“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)





26 May 2013


Neddy's, Hutt Street, Adelaide, late 'eighties.  White and McGrath hunt tucker at the expense of the Champenoise, who'd never seen anything like it ... photo Milton Wordley

Hot Goat At The Royal Oak
from Adelaide Preview, September 1979

This is the first published work of the revered Adelaide food critic, John McGrath. McGrath was the nom de plume of my lifelong friend, Howard Twelftree, who was found sitting dead at his keyboard yesterday evening. We bashed this out on my old Underwood typewriter on my dining table in Carrington Street. That table bore much greater crimes, but these words, and the works they led to, will remain the longest standing. Howard needed no further urging.  His profound influence on Adelaide and Australian cuisine can only become more apparent the longer we live without him.  

We two broad innocents had heard of a place where the mining industry had somehow linked arms with the gay pinkos to purge the Flinders and Middleback Ranges of those whalers of native flora, the goats.  Those goats go in the curry every Friday lunchtime at the Royal Oak Hotel on O’Connell Street in North Adelaide, and the clientele was rumoured to regularly incorporate both miners and artistic directors.  Little tongues lapping, off we did trot.
But no.  No marriage of obviously separate schools here in this Royal Oak.  Instead, we were instantly consumed by the riptide of a Green Frog Enterprises board meeting.  These infidel truckers were taking a little business goat with a criminal lawyer, a captive nations sort of blonde woman called Chook who bore absolutely no resemblance to any variety of feathered creature, and a South Yarra Screamer sporting some wonderfully assymetric eyebrows and attendant earwear which matched. The eyebrows.

Now there’s no room for shirkers at these meetings of the Green Frog, so keen to look like a part of the bunch, your two food reporters opened fire on the carafes of red and white that deck the tables as you enter.  Each pair of diners gets a carafe of their choosing as part of the $6 per head meal cost, and though there are many who’d rather a lager with their goat, the vino vapourised fairly quickly.  By Jove, there’s always beer to be had, but grape?  Gratis? 

When one first enters the Royal Oak, the immediate realisation is that this is one of those labyrinthic jobs that are the result of a century of relatively haphazard remodeling and sub-dividing, all piled there, two stories high, on top of the mulled colonial publican’s dream.  She’s a graceful chap on the outside, but once in, there are little rooms leading into darker, more comfortable little rooms, with little rooms to left and right, with diners a-wander in each, all bearing that strange smugness peculiar to doyens of the curried goat.  

One of these rooms boasted a particularly smug lot, and there, tucked against a wall like a little brass Buddha: a table, bearing four electric crockpots, one marked “beef vindaloo”, one “chicken”, and “mild goat” and yes, a-bubbling there amidst them, their chief: “HOT GOAT”.  Scattered around the feet of this remarkable evidence that east sometimes does meet west, the appropriate accompaniments: tomato in mint, banana and lemon yoghurt, cucumber yoghurt, two lots of white rice, pappadams and cheppattis, and, lingering in their bowls like limpet mines at low tide, three sauces, anonymous in the dark.  Severe helpings of the lot were collected, we assure you.

Back at our table, the lawyer had begun to mumble about his lack of faith in his current client, and the Frog truckers, sure that they’d secured a large contract distributing some rising newspaper, were locked in a study of how to cover their fleet in case of rain.

The curries are the best in town.  We struggled out a list of four other eating houses that specialise in this brand of tucker, and this outshines ’em all.  Each of these curries is cooked in its own sauce – a rare pleasure in these days of the one or two sauce restaurant – and the side dishes are just as good.  One of the Frog men, although sufficiently toughened by years in the bush to happily manage footy shorts and thongs in the cold heart of winter, is all tender inside, and he praised god for mild goat.

Chook liked the chicken.  And we food reporters loved ’em all until our colourblind member, possessed of a great momentum and pleased with the heat and beer, moved mistakenly in the yellow light from his pungent pile of HOT GOAT through the delightful lemon pickle and straight into a significant stack of the Royal Oak’s chilli sauce.  That momentum ensured that he’d downed a good rapidfire seven spoonsful before his stomach lining, or lack thereof, gave him notice that his eyes had failed him again: “Driver this is no goat curry you’re pumping down on us, this is your pure bushfire blend chilli sauce!”

