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Royal Family pub, Port Elliot

The year’s first Tuesday. Alex, Max and I are in one of my favourite beer gardens.

In each of the last two Septembers I’ve come down here to a townhouse overlooking Knight’s Beach for a writing retreat. After each big day of introspection and prose, I enjoy a late afternoon ale in this glorious pub.

The beer garden’s coastal and festive in that loosely shared sense, with ten or a dozen big wooden tables scattered on the lawns. Today, as a mark of familial solidarity we’ve all decided upon a chicken schnitzel but with varied toppings (parmigiana and Kilpatrick minus the sea boogas).

My ridiculous generosity continues as I treat myself to a Pirate Life South Coast Pale Ale which seems geographically appropriate down here on the south coast, masquerading as the Fleurieu Peninsula. Increasingly, it’s my occasion beer. Fruity and summery, these are fine qualities in a refreshment.

The boys are hugely grateful for their tumblers of room temperature tap water.

Strolling into the airy and light and old front bar we’d noticed opposite how the queue to the (doubtless award-winning) Port Elliot bakery stretches a decent drop punt along the footpath. Hopefully, the bakers have prepared well for the masses so that most accusatory of rhetorical questions need not be asked, ‘Who ate all the pies?’

Between claiming our booked furniture and ordering, some folks have mistakenly pinched our chairs so upon our return I merrily shoo them away. I’m sure they welcome my inserting them into their correct place in our messy universe. At least that’s how I interpret the audible absence of their cussin’ at me.

The boys and I plan our week.

Jetty-jumping. Ascending The Bluff. Exploring Goolwa and Hindmarsh Island. There’s also the Murray mouth, which I can reveal, for the hydrologically unexcitable like me, lacks a little star power. I had hoped for towering waves and deafening crashing and Niagara-like power. I wouldn’t invest any coin in a Murray Mouth theme park just yet. But it was important to view it during these times of biblical flooding.  

While waiting monk-like for our poultry Alex and Max pop next door to the surf shop while I peer at the racing form with Stony Creek and Maree gallops on the menu. Nothing takes my fancy, so I wander back outside.

As the late Victor Lewis-Smith often asked in his restaurant reviews, what made me pleased to be here?

The food was honest and tasty. My beer was great as is always the case with early-January-on-holidays-beers. The boys’ excitement at the beginning of our languid week with busy days and cricket nights ahead of us. Our tremendous fortune and the soft charms of this inviting pub.

Schnitzels inhaled; we drive back to Victor Harbor for our Granite Island pilgrimage. We’ll follow the horse-drawn tram out along the new causeway.

Our week is underway.

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Sausage Roll Review: The Port Elliot Bakery

It’s a curious and startling world that offers up the first Abba songs in four decades.

And, of course, both tunes feature immaculate vocal melodies, a pretty piano line, and lyrics that are at once sad and grimly triumphant.

But are they really any good? Or do we cut them extra slack just ‘cause they’re Abba?

What if they were a fresh Scandinavian pop outfit, trying to break into the moo-sic business? Would they make it?

Imagine driving to work with the radio tuned to your local Wacky Crew on 99.9 FM. You know the recipe- two guys and a girl all laughing way too heartily at their own jokes and endless torrent of stories about their goofy spouse and madcap kids. Alongside the city’s widest mix of old and new musical slop. Our Wacky Host announces-

“And that was our sixth song this hour by Pink. Up next is a new track by a group from Sweden called Abba.”

I wondered about all of this as I drove to the Port Elliot Bakery and speculated on the connection between Abba and sausage rolls, as I often do.

In the world of South Australian regional bakeries its reputation is colossal, and I imagine, unrivalled. But is it justified? I’d never been in there but just like the Famous Five on Kirrin Island, I was about to find out.

Departing the Southern Expressway, I was suddenly stricken with that ancient fear. What if I arrived and the warmer was devoid of sausage rolls? In forsaken earthly bakeries, no-one can hear you scream. A phone order and all was sorted.

I put on my favourite sausage rolls are a-comin’ playlist (actually a CD of Tame Impala’s Inner Speaker) and stepped on the gas, as they say down south. Doubtless, there’d be gas a-plenty by mid-afternoon if my baked goods form held up.

My Korean kar pulled in across the road from the Port Elliot bakery. Actually, it was outside the Royal Family Hotel. I peered in the window and couldn’t see Charles or Liz or Phil (in an urn above the fireplace). However, I bet Harry was out in the beer garden in a boisterous shout of Sparkling Ale with some old rugger types and soon to request, “Eagle Rock” to his grandmother’s limitless horror.

My sausage roll was huge and if frozen solid, could be used to rob a servo. The pastry was suitably flaky (like Port Power in a home preliminary final as folks other than me might suggest) but not sweaty. Sweaty Sausage Roll Syndrome (SSRS) remains one of this province’s biggest killers of the over 30’s.

I glanced up and saw their sandwich board on the footpath. It self-confidently declared, “Freshly Baked Daily on the premises.” This seemed a minimal achievement to me and should probably be a given in the bakery caper. But how would you react to a sign saying, “All Goods Baked last July in a Distant Anonymous Country”? I thought so.

And while we’re applying some critical thinking to country bakeries, can anyone tell me if there’s a one that’s not award-winning for pies or lamingtons or vegetarian pasties? Yes, they all are because each has signage festooned on the window telling you. It’s like the egg-and-spoon race at a church picnic. Everyone wins a prize even if it’s Best Mushroom and Goat Meat Pie- Barossa District, C Grade, 1994.

The sausage roll innards were peppery and delicious while hinting at delicate spice. It was a most excellent late lunch for a Wednesday. I actually bought two so Claire could sample one later, and that my research could be peer-reviewed. But she’s only coming down on Friday and It’s unlikely to survive until then.

So, you’ll just have to take my word for it. I’m off to listen to “Chiquitita” and the rest of Abba Gold.