Adelaide pubs are starting to get it right.
West Oak Hotel does food now and it’s v. good
We’re just going to come out and say it. Melbourne does pubs way better than Adelaide.
Whether it’s Andrew McConnell’s beautiful Builders Arms, the idiosyncratic Marquis of Lorne, or the sideways-step-from-a-pub Le Bon Ton has made at the old Glasshouse Hotel in Collingwood – Melbourne’s pub game is in a whole different universe of experimentation, evolution and excitement.
West Oak Hotel
208 Hindley Stret
Adelaide SA 5000
Mon-Fri: 11am ‘til late
Sat: 4pm ‘til late
Mon-Fri: 11:30am ‘til 2:30pm
Mon-Sat: 5pm ‘til 9pm
When we first reported on The Worldsend Hotel’s transformation into the West Oak Hotel, it was in the context of the Port Admiral Hotel’s resuscitation that we perceived a glimmer of hope for that great Australian institution: the pub.
“It’s been a long two years,” says publican Hugo Pedler. “We’ve learnt a lot.”
The pub opened with a fresh lick of paint, updated fixtures and fittings, a café with takeaway window and no kitchen. Not serving schnitzels was, then, a strategic move by the new ownership group, who were looking to disrupt people’s expectations of a pub and bring their own culture to an established hotel.
“I think we were always going to do food and a proper kitchen, but we didn’t want that pressure from the get go,” says Hugo. “I’m really proud of this new menu we’ve put out. Our head chef, Adam Robinson, has done an excellent job on nailing the pub classics while updating their formulas and introducing new flavours and textures to the menu.”
At the heart of kitchen is the wood grill, a commercial cooking method pushed into popularity here in Adelaide by Press* and Bread & Bone. Cleverly, the chefs aren’t always cooking from scratch with wood but instead, using the fire to flavour key ingredients.
Broccolini over fire is one of our favourite BBQ items and – more out of personal curiosity than anything – we enquire about whether they’re par-cooking the vegetable before hitting it with fire.
“Yeah, on the more delicate ingredients – the greens and the salmon – we are par-cooking those before getting them over the flame for flavour,” says Adam.
There’s nothing worse than a pub menu that’s eight pages long and has “quirky” subtitles for food categories. We joked recently at one such pub that the menu should be written thus: “Things you think you’re going to order” and “what you’re actually going to order”. The schnitzel (egglplant or chicken) is going to be the thing you order FYI.
And the West Oak nail that. Their one-page menu is pretty close to perfect. A tonne of plant-based items reflect the shifting tastes of diners in Adelaide, while the meat they do offer is of a quality and provenance worth listing.
We sample the salmon. Delicate flesh, perfectly cooked with the waft of smoke on the burn marks across the flesh – yet not overpowering the beautiful ocean catch. The main ingredient is supported by a simple but robust gang of vegetables both charred and not: a crispy potato salad (ie: fish ‘n chips), lemon relish, asparagus and crispy capers.
The pea and pecorino arancini are gigantic and good – three balls could feed six people if you’re sharing and planning on a main. Crunch mode on the outside gives way to that pleasant and gooey inside texture, which really is the only thing that matters about arancini.
However, the one dish that caught us off guard was probably the most classic pub dish of all. Deep fried onion rings with smoky BBQ aioli. This is a dish that comes out and you reach for absentmindedly – probably while debating whether people’s adoration of Keanu Reeves’ is ironic or earnest – and then stop instantly when you bite down.
The onion rings are good. It’s beer-battered onion – what can you really do with that? BUT, the smoky BBQ aioli. It is all about that sauce. The rather benign and pleasant flavour of the onion ring as a vessel for this master condiment is the perfect combination – like Tom Sawyer to Huckleberry Finn, Bert to Ernie, Laverne to Shirley.
The only tip we can give to embracing the West End, the new-look Hindley Street west of Morphett, is to take a bunch of people and engage in some sort of Pub Yum Cha. We couldn’t eat everything that we ordered and we didn’t feel like we ordered that much.
The West Oak Hotel’s new menu may fit on one page, but you’ll need to loosen your belt to fit it all in.