Curious Squire – New Menu Launch

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disclaimer: I was a guest at the dinner.

I feel like I start an awful lot of blog posts off with “XYZ has been on my to-do list for ages”. It makes me sound like I never get out and that I’m always a mile behind all the latest places to go.

The fact is that I should be confessing that I am pretty lazy and inclined to put off visiting places that require a bit of logistical forethought. And anywhere in North Adelaide almost always falls into this category because the parking can be horrendous. I do have a couple of secret squirrel parking spots, but I’m not divulging them here.

So while it’s true that the Curious Squire has been outstanding on ‘the list’ for quite a while I don’t have a good reason for not having been there. And when I was invited along to the new menu launch I was very keen to go.

The Curious Squire sits on the corner of O’Connell Street and Brougham Place, in the large space that was once occupied by the original Cibo (and then Sparrow). It’s a generous space, with an outdoor area and, in its current format, is unrecognisable from the Cibo days (the last time I was there!).

While the Curious Squire opened in late 2012 and has always had an American themed menu, it was only a few months ago that it welcomed a new head chef, bona fide American Drew Akin. Drew comes from Birmingham, Alabama and has overhauled the menu into an intensely personal and faithful representation of the food of the deep south. So faithful that the Curious Squire’s courtyard is now home to Gertrude, a one tonne Yoder smoker that was specially imported.

Our meal started off with chit chat and beers, iced tea or lemonade (nothing fizzy – house Omade from lemon juice and a simple syrup). The lemonade was amazing and while I’m not sure if it’s a regular on the menu, I recommend trying it if you spot it. For the record, the beer focus is James Squire (surely the clue there is in the name) and the wine list is short but solid, with all wines available by the glass.

Then the food started coming out. We knew the kitchen was showcasing its wares but my, we had no idea exactly how much food would be coming out.

The trio of dips, served with corn chips, was first cab off the rank. Of the three (spinach and artichoke, queso and tomato salsa) the queso was, for me, the definite winner. Topped with some candied chilli, it was a soft, warm oozy cheese, sitting somewhere between fondue and cheese toastie.

My focus on the dips was very quickly stolen by the chicken ‘buffalo’ wings, doused in a hot sauce and served with ranch dressing on the side. Oh my goodness – these were delicious. I ate a truckload of them, completely unmindful of the fact that even more food was yet to come. I love spicy food and while I have no doubt that some people may find these too hot or too messy, they were the perfect thing to eat on a cold night.

While I was packing away chicken wings, the cheesy chips were brought to the table. I wasn’t really that bothered by these (there were still chicken wings to eat, ok?!) but around me it seemed that most people had just discovered the best thing since sliced bread.

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After this we moved on to a succession of sliders – pulled pork, smoked chicken and Texas style brisket. These were all distinctly different and are available as individual meats, burgers/sandwiches or as a trio of sliders.

By this point, the staff could see that the pace of eating was slowing considerably and so gave us the option of trying some of all of the meats or just the pork ribs. Thankfully, sanity prevailed and just the pork ribs came out with a platter of all the sides that the Curious Squire offers, as well as some still warm cheddar and garlic biscuits (that’s scones). The sides seemed to really split the people around me. My favourite was easily the collard greens while the baked beans I found too sweet. Yet opposite me, the feeling was that the baked beans were the best thing on the plate with the candied sweet potato a very strong contender.

Drew explained to us that the ideal rib in the American south is NOT a soft, fall off the bone event (you’d be disqualified if you served that up at a bbq competition) but is rather something with some texture and chew to it – think baked ham. Because the rib is more highly prized than the belly the butchery of the pig is also somewhat different and so Drew has worked with his supplier to ensure that his ribs are delivered with that bit of belly meat attached.

The meat was amazing – easy to handle and delicious. And while it was not falling off the bone, it was tender. The Curious Squire will dress you up with an enormous bib but, to be honest, I didn’t find them messy to eat at all.

The meal wrapped up with some peanut butter pie which somehow I managed to eat about half of, despite not being a fan of peanuts and being full to bursting. Even the non sweet tooths at the table were impressed by this.

