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

The Stag

date of visit: Thursday 21 July 2016

disclaimer: I was a guest at the ‘eat and tweet’ to celebrate the menu launch

So – apologies to both venue and reader for just two photos from this event. I’d spent the day at a wine tasting and exhausted my phone’s battery’s capabilities snapping away at wine bottles.

You may remember that The Stag has had a time of it of late. A few years ago it touted itself as “the worst vegetarian restaurant” (yep – it was a steak house). After a bit of financial excitement, new owners came in, and operating from a clean slate rejigged its dining offering as a fine dining restaurant.

A bit of tweaking and we see that The Stag has shifted to a more moderate position when it comes to dining. Venue Manager Robby Lippett describes the new menu as ‘gastropub’.

This means that the pub classics (yes, you can still have a schnitzel, burger or S&P squid) sit alongside a ‘tapas plates’ menu and a list of ‘big dishes’. Our tasting menu took in some of both (I think they figured we’d know what a schnitzel was like!). We were served tasting portions and the full size dishes were available to photograph but sadly technology failed me – just trust me, these two images aren’t representative of portion size!

chargrilled octopus
Chargrilled Octopus

We started with the chargrilled octopus – a $15 tapas plate. It’s served with black bean, cucumber and chilli jam. As we were having five courses, you can see that this was just a taster – or just a teaser because those two mouthfuls of octopus were really good. Definitely a dish I’d order again.

soft shell crab slider
Soft shell crab slider

Next, the softshell crab slider. For $14 you get two of these and yet another dish I’d order. It was delicious – the crab was crispy and both that and the crunch of the pickled carrot worked well with the bun and mayo. It was lovely to taste a slider that was something a bit different too.

The duck pie floater ($26) was a dish that sounded really interesting but I’m not sure how well it worked in its scaled down form. I think it’s really hard to miniaturise anything involving pastry – quite often, as here, you just can’t scale down the pastry enough and our tasting portion was dominated by it. I’m sure this isn’t a problem in a normal portion but unfortunately I’m not a big enough fan of pea and ham soup to ever revisit it!

The vegetarian option at this course sounded great – handmade gnocchi with cauliflower, blue cheese, porcini, kale and a parmesan crumb. Unfortunately I wasn’t sitting near to anyone eating vegetarian so I didn’t get a taste!

Our final savoury course was the scotch fillet mac & cheese. Now Andy loathes mac and cheese (seriously – what is wrong with him?!) so it’s not something I get to eat. In fact, it’s something you rarely see on restaurant menus – but here it is, with some beef, onion rings and truffle sauce. At $34 it is almost the most expensive dish on the menu (the porterhouse surf & turf at $38 takes honours) but from the taste I had it’s worth deviating from a schnitzel with gravy …

We wrapped up with the peanut butter parfait ($12). My love of legumes sadly does not extend to peanuts but this was a nicely put together dessert, complete with peanut brittle and salted caramel.

The dining room is set apart from the pub’s front bar and is actually quite a plush, relaxing space. Even though the Stag is returning to its pub roots, you do feel like you’re in a proper restaurant dining room and there are even soft furnishings. That’s right – you can have a conversation!

For those seeking pre or post dinner drinks, the Stag’s front bar is complemented by the upstairs Champagne Lounge.

From what I saw, the new menu hits its mark. By staying true to the pub staples, while allowing the kitchen a little foray into more interesting dishes, it should mean that the Stag has broad appeal.

The Stag Hotel
299 Rundle Street
Adelaide SA 5000
phone: 8311 0392

The Stag Hotel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato