The Duck Inn, Coromandel Valley

Orecchiette with chorizo, asparagus, spinach and red onion
Orecchiette with chorizo, asparagus, spinach and red onion

date of visit: Sunday 22 January 2017

Our last (and only prior) visit to the Duck Inn was about eight years ago. Yep. Eight years ago. We didn’t have a great experience – although a big part of that was some rather disruptive children (I’m still pretty grumpy about children’s behaviour, even though I now have one of my own). And it’s taken us eight long years to recover and return.

And our return wasn’t even premeditated! We’d had a day out in the Hills and our plan had been for a late lunch or early dinner somewhere in our wanderings. It turned out that our activities wrapped up around 4pm – too early for most places to be serving and too early for dinner. So we headed home, paused at Apex Park, and hit The Duck Inn’s dining room for pretty much bang on 5:30 (opening time).

Since our last visit, The Duck Inn has installed a deck area so you can sit outside and eat or drink. Even though the pub is slap bang on Main Road, it’s still a semi-rural setting so sitting outside is not to be sneezed at. We sat inside though – we hadn’t booked and I was actually quite surprised we got a table at all!

The dining room is separate from the front bar and, in a very pleasant change (at least as far as this grumpy old lady is concerned!), it’s actually pretty quiet. On a Sunday afternoon there is live music in the front bar but everything is set up so you can just hear the music but your conversation is not drowned out. Please, please – keep things this way!

Luckily, the menu had changed since our last visit (!) and it’s a bit more interesting than a pub standard – and there is also a short list of specials. In a slightly controversial (at least as far as our six year old is concerned) move, there is currently no salt and pepper squid on the menu, but you can choose a spicy squid salad, a burger or a schnitzel or you can go for something less pub-like by choosing a slow-braised duck ragout or twice-cooked pork belly.

I opted for the pasta special – orecchiette with Barossa chorizo, asparagus, spinach and red onion in a white wine and cream sauce (this is the type of pasta that Andy LOATHES so I have to go for it while I’m out – though I was sorely tempted by the gnocchi with Adelaide Hills forest mushrooms …). Andy and Master 6 both ordered fish and chips. Master 6 ordered from the very short children’s menu – which includes a drink and an icecream sundae. Rather than activity packs for children, the children’s menu is printed on an activity sheet (just the right number of activities too!) and the staff will give you a pencil case full of pencils & a sharpener. I think this is a great approach. Another big plus is that all the children’s meals come with salad (hoo-bloody-ray!).

The food all got a big tick – the difference between ‘normal’ fish and chips and the children’s was that adults get two pieces of fish, children one (although as an adult, you can order a half portion) and children get tomato sauce rather than tartare sauce. The salad is actually an Asian slaw which obviously has a soy sauce based dressing. This is a little disconcerting – as it arrives looking a touch brown – but it was fresh and crisp!

The pasta wasn’t too bad – there was tons of the sauce which isn’t a problem because you can just leave what you don’t eat. I really enjoyed the combination of flavours and it wasn’t overly salty (which often happens, especially when cured meats like chorizo are introduced …). The portion was generous without being overwhelming (I was starving so I might feel differently about this on another visit).

The staff were all friendly and service was casual but efficient. Even at 5:30 on a Sunday there were quite a few tables eating and if you want to dine at a busier time, I would recommend booking.

As I realised while we were there, The Duck is part of the group which also boasts The Mile End (I wrote about this pub a couple of years ago for SA Life), The Colonist and The Unley. I’ve been lucky enough to be a guest at events at these pubs previously and the aim is clearly to lift the standard of the menus. I’m really pleased that the same approach has been applied to The Duck. We’re also pleased it’s close to home – we’ll be return visitors!

The Duck Inn
393 Main Road
Coromandel Valley 5051
phone: 08 8278 7100

The Duck Inn Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Woodcroft Hotel

Southern Fried Chicken with Ranch Dressing and Chips
Southern Fried Chicken with Ranch

date of visit: Saturday 5 November 2016

Earlier this year I attended the launch (or is that re-launch?) party for the Woodcroft Hotel. I was sufficiently impressed by the standard of food served at that party that we’ve actually been making a conscious effort to return ever since. As you can see – it’s taken a while … ahem. To be fair, we actually tried to go quite soon after that party only to discover it was booking out very quickly – and this is still very much the case. When I made our last minute 5:30pm booking we were told we would only be able to have the table until 7pm. Good thing we eat with a 5 year old and that wasn’t a problem!