We finished the evening with a quick visit to Gertrude before heading off, not really needing to eat for another week.

I left incredibly full and impressed. Drew’s enthusiasm for his food really shines through. Every dish on the menu has a a story – from the jerk chicken he learnt on a beach while on holiday through to the peanut butter pie which is his grandma’s recipe.

As far as I’m concerned, I’d head back in a heart beat and would need nothing else to eat than the wings and ribs (which, happily, are available on the menu in concert in a Yoder platter, ideal for sharing). While this might not be every day food, it is fun food well done.

If you’re looking for a casual meal I would definitely recommend The Curious Squire. While the team did a brilliant job of catering for a vegan at the dinner, the menu is very meat focussed so head along with a group of protein seeking friends who perhaps don’t mind getting a little messy.

And … try the wings. If you head in before a football game you can buy them for just 50c a pop!

The Curious Squire
10 O’Connell Street
North Adelaide SA 5006
phone: 08 8267 6835

The Curious Squire on Urbanspoon

Gin Long Canteen

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amazing sambal noodles

date of visit: Wednesday 12 February 2014

Last week, Tara, of Sydney-based food blog VegeTARAian, was in Adelaide so a few blogging types headed out to Gin Long Canteen in North Adelaide for dinner and a catch up (and, in my case, to actually meet Tara for the first time).

Wednesday was a stupidly hot 40-something degree day and by the time I arrived at Gin Long all I was really interested in was a cold beer (or two). Hot weather tends of destroy my appetite, so food-wise I wasn’t feeling picky (not that I ever am). There were six of us at dinner (the minimum number Gin Long will allow you to book for) and our table was reserved for 6pm (again, Gin Long will only allow you to book for either 6 or 8pm). Even at that early time, Gin Long was busy although not at capacity – by the time we left at 8pm the restaurant was well and truly packed. And on a Wednesday night – not a bad effort at all. I would say – don’t go without booking, but …

Gin Long has been a hot venue since opening and, in recent weeks, with the arrival of Nu Suandokmai, straight from the CBD’s Golden Boy, it has become even hotter. The fact that Suandokmai isn’t planning on being in the kitchen long term (the media is suggesting he’ll be opening his own venue at some point) I think adds to the general excitement.

Seated at our table (having been informed we’d be leaving by 8!) and beers in hand, we turned our attention to the menu. With one vegetarian and one vegan at the table we ordered the banquet ($39 per head, minimum of four people) but also ensured that they would be well catered for.

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‘very exciting’: beautiful flavours

Food started arriving quickly. First up the “very exciting” beef salad. This was a light, Thai style beef salad laced with fresh mint. Flavour wise it was excellent but I managed to get a piece of beef that was laden with gristle (and which I had to extract from my mouth most inelegantly!) so that suggests that there’s some room for improvement in the attention to detail department. We also had sugar cane prawns, netted spring rolls (which I didn’t try) and the Malay curry puffs. These curry puffs easily, at this point, the best thing on the table. Crisp pastry, not greasy, a light filling which packed in plenty of curry leaf flavour – I would have been happy to sit down with a huge plate of just these.

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Malay curry puffs: amazing!

Entrées over, our main courses started coming out. I didn’t try some of the vegetarian dishes, such as the chargrilled tofu or the Vietnamese coleslaw, but I did put in a solid effort sampling the rest of the spread. The tamarind prawns didn’t really work for me (and be warned, as they are served with their shells on): there just wasn’t enough complexity of flavour. The braised pork belly was delicious but the star dish was the sambal thin egg noodle. This was a hearty dish with a good whack of chilli spice and topped with an egg. Noodles are one those dishes which can be so one dimensional and almost bland (yes, throwing chilli at something doesn’t necessarily give it flavour) but not these noodles. Plenty of flavour, plenty of heat and plenty of moreishness.

I suspect that some of the dishes may have been a little on the salty side – it wasn’t something I noticed at the time but later on I did have the tell tale slightly dry mouth, slightly thirsty sensation I always experience after eating salty food. But maybe I also just ate too many noodles …

By this time, it was almost 8pm and we were getting a bit nervous about what would happen with dessert. So we asked. “Oh”, said our waitress, “I always feel really bad about this, because people always ask and there is no dessert included”. You would imagine that at this point, we might have been offered the dessert menu … but no. Perhaps it was just too close to 8pm.

