The Flinders Ranges attract many visitors to South Australia, all set to walk, climb and drive through these world-renowned ancient lands. Since this sort of behaviour can lead to a pretty healthy appetite, it’s fortunate the food folk of this region are up to the challenge.
It’s not all dramatic and dry in the outback, though that saltbush country produces some of our very best lamb, so we are rather proud of it. But there are also fertile pockets of high rainfall and frost-free land out here, producing some of the state’s best stone fruit, avocado, citrus and vegetables. And edging that landscape are the clear waters of Spencer Gulf, harbouring the freshest of fresh seafood, from succulent prawns to delicate garfish.
Did you think the outback of South Australia is all about rugged rocks and critters long fossilized? Then it’s time to think again. Come and explore South Australia’s hidden foodscapes, and don’t forget there are plenty more great places to eat, stay and talk to the locals in the outback and around the Flinders Ranges and Outback through Eat Local SA.
Flinders Rest Hotel
Who knew? Well, it’s no secret to the region’s pub keepers, for a start. Halfway between Crystal Brook and Port Pirie lies the tiny township of Warnertown, home to the Flinders Rest Hotel. You can see the southern Flinders Ranges from here, a most appropriate backdrop to a tasting of the region’s wines and a sampling of the local grain-fed HB Rural Lamb produced by a neighbouring farmer. Lamb loin chops served with bush spices and caramelised onion is one of the hotels’ signature dishes.
Local Spencer Gulf seafood is all over this menu too, from King George whiting, garfish and prawns. King George whiting is a deservedly revered fish, but South Aussies in the know frequently opt for garfish, so it’s no surprise that another top seller at Flinders Rest Hotel is Spencer Gulf garfish crumbed with Southern Flinders dukkah and served with potato chips and garlic aioli. The kids will probably want a Bratburger, and why not? These house made mini lamb burgers with cheese and good old tomato sauce will be just the thing to fill those hollow legs.
Let’s be honest – many of us fear we will never find a real coffee once we leave the CBD. But times, they are a’changin’ – in Port Pirie, at least. In the majestic century-old stone building that once housed a congregation, Safavi is home to a multi-award winning barista champion, so we’ll be in safe hands.
As well as that all-important shot of caffeine, they turn out a fine chai latte, along with a menu with a whiff of the exotic. The pizza here has turned its back on Italy and is riffing with a traditional Afghan bread base, and the chicken kebabs are Persian-inspired.
There are no tired old sandwiches on this menu, instead it’s all about which of the clever local market gardeners have been by with their pick of the day. If it’s John from up Nelshaby way, it could be eggplant or zucchini, featuring in a vegetarian stack served on potato rösti with spiced yoghurt or tomato pesto made with Jimmy’s tomatoes. The folks at Baroota Creek provide organic pumpkin for the subtly spiced pizza with roasted pumpkin, baby spinach, feta, capsicum and caramelised onion, and the café’s own herb garden produces masses of herbs for the Kuku Sabsi (herb omelette), made with fresh eggs and served with more of Jimmy’s sweet tomatoes.
Heading north, there should always be time to break the journey at the Wirrabara Hotel. This is farming and forestry country, and this hotel’s menu is all about a good feed, outback style, so park your car/motorbike/horse (yes, this is definitely a country pub) and say hello. Take a peaceful seat on the verandah or step up to the bar. Who knows, you might end up sharing in a sporting victory celebration or a boot scootin’ lesson after dinner.
The steak is Rocky River Rump, and you can top it with creamy seafood for a special Flinders version of surf and turf. The kangaroo on the menu is from nearby Orroroo Kangaroo who, by the way, have won a swag of awards for their premium kangaroo small goods over the years. Try yours with the chilli plum sauce. Naturally there are pub classics on the menu too, including every possible kind of schnitzel. Squid schnitty, anyone? Those in the know like theirs topped with more local seafood or maybe some asparagus and a lick of hollandaise.
Nearby is an outback food experience of a completely different kind. Mosey on over to O’Reilly’s Orchard for a taste of that northern fruit bowl I was talking about earlier. This certified organic mixed fruit and vegetable garden in Watts Gully has 1200 fruit trees and produces summer fruits and vegetables, sold locally and at the farm gate in season from November to May.
But wait, there’s more. The O’Reilly’s also offer their farmhouse verandah and kitchen to visitors to come on by and share whatever is perfect to pick on the day. This is a ‘garden to plate’ experience not to be missed (but obviously one to pre-book please).
A bit more meandering northwards brings us to Quorn, once the place where the great east-west and north-south travel routes crossed, with 50 trains puffing through every day. These days, the pace is a bit less frantic though it’s not impossible that you might see a film crew somewhere around these parts, filming the next box office record-busting epic.
A sight like that will give you something to talk about over a freshly baked (and gluten free) cake at the Quorn Café. Just about everything is made in-house here, and the ingredients are about as local as you can get. Farmer Tom’s chickpeas, Danny’s Olive Oil, Rodney’s eggs; everyone supplying the café with their homegrown goodies is on first name terms here.
Enjoy a chicken and smoked salmon salad with the house mayo loaded with fresh local herbs or one of their house made ice creams while you wait for a surprise visit from a lizard in the garden, and don’t forget to check out the work of local artists on show around the walls. Along with all that local loveliness, the Quorn Café also likes to toss a few of the local native ingredients in their cooking. Think wattle seed, lemon myrtle, wild lime, pepperberry and quandong. Enjoy one of their house made ice creams while you wait for a surprise visit from a lizard in the garden, or check out the work of local artists on show around the walls.