Too late!  The room was obviously a swirling mess to our chap – the Rules Of The Bar mirror had merged into the gingham tablecloths and tapestry wallpaper, the sweat poured down, the magnificent Victorian Olympian print on the dining wall developed a nasty Cecil B. de Mille animation, and our poor boy grabbed his notebook and twisted it into a gross mistake of pain and intense heat as our company broadcast silent shock and this chap prepared to die in Chilli Hell.

We have found it impossible to accurately gauge the importance of that notebook, but we are certain that it was the trigger that flung words to the lips of our asymmetrical South Yarra Sister.  “Are you Sol Simeon?” she asked.  The dyee had barely gasped an astonished but final “No!” when she followed up with a good old 1,2,3 “I can write!” and sure, she could write anything.  That seemed to please the Frog director in footy shorts who rattled back: “Aaah, good! I gotta friend in Sydney who hasn’t heard from me in six years!” 

Unperturbed, our writing lass offered us scandal, upper crust gossip, and the true story of the horse breeders who burned down the Morphetville grandstand before somebody notified her that the “funny meat” she was gobbling actually came off a goat.  At that, she foundered in a thick bank of silence.  

By that stage the chilli demons had slowed to a simmer in old colourblind’s blood, and the two of us fled to the social security of the front bar.  It was still daytime.  A sturdy barmaid pulled the taps there, the horizontal barroom lightbeams catching the beer and her topaz rings in one cool sweep.  She blushed excellently, and managed perfectly the soft barrages of conversation that drifted over her bar.  “Looks like the winter’s blown in ... ” “... Yeah ... ” “... Cold ...  ” “... Cold ... ” “... Yeah ... ”  “... Very cold ... ” “... Got a coat on ... ” “... Yeah ... ” “... Rolled me sleeves down ... ”
This hotel was on the verge of demolition until a bunch of bothered locals raised hell several years ago.  We know little of its history prior to that, but it’s been a steady supplier of astoundingly inexpensive bottleshop bargains since then, and now, these curries ... look, this wonderfully strange old pubful of these people is enough.  But add, just one lunchtime per week, this HOT GOAT and you’ve got one of the town’s warmest corners, with excellent folk, food and value.  Just be very careful if you’re colourblind, and remember to book a table before you arrive. 

David Wynn, Howard Twelftree, and the author at Mountadam, early nineties


Steve said...

Vale Howard. I'll always remember his enthusiasm, knowledge and sharp wit. One of the great gustatorialists (sorry, my word!)

awe said...

Everything was progressing well until I read that horrible news.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Whitey but I remember you playing this at Wayside Cottage and it's in your eyes in that photo with him you can't hide it http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5OkYRjQusHg go Howie go!

@JP_SACH 51m said...

@whiteswine very sad to hear about dear Howard. What a legend he was. We had some wonderful times with him at Charlick's Feed Store.

@TonyLoveTaste said...

cheers to one of the good ones-always loved...

@Mitchellwinery said...

I still have the native dried flowers in my kitchen fire place Howard gave me at the 1988 Gourmet weekend.have to love him.

@DavidReview said...

A perfect Howard post/tribute

Anonymous said...

There was a man who understood his comestibles

rix said...

Kind and mischievous was Howard. He led food investigations and was a canny fad caller. Long ago he identified for me the 'ten best books in modern civilisation' and Lolita was near the top. I will have another read to remember his many identities.

Timothy John said...

God you both look about 12 in that photo!!!
great memories, thanks Whitey

Chris Crago said...

So young...so young

Great tribute to Howard, such a great foodie!

@ChaffeyBrosWine said...

@whiteswine I'm so sorry to hear this news Philip. You paint a picture of an amazing person and clearly a great friend.

Jane Lomax-Smith said...

So sorry to hear of Howard's passing. My condolences to his many friends, colleagues and co-conspirators for world improvement.

Anonymous said...

A wonderful teacher of all things one should experience in life to live well! I learnt so much from you Howard from our first meeting in 1983 and beyond. Sleep well, the world will not feel as wonderful without you in it to paint the way.
Di Hetzel