The allure of the new in Adelaide's constantly evolving food and booze scene is strong, but Africola manager Nikki Friedli argues there’s just as much value in becoming a regular punter at an old favourite.
You can sum up civilisation as one person asking another: “What do you feel like eating?” on loop, until we inevitably nuke ourselves out of existence.
Not having to debate this question a thousand times every week has fostered the notion of being a regular. There’s a comfort in planning what you’ll have for dinner over breakfast that drives all of us to find a favourite place that can feed us and our friends.
As the insane season of Fringe hits Adelaide, our drinking and dining scene hits fever pitch. There are myriad pop-up bars, pop-up eateries, activations, and new restaurants that come out of the woodwork to capitalise on the CBD’s swollen populace.
Finding a new venue is kind of like going on a first date. You’re a little nervous, definitely excited, and hoping that whatever you’re walking into isn’t going to be an utter train wreck or a den for serial killers. Supporting new things in Adelaide is necessary; it’s a city notoriously shy of first dates and infamous for clinging to worn relationships it should have binned long ago.
Nikki Friedli is the manager of Africola – one of Adelaide’s newest true institutions – and was recently announced as the winner of the national Good Food Guide’s Service Excellence Award.
CityMag could easily be accused of confining our regular patronage to Adelaide venues within easy reach of our West End office. But, even though it’s an eastward walk away, we still consider The Exeter to be one of Adelaide’s real institutions and creating rapport with a bartender there to be a lofty achievement.
We need new venues and concepts to keep the talent pool of Adelaide’s younger crowd in Adelaide so it can be built into a landmark city. We need Fringe’s ephemeral summer venues for their fast charm and quirk; it’s an exciting shift in landscape for a few months of manic escapism.
That said, the old institutions of Adelaide where you can sink your feet into the slippers of becoming a regular have their own charm. Actually, the only way summer fling venues will survive is with continued patronage.
As a regular in a restaurant, or a bar, you have a surprising amount of leverage. Believe it or not, we actually like seeing you come back. We like getting to know you; we like the feeling of having your favourite dish or wine on the table before you even have to ask. When we ask you how your week has been, it isn’t a throw-away question. The best dining experiences you’ll have will be with a crew who know your quirks and pet peeves. It is the fluffy hotel robe of eating and drinking. Becoming a regular is where you hit luxury mode – especially for service.
There is something un-Instagramable about the maitre d’ knowing your name, or the bar tender knowing your whiskey preference without having to ask.
Why is it that one venue can last 30 years and another just three months? Interestingly enough, it’s all of the minute details that you can’t cram onto a screen that will be the make or break. It’s the way someone pushed your chair in, then smiled at you like you’re a real person and not a wallet with a mouth attached. It’s your waiter cracking an in-joke with you, or maybe just everyone allowing you to have your peace in a life that demands you be connected to everything all the time.
In a world where restaurants are stepping on each other to be relevant, the only thing that truly endures is that intangible sensation of homeliness – the motherly embrace of a place where, just for a few hours, you can know everything is going to be just as it should be. It is that soothing consistency and charm that breaks a venue from ‘place-to-be’ to true institution.