I enjoyed the food and thought that it was reasonable value for money. However, I really dislike restaurants with overly complicated booking policies. Part of me understands why restaurateurs make these decisions but, for the punter, they are really too often an inconvenience. The service at Gin Long was erratic: while our orders were taken quickly and food was served quickly, neglecting to tell us the banquet didn’t include dessert (especially when it seems to be a very common query) was an unfortunate oversight. After our food was all served, we were then forgotten about so getting the bill proved to be a lengthy exercise (one of our party has been a few times and says this has happened every single time).

Although Gin Long Canteen has a very funky interior, it suffers from an excess of hard surfaces and, at times during our meal, the music seemed particularly intrusive. And while I’m prepared to concede that I am particularly old-fogey-ish in this respect other people also felt the same way.

My final gripe? The staff need to be identifiable as staff. There was a real mish-mash of attire: Converse trainers mixed with VERY LOUD wedges, outfits dominanted by fluorescent colours, and rather too many hot-pants edged with lace (I realise that for some people this may be a plus …).

If you can’t tell, I left Gin Long with very mixed feelings. I’m not sure I’ll be back in a hurry. The food makes it definitely worth a visit, but unless you’re a bona fide hipster you might leave feeling a little less than cool …

Gin Long Canteen
42 O’Connell Street
North Adelaide SA 5006
phone: 08 7120 2897

Gin Long Canteen on Urbanspoon

Chocolate Taperia

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date of visit:  Saturday 20 July 2013

So, going out for dessert is now a ‘thing’. There are dessert bars all over Adelaide, or so it seems and while I have one friend who is a devotee of one of them, so far I’ve not yet done the dessert thing.

Generally, I am lazy. Once I am sitting comfortably, with a glass of wine in hand, I see no reason to traipse around and (perish the thought!) queue to eat dessert.

However, one friend was unable to make dinner at The Himalayan Kitchen due to his hockey match, but he would be able to make it out to North Adelaide for dessert. I vaguely remembered there being a churros place on Melbourne Street, and the internet obliged with the details. And twitter supplied me with the recommendation that I book (thanks D!).

Thank goodness I did book because Chocolate Taperia was packed: I guess there’s something about a freezing cold night that makes everyone think that stuffing themselves with fried pastry dipped in chocolate is a good idea. Due to a last minute addition we squeezed around our table even though the staff looked a little muddled.

Chocolate Taperia suffers from its apparent popularity. Far too many tables and chairs have been packed into a small venue. This means that not only are you squeezing past people to get to your seat, it also means that the ambience is best described as ‘deafeningly noisy’. God help you if you are on a romantic night out because by the time you’ve bellowed at the waiter who can’t hear you, you’ll be so hoarse you won’t even be capable of whispering sweet nothings.

It took a while for our order to be taken (the menu is very short – even our table of 9 took but minutes to decide) and we really couldn’t shake the nervous feeling that really, things were pretty chaotic.

Those nerves were unfounded – our orders came out swiftly and accurately. And while I’m really not sure about having so little space that waiters are forced to pass food across the heads of diners, my churros hit the nail on the head.

They were light, they were crisp, they weren’t oily, they were dredged in sugar (seriously, they ARE doughnuts – one of my mates complained about the amount of sugar!), and the dark chocolate sauce which I ordered was not too sweet at all.

A serve of churros is $9, with sauce an additional $2.50. And a serve is large (5 or 6 churros). There was no way I needed to eat that much and I was lucky that I could palm off the odd half here and there to various people around the table (all of whom, apparently, didn’t need to eat any more but didn’t need too much egging on either).

But is a tasty dessert enough to salvage that frenetic ambiance? For me? No. I don’t want to feel stressed about my table or my order, I don’t want food waving over my head. And just because a venue is dimly lit, it doesn’t make it romantic.

I know that plenty of people will love what Chocolate Taperia provides – but for us, it just missed the mark.

Chocolate Taperia on Urbanspoon