At the launch party, the food had been impressive. It was a large event and the food that came out was all based on menu dishes but cut down to canapé size. I’ve been to a lot of events where smaller versions of dishes have been presented and it’s not uncommon for this change of size to cause problems either in the kitchen on or on the plate. So the fact it didn’t buoyed me with great, and perhaps excessive, confidence and hope.

Finally we made it. Seriously, I have spent MONTHS raving about the fried chicken at the Woodcroft so there was nothing for it but to commit myself and order it. It’s an entrée, so in case it wasn’t enough, I also ordered the pulled pork quesadillas. Andy ordered the chicken tacos. Because I’d ordered two entrées I wasn’t eligible for the salad bar (I could have paid an extra $4 but wasn’t sufficiently bothered) but Andy made a small selection from it. Master 5 opted for the children’s fish and chips. The children’s meals do come with some sliced apple but it is a shame the hotel doesn’t go the extra mile and offer a choice of salad.

The food came out quickly and was all well presented. My first few mouthfuls of the crispy chicken were great – crispy and chicken-y. But at some point, things started to slide downhill. The chicken pieces were relatively large – not in and of itself much of a problem – but in several places, the batter hadn’t been properly drained away and I was left with big doughy chunks of uncooked batter wedged in folds of chicken. It wasn’t great. The batter itself isn’t hugely imbued with seasoning and flavour (it is a buttermilk and spice batter apparently) so the accompanying ranch dressing got a good work out. But the more doughy bits I encountered, the more disappointed I was.

Pulled Pork Quesadillas with Salsa Fresca
Pulled Pork Quesadillas with Salsa Fresca

The pulled pork quesadillas were better and I did enjoy them, although they didn’t really step beyond the boundaries of what we relatively often cook at home. The salsa fresca was a bit ho-hum – a touch sweet for me – but it also wasn’t a necessary part of the dish.

Andy was similarly underwhelmed by his chicken tacos.

Chicken Tacos
Chicken Tacos

I think this experience amply demonstrates the problem with expectations. I’m sure over time that crispy chicken has got better and better and it was possibly always going to struggle to live up to my memory of it – but I do believe the doughy clumps of batter to be an error in cooking (and not just my imagination!).

The service was great – not just friendly and efficient but genuinely warm. The bistro area is lovely and the small garden area is gorgeous – so if you do go, get organised, book early and request a spot there! And the bistro is obviously immensely popular. On the Saturday night we were there there were at least two birthday parties booked and, after we sat down at 5:30pm, only one walk-in got a table. Everyone else was turned away.

It’s clear that the Woodcroft has hit its straps with locals and that is no doubt indicative of the fact that the southern suburbs have the capacity to host more venues offering more diverse menus. For me, though, the food just didn’t live up to expectations.

Woodcroft Tavern Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Woodcroft Hotel
Bains and Panalatinga Roads
Woodcroft SA 5162
08 8325 1555

Alere, Flinders University

Slow cooked lamb shoulder
Slow cooked lamb shoulder, with freekeh, mint, tahini and pickled cucumber

date of visit: Friday 26 August 2016

Alere is the new restaurant at Flinders Uni which is being run by Blanco, the same company that looks after the well-regarded Botanic Gardens Restaurant. It’s also participating in this year’s Festival of Food but for many people it will be a tricky venue to try out, as it’s only open Monday to Friday until 5pm.

Lucky for me that I control my work hours (I would say ‘I am my own boss’ but when you work to others’ deadlines, that’s not the case!) and I have a handful of friends who work varying flavours of part time. So for one day, my friend and I were able to play at being ‘ladies who lunch’.

Booking ended up being something of an up-and-down process. Alere does offer on-line bookings through its website, but because I was booking Festival of Food I decided I would rather speak to a person. So I rang and left a message and never heard back. And then I started to think that maybe I should have booked online but … if I book online now, will I end up with two bookings. So I rang again, left a message, missed the return phone call and eventually managed to confirm the table. Phew!

If you’re not familiar with the sprawling campus that is Flinders Uni then Alere might be a bit tricky to find. Basically you drive, drive, drive for MUCH longer than you expect (I was expecting to be spat back out on to Shepherd’s Hill Road at any moment!) but finally you reach The Hub. The parking which is available is 2 hour ticket parking which is OK but not ideal if you are after a particularly leisurely lunch.

