Don’t be fooled by the Cheezels boxes or footy-tipping scoreboard at The Golden Wattle, there’s very good pub grub here – with a side of nostalgia.
Late last year, what was once The Office on Pirie was reborn as The Golden Wattle – a new old-school pub serving food all day. Behind it is a group of Adelaide hospo heavyweights from The Metropolitan Hotel, The Exeter, Magill Estate Kitchen, The Port Admiral Hotel and Midnight Spaghetti.
When we visit on a wintry Wednesday night, in the throes of a torrential downpour, Pirie Street is a ghost town. The Golden Wattle, however, is not. Inside it’s a real mixed bag: of 30-or-so people there are some families, some suits and some older couples. An elderly man and a beanie-clad skater-looking teenager lean against the bar, chatting.
A passer-by paying little attention to anything but the crowd could mistake it for an average longstanding city pub. The fit-out is kitsch, sure. That’s the point. There’s green carpet, timber panelling with all sorts of memorabilia and Coopers coasters everywhere. But it seems people – from all walks of life – are into it.
After ordering at the bar we settle into a canary-yellow-leather booth – table number in tow. We kick things off with a spaghetti bolognese hot pocket, mainly due to curiosity. The expectation: a tuck shop-y McCain Pizza Pocket – but make it pasta. Wrong. What arrives at the table is, surprisingly, more like a jaffle. And I’m not disappointed. It’s fun food, not fancy, and any excuse to eat carbs-on-carbs will do. Inside, there’s a whole lot of spaghetti tossed through a bolognese sauce that could be meatier. The surrounding white bread is super-thin, fairly light and with the crisp undulating texture any well-pressed jaffle must have. It’s not quite a pizza pocket in the traditional sense but I’m yanked straight back to primary school. And just like those days, I inevitably burn the roof of my mouth on the piping-hot filling after digging in a bit too keenly.
Now, if that doesn’t blow your nostalgia quota, an on-trend crustless-white-bread sanga awaits. But unlike Africola’s famed chicken-skin or Bistro Blackwood’s tricked-up mortadella, this one’s stuffed with a quintessentially SA combo: fritz and sauce. Though I’ll admit I didn’t actually order it (my pre-teen self consumed his fair share), the very adult man devouring it a few tables over suggests it’s as sure-fire a combo now as ever. Heaps Good.
Next up are the tamarind-slathered chicken wings with pickled mango (interesting) and chilli. At a glance these already look nothing like the dirt-cheap, heavily sauced, American-style wings I often ignore on pub menus. But for $14 this stacked-up plate still screams value-for-money. And it’s worth rolling up your sleeves for. Gnawing through the saucy, sweet-but-tart coating there’s not a whole lot of crunch (which I think is intentional), but that’s well and truly made up for in the flavour department. The real magic happens when you get an all-encompassing mouthful: zingy pickled mango, fiery chilli, sesame seeds, coriander and spring onion are a killer combo of garnishes. Good wings aren’t hard to find, but these are definitely up there. I completely neglect my beer (an easy-drinking pale ale from Royal Park brewer Big Shed Brewing Concern) until the plate is nothing but bones.
It’s at this point something remarkably un-pub-like (but, at this time, necessary) happens: there’s a napkin and cutlery change. Never did I think I’d get service – or wings – this good somewhere with Cheezels boxes behind the bar and a giant footy-tipping scoreboard on the wall. Go figure.
Then we move to a pub classic. I, like many Aussies, hold the belief a pub is only as good as its chicken schnitzel. It’s as good a litmus test as any. And I’m pretty impressed with this one: it almost fills the plate (but isn’t too thick), the crumb is golden-brown and visibly crispy, and the encased chicken breast is succulent enough to contrast it. Oh, and it’s love-heart-shaped (though I’m not sure that’s always the case).
To be perfectly honest, as far as potato accompaniments go, I’ve never ordered a schnitty with anything other than chips. But after the disappointment of a recent soggy-chip experience, the not-so-common option to sub in mash intrigues me. So I do. And I’m happy with the change-up. Beneath the schnitzel, in soft peaks, is a very liberal application of mash that’s fluffy, buttery and winter-appropriate. Though it could be warmer, we all but lick the plate clean. The coleslaw-y side salad is, perhaps most notably, not one of those fridge-tasting ones jammed into a tiny ramekin days in advance. This is exactly the reprieve you need when ploughing through a schnitty-topped mountain of mash: fresh, generous and well-dressed (and seasoned). I’m vocal about how much I enjoy the addition of pickled red onion. This dish comes in at $19; as with the wings, you’re getting (slightly) souped-up pub grub, without having to pay a premium.
“Meat” is its own menu section, and a lot of it is cooked on a Gumtree-sourced, Yatala Prison-made wood grill – one of the pub’s most-reported selling points when it opened. We opt for the lamb chops (it’s the only item specifically labelled as “wood grilled”) with harissa, chickpeas and winter greens. There’s no shortage of lamb, and while some of it is the blushing-pink kind, the rest is a tad too cooked-through and tough for my liking. And the tomatoey sauce it’s doused in is slightly bitter and acidic, and very heavy on the harrisa.
But cast aside that one underwhelming dish, and in a city saturated with refurbed, rebranded and reopened pubs, this is definitely one worth checking out.
The Golden Wattle
110 Pirie Street, Adelaide