The Adelaide Hills are undergoing somewhat of a food resurgence with new eateries and transformations of old favourites. Our food reviewer ventures up the hills to check out the recently renovated Uraidla Hotel.
For those of us who pre-date the Heysen Tunnels, the peaceful town of Uraidla was never more than ‘the other way’ to the greater Adelaide Hills. It was a choice between the hairy ride through the winding eastern foothills, or the dreaded Devil’s Elbow. But now, while the Eagle on the Hill is neglected for freeway convenience, Uraidla and its surrounding towns are undergoing quite the resurgence.
It seems that with an overcrowded small bar landscape, our city’s progressive food and wine scene has resonated up the hill, with the opening of wine bars Lost in a Forest and the Summertown Aristologist, both a little left of centre from your typical regional culinary terminus, but both serving some fantastic food and drink. The Uraidla Hotel is another of the district’s recent transformations, rebuilt from Art Deco bones and restored to its former glory. On the inside at least.
Outside, this is still your unassuming country pub. Herein lies the attraction tempting hoards for a change of scenery, with old school charm and a new kind of country style. That style is still Art Deco with a rustic edge. It’s a very different combination of interiors that has been delivered with restraint, so that even the uprooted Windmill fixed to the ceiling and now serving as an oversized rusted light fitting doesn’t seem out of place. This sits above a big open stone fireplace framed with chesterfield lounges. Comfort is still key at this country abode, at least in the bar side of the venue.
The dining area is a little snug and we are the ones perched at a tall table on stools, having underestimated the power of booking ahead. A line-up is already out the door and it’s only 6pm. Ah, good old country dinner times. Good old country hospitality too, a little slow to start but relaxed and cheerful as dinner is served.
The food goes back to simpler times with less fuss than we are becoming used to. The kitchen relies on local gardeners and artisans to supply fodder to feed a menu that can only be described as wholesome. Selections from ‘The Tilling’ include sourdough and spicy sweet potato wedges and seasoned nuts: all good. Charred confit squid with pickled fennel herb salad and citrus dressing from the Early Crop menu is delicious and tart, with a nice smoky flavour.
Fish of the day is fresh from the ocean, lightly herbed and slightly grilled, tenderly sitting aside an updated salad of radish, cucumber and greens and a house made tartare sauce. A smaller version of the same is lightly battered and served with a kid-friendly salad and chips from the ‘Mini-Farmer’s Fare’.
It is astounding the number of venues with kids’ menus that lack any imagination or flavour, let alone nutrition – but the Uraidla have options to satisfy the fussy, the famished or the little foodie. Aside from the perfect little fish and chips, options include a soup cup with toasted cheese soldiers, freerange schnitzel with salad or veg, and a cheesy vegie slice.
Regional and seasonal features heavily on the menu but sadly, an over-done sirloin steak with an underwhelming vegetable medley – that seems more autumn than spring – suffers further from being slightly burnt rather than charcoaled. A few baby greens on top struggle to save the dish that also seems to be missing the promised Shiraz butter.
More of a shame is that the other two mains ‘From the Pasture’ are out of stock. Moroccan spiced Suffolk lamb shoulder with baby carrots, currants, pepitas and couscous and a roasted lemon and yogurt dressing, or Berkshire roasted pork belly with orchard stuffing, steamed buttered cabbage and crackle might have saved the steak from its wretched fate.
But back to the ‘Main Crop’, where the top and tail of a roasted butternut pumpkin is again overcharred, but recovers with a spectacular stuffing of grains and feta and walnuts, all resting on a bed of baby chard. To call this meal hearty would be underselling its bulk. A healthy appetite is all well and good, but this squash could sate three. A smaller serve would do this dish better justice, and save some apparent judgement from our waiter as he collects what still looks like an untouched main.
Fortunately the hits greatly outweigh the misses, and the Uraidla Hotel offers a lovely escape right there on the beaten track. A little less time on the coals and things will be looking up on top of the hill, winding roads and all.
1198 Greenhill Road, Uraidla
Photos: Jonthan van der Knaap