Current Issue #488

Howard’s End

Howard’s End

So, as Mr Morrison once observed, this is The End.

So, as Mr Morrison once observed, this is The End.

The first hostelry out of town to the West, the Mile End Hotel used to be loved (by a few at least) for its sticky carpet (spilt portergaff?), a signature fug and the percussive sound of the front bar regulars toppling off their stools.

Now that the double-headed Saturnos (senior) have wrought their familiar miracles, the End is a very different and shiny fish-kettle. Eclectic hardly begins to cover it – the wall panels are studded with bric-a-brac that spans the last century, from a blinged-up stag’s head to pop-art panels of soup tins and Vegemite jars to a sepia portrait of a West Adelaide champion, the magnificently monikered Richard Head.

The front bar, fully restored to a massive palisade of brooding timber with overhead baggage compartments, is my favourite bit. Parked there, you can see through glass to the ballistics in the stainless-steel kitchen; it’s like looking from Gormenghast into Fiat’s assembly line.

Entering the dining room, disconcerting flights of bare-breasted nymphs drift up the walls and onto the ceiling without apparent benefit of air traffic control, but once the food hits the laminex, all distraction fades.

The waitress, who was inked, sassy and about to start work on a movie – my favourite kind – made some useful suggestions.

I have been known (not infrequently) to mutter darkly on the topic of pubs adopting restaurant prices just because they can, but there are no quibbles when the quality is so evident. It starts with the small things. There is evidence of a light hand in the deep-fried arancini while the smallgoods in the antipasto are impeccable, and the citrus on the slivered raw octopus is inspired. All smartly turned out on wooden boards.

For mains, we had the blue swimmer crab linguini at $26.90, which was savoury, subtly fishy and would have got the nod in Positano. The Kangaroo Island lamb ($27.50) cut in pink, smoky chunks and lined up on a long strip of superior, crisp tabouli and warm, cheerful, cherry tomatoes is, I’m told, a treat too.

Being lunchtime, we devote our attention to the lighter, Mediterranean end of a worthy and well-priced wine list, and both the Italian-style white (Pizzini Arneis $42) and Spanish red (Valdemoreda Tempranillo $34) fronted up with crisp elan.

No time for dessert? The End demands you leave room for something at the, er, end. The deconstructed cheesecake, which comes with wings like The Flying Nun’s Sister Bertrille, took off in the mouth and really is a steal at $10. The special cheese board ($24) presented like a pop-up book in espaliered 2-D, and with acid backing from sliced pear and a string of muscatels, the trio of Tasmanian Heidi Gruyere, a Piccante Gorgonzola and a pearly Brique D’Affinois managed to taste even better than it looked. It seemed churlish to resist seduction by Longview’s excellent Epitome sticky, and at $30, we surrendered.

This is very good and very handsome food by anybody’s standards, and all credit to David White, who comes to run the kitchen from The Colonist. The quality spills over into an all-day menu and a range of tapas, so you can take the trip without even having to pick up the cutlery or brave the bare-breasted nymphs.

With a changing class mix in Mile End and Torrensville that began 20 years ago, a gastro-pub (I still think that’s an unfortunate term) on the western edge of the city is overdue. I’d hazard that this is more beginning than End.

I just hope someone remembers to turn the antlers off.

Howard Twelftree (known in these pages by his nom de bouche, John McGrath), died before he could write this review. With some appropriate nods (we hope) to his inimitable style, this review was cobbled together by some of his friends, including long-time dinner companions Duck Woman and Lambchop. A tribute to Howard is here.




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