Alere is set up on the second level of The Hub with floor to ceiling windows that flood the restaurant with the most beautiful light and afford diners with great views across the university and hills. If you’re so inclined, you can spend lunch people-watching the students below!

Sourdough with cultured butter

Seated, the most important part of the meal – reading the wine list – commenced. And finally – HOORAY! An interesting and well-curated wine list that is not flooded with NZ Sauvignon Blanc! There might be two SavvyBs on the wine list but they are both local and they sit alongside gems such as the Lino Ramble Ludo Fiano, the CRFT Grüner Veltliner and the Unico Zelo Dolcetto. I was also impressed to see that a hefty portion of the wine list is available by the glass in either 100mL or 150mL pours. This all makes me soooo happy. Really really happy.

My dining companion prefers whites with a touch of sweetness to them and I knew that the only Riesling available by the glass was dry – so we asked our waiter for a suggestion. Sadly, she had none (I’m not suggesting Alere stick a moscato on the wine list but perhaps ensure the staff can point a customer in the right direction) BUT when I said I was having the Lino Ramble Fiano she enthusiastically said she had tried it and it was very nice. This was enough to sway my friend into trying it and it was a success all round!

With Festival of Food we only had to pick our main courses. I’d decided to go for the spaghetti with poached prawns while my friend chose the slow cooked shoulder of lamb, with cracked freekeh, mint, tahini and pickled cucumber.

Entree tasting plate
Entree tasting plate – vitello tonnato hidden at the bottom

We started with the delicious sourdough and followed this with our entrée tasting plates. From the top, a soup, grilled haloumi and finally Alere’s take on vitello tonnato. All delicious – which really says something because vitello tonnato is normally something I go out of my way to avoid! If I wanted to be picky, I’d suggest the confit tomato atop the haloumi was a bit large, but really – just eat the veal!

Main courses arrived and it was depressingly obvious that my friend had ‘won’ in the menu selection stakes. While my prawns and spaghetti were delicious (perfectly cooked pasta, a good balance of heat from the chilli, plenty of prawns), the lamb took the biscuit. It was so good! The meat was so soft, tender and falling apart it was like eating deliciously spiced lamb puree (but in a good way – still with texture). My friend generously offered me a taste of the gorgeous looking flatbread, but because I’m such a nice person I declined. (It’s possible I declined because I’m such a pig I would have hoovered loads of it up … who knows). She loved it!

Spaghetti with prawns
Big fat bowl of pasta!

So there we were – perfectly full and happy little campers and in no need whatsoever of dessert (we may have also had one eye on the clock). So out came our petit four (no picture, sorry) – a fried ricotta doughnut, saffron poached pear and … a truffled honey cream. So the tiny plate smelt of truffle. I love truffles. But guess what? It turns out I totally do not love truffles when they’re in my dessert. The smell was, frankly, awful. And while the little doughnut was lovely, the truffled cream was one of the most really quite unpleasant things I’ve eaten (the worst still remains the ‘seven textures of milk’ dessert I ate as part of a degustation once …).

When our waiter picked up our plates she asked us how we’d enjoyed it. As my face is an open book, there is no point in me sugar-coating these kinds of opinions. So I said I didn’t like it and asked what the general feedback was on it. Our waiter did say that it does rather tend to divide people’s opinion.

And I think in many ways that’s what good, interesting cooking should do. No one is going to like everything, all the time and as a cook or chef you might as well see if you can push some buttons. You can stick a chocolate cake with chocolate sauce and vanilla icecream on a menu and as long as it’s good, no one is ever going to complain. But what are you proving? People like chocolate … well, we kind of knew that! So absolutely hats off to the kitchen team at Alere for taking a risk. I didn’t like it – but so what? I tried it in a massively low-risk environment and now know that perhaps desserts with truffles are not for me. Others may love it and I appreciate trying something new.

So Alere gets a massive thumbs up from me (both for food, service, and the chic styling that includes mustard!). Finding it is a bit of an adventure, and there are a few service niggles but it is also fantastic to have somewhere so good in the southern suburbs and I’m very jealous of the university students and staff.

I’m looking forward to my next visit.

Alere Restaurant
Flinders University
Registry Road
The Hub, Level 2
Bedford Park 5042
phone: 08 8277 7186

Alere Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato