get to the good.  Please check back- we’ll add more good and bad as we experience them – the quest is not yet finished (actually, it won’t finish until we find a café down the street from our house with a good coffee, which will never happen as we live in a great, but very residential mansion-laden inner-city neighbourhood with a very convenient but awful corner shop.  Another thing I miss about Hobart, the gourmet corner shops – and if any neighbourhood could support one, it would be ours.  But this is another post, I suppose.)

Also, note that we are latte, double latte, short black, macchiato and ristretto drinkers.  If you are seeking a café that makes a good cappuccino or flat white, maybe it will be one of our bad ones.  We wouldn’t know.

The Bad:  First up, we tried several nondescript Italian cafés on the Parade in Norwood.  Nothing worth writing home about.  We tried the coffee at The Store in Melbourne Street.  No good – bitter and milk too hot.  It is a nice little café though – mismatched timber tables, funky mosaic tables outside, and the staff are friendly, so if you aren’t seeking a top brew, please feel free to visit.  Then we tried Wild Thyme, an organic café and grocery, also on Melbourne street.  It is great that they use organic ingredients and again it is a nice little café, but here the staff aren’t very friendly and the coffee is an insult to the ingredients they use.  Then we tried a few (Rundle St, Melbourne St, the Parade) different Cibos.  The coffee was okay – it was fairly inconsistent (it seems like the one on Grenfell Street was better than the others, but we haven’t really visited enough to be sure), but we really don’t like the ambiance so we don’t go back, unless in a pinch.  Just last week we tried Un Caffè Bar on O’Connell Street – yuck.  Sad grey latte.

The Okay: In the airport, where we find ourselves fairly regularly, we get our coffee at Cocolat.  The food selection is as limited as you would expect from a chocolate place but the coffee is pretty good and the chairs are comfy and the staff are nice.

The Good:  The first good coffee we found was at Blond Coffee in Angaston.  Oh dear, we thought, we have to go all the way to Angaston to get a coffee?  But for those of you who are out and about at the wineries in the area (like Murdock), you might need to stop and have a short strong one before you go home.  I am sad to report that the last time we went there, the coffee wasn’t as good as it has been – I am not sure why, maybe just a bad day.

Now, every Thursday (and sometimes Tuesday) I visit the Central Market, where I buy our eggs and dairy (The Smelly Cheese Shop and/or Say Cheese) our fruit and veg (House of Organics) bread and pizza dough (I used to make my own, dough that is, but have gotten lazy of late and Kate’s Patisserie gets pretty good stuff), croissants (Dough), and coffee for the house (The Perfect Cup: the Chagga Pea Berry for Foodie and the Ethiopian Double Roast for Groggy – we were warned off of the other main coffee stall by an ex-employee who told us that they re-packaged inferior beans as premium product),  and recently I have started working my way through the cafés and stopping for a coffee.

Now, I love the Perfect Cup.  They have great whole bean and ground coffee (although it would be nice to see more organic and fair trade) and the staff are personable and super friendly (although they did sell me the worst coffee pot I have ever owned in my life, a Vev aluminium stove top, and when I mentioned that it was ruining my mornings, they basically said, wow, sucks to be you).  Anyway, I am sad to report, they make a too-hot grey latte.  Very unfortunate.  So in my amazing good luck, my next café was Zuma (no website we could find).

Caffè Zuma is on the south side of the Central Market on Gouger Street.  They have a basic café menu that looks pretty good but I admit I haven’t tried anything but the nice fruit toast and the  cunning little muffins baked in clay flower pots.  However, the coffee is what we have been looking for.  I almost kissed the barista.  I am not sure why people aren’t shouting from the roof tops about the brew in this place – maybe because they don’t want you to know?  Or perhaps because it is inconvenient and they are closed on Sundays?  I don’t know,  But now that I have found them, I haven’t been able to even buy a desperation coffee anywhere else.

If you live in Adelaide, run, don’t walk, to get the only coffee worth drinking in town.

Foodie

Mustard cream sauce

•26/01/2009 • 1 Comment

This recipe is based on one from the Cordon Bleu Home Collection Sauces book.  If you use the quantities below, it makes about a cup.  I find that there is always a limiting reagent when I am throwing a sauce together (I very rarely actually plan the sauce, it usually born out of whatever we have in the larder), in this case it was the stock – I didn’t have a full 300 ml in the freezer, so I just had to reduce everything else by a bit.  It is a very flexible recipe though.

Ingredients

  • about 1 tablespoon butter, 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large French shallot, chopped (or the equivalent amount of onion)
  • 100 ml white wine (I used Riesling, because that is what I had in the fridge)
  • 300 ml brown stock (home-made is of course always the first choice, but I used a 50-50 combination of commercial low-salt chicken broth and beef broth, again because that is what I had.)
  • 50 ml double cream
  • 2 tablespoons strong Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon Beerenberg Farm Hahndorf Hot mustard (if you can’t get this, use a combo of whole seed mustard and hot English, it will be close, but not exactly the same).

Sauté the shallots in the butter and oil over low heat until translucent.  Pour in the wine and mix, scraping the bottom of the pan.  Add the stock, turn up the heat and reduce by about half, stirring occasionally.   Add the cream and simmer for a few more minutes until it coats the back of a wooden spoon.

Strain the sauce into a clean pan and whisk in the mustard- season with salt and pepper if it needs it.  Reheat gently to serve.

Foodie