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Prairie Hotel, Pub Grub, South Australia

Flavours of the outback

By Mark Eggleton

We had just scarpered down a truly tasty meal of kangaroo and saltbush lamb followed by a lemon-meringue pie and housemade ice-cream smothered with lashings of cream. Sure we had consumed a Clare Valley shiraz as the wine but most of the night’s headliners were basically born and raised in the Flinders Ranges. It was a meal of real incongruity because while we dined in the cool, relaxed atmosphere of the Woolshed Restaurant at Rawnsley Park Station, outside we were watching the sun set on some of the harshest wilderness in the nation.

Drive for around 450-kilometres north of Adelaide and up into the Flinders Ranges on the southern side of Wilpena Pound and a meal in the Woolshed Restaurant is just a classic Australian icon of hard work and sweat.

Rawnsley Park owners Julie and Tony Smith have created a dining experience that reflects the ruggedness of the Flinders as well as its underlying fragility. From the rustic woolshed diners gaze across to Rawnsley Bluff. At sunset, it’s a dazzling array of oranges, pinks and green-hued browns.

Yet while the restaurant setting reflects the harsh beauty of its environs, it also reflects something else as well – and that is the region’s extraordinary fragility and its hidden secrets. It may be famous as the gateway to the outback but within these ancient outcrops lie fertile micro-climates where premium avocado, citrus, stone fruit and summer and winter vegetables grow. It’s probably the nation’s least obvious food bowl.

Least obvious in the sense that you’re on the fringe of the desert and the real Australian outback but also an area (in parts) blessed with wonderful soil. Driving from Adelaide and you pass through the southern Flinders you’ll uncover lush orchards of stone fruits in and around the Wirrabara Forest. Stay at Taralee Orchards where Paul and Denise Kretschmer have a biodynamic stone fruit orchard, free-range poultry as well as a small herd of organically-raised cattle. Drop by the farm gate to pick up produce or visit the local producers market at Wirrabara.

The Southern Flinders has a handful of wineries establishing themselves in the rich soil. Several have won medals for their reds and whites. It’s well worth slipping off the main road for a taste of something new.

While Wirrabarra and the Southern Flinders offer the fruits of more alluvial soil, keep driving north to Parachilna and you hit the spot where the outback meets the Flinders Ranges. It’s a truly brutal environment but at the Prairie Hotel owners Jane and Ross Fargher have created one of the nation’s quirkier dining experiences.

Acknowledged as one of the world’s Hip Hotels, the globally-famous 1876 heritage landmark provides visitors with an interesting take on bush tucker with the ‘Feral Antipasto’ which includes kangaroo mettwurst, emu pate, goats cheese and bush tomato chilli jam an excellent starter. Step it up further with the “FMG” or Feral Mixed Grill which combines kangaroo fillets and camel sausage and more on the one plate. Try chicken, goat or roo satays or even a roo burger. The chefs also use quandongs, native herbs, lemon myrtle and mountain pepperberries.

You can stay the night, too. There are renovated rooms in the main hotel building or nearby self-contained cottages.

For a slightly more upmarket stay and a grander meal, a night at Arkaba Station’s homestead might see you enjoying saltbush lamb loin with goat’s cheese gnocchi, sautéed chanterelles, truffles and pea purée matched with great South Australian wines.

Alternatively, after a day of touring and even a wee tour of the old Blinman copper mine, an overnight stay at the Blinman Hotel in the heart of the Flinders Ranges is a fine option and the fully licensed restaurant offers a relaxed hearty mix of hotel favourites such as burgers and pizza as well as kangaroo, saltbush mutton and more.

If you’re looking for the full outback experience, head to Coober Pedy

and at Tom and Mary’s Greek Taverna wrap your laughing gear around traditional Greek items including yeeros and Greek salads. They’ve been open for over a decade and they’re providing some of the best food in the Flinders and more pertinently, the outback.

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