The Stag. It’s one of those pubs that most of us have been to in its prominent East End corner of the city.
Trading since 1849, The Stag has had many faces. It started life as an inn that serviced the nearby East Terrace stockyards and East End produce markets for more than a century, morphing in its heyday in the early 2010s into a no-frills pub and steakhouse – giving itself the mantle of Adelaide’s worst vegetarian restaurant.
At one point, they almost renamed the building Fat Stag, while later renovations saw it promoted as a much more vego-friendly establishment with a dining area called Vardon and its very own Champagne bar.
Talk about an identity crisis.
Today, it is simply The Stag. It’s not fussy and you can rely on respectable pub food, good beer and service from one of the best in the business – The Big Easy Group – which took over the venue mid-2018 and now also operates a group of reputable and entertaining venues around town including Anchovy Bandit and Bottega Bandito in Prospect, Nola in the city and Bowden Brewing at Plant 4.
While not officially the same business, the adjacent dining space has always been a part of The Stag and has also had many faces, but some of them don’t stick around for long. In its last iteration, the cleverly chic Charlick’s positioned itself to becoming one of Adelaide’s trendy dining destinations around the same time that Africola and Bistro Blackwood were at their culinary peak. Six months later, Charlick’s was out and there was a new face in town.
So, let’s talk about Yiasou George: it’s clearly Greek, with strong Mediterranean roots, but there’s something widely continental about this style. A well thought through cosmetic upgrade has the interior feeling as fresh as a seaside taverna. Whitewashed walls and various shades of aqua brighten a large split-level dining area, with a good use of timber and marble that keeps things upscale.
George’s shelves are stocked with a European pantry of jars and tins and bits and pieces, and there’s a decent amount of greenery hanging from the vaulted ceiling. Hand-painted murals add a huge amount of character: some are emblematic, featuring architecture, landscapes or deities, and others are simple sketches representing food in its various formats, but some seem to be there just for fun. George is clearly into that.
In the corner sits a blazing wood oven surrounded by a small open kitchen zone; fire plays a part in the creation of many of George’s dishes, with a dedicated chef working the flames during service.
Seated in the buzzing centre of the restaurant and already served our first cocktail, aptly named “Legend of Hercules” (nut washed Bourbon, honey and cinnamon bitters) and “Yia Yia’s Garden” (gin, rosewater, dry vermouth, vanilla, whites and lemon), we decide to put George through his paces, ignoring some delicious-sounding dishes from European neighbours, such as crab remoulade or beef tartare with bush tomato and macadamia. Tonight we’re ordering a menu of classic Greek.
Pita with tzatziki checks the expected boxes, the bread so freshly made that it’s only just losing air from its billowing centre as it lands on the table blanketed in a serviette to keep it toasty. Even without dip this has a delicious flavour and better texture. Typically a humble (and often watery) dip, this thick, silky and tangy tzatziki hits all the right notes, elevated by a fragrant basil oil and chopped mint. It’s already clear that George doesn’t need to be fussy to be good.
From the seafood section, Goolwa pipis highlight the flavours of the ocean, with roughly chopped tomato combined loosely with chunks of spicy nduja – an ingredient borrowed from Italian cuisine, but that certainly has its place here. This is a very simple preparation, with these two ingredients tossed between the still-steaming cockle shells. More pita is supplied for scooping – this time the bread has been quickly flashed over a grill after baking to add a little smoky flavour to each mouthful.
Next is saganaki. I’ve tried this in countless different ways between here and Santorini – from dry to greasy, cold and rubbery, to burnt and over-salted. But not at George’s. It’s here I learn that George is not only a great cook, but also a teacher, tonight discovering that saganaki isn’t a cheese at all, rather the name of the pan used to cook the cheese. The cheese is called kefalograviera, and is made using goat’s and sheep’s milk.
However you say it, this version is wonderful. The cheese is a delicious balance of sweet and salty with a piquant and nutty interior; it arrives in its saganaki pan straight from the oven, surrounded by a pool of sizzling, aromatic honey. The ripest of this season’s figs are lightly roasted and piled on top with a light-handed sprinkle of dried oregano that imparts its typical bold and earthy scent and flavour, grounding and balancing this sensational little dish. It’s gone in 60 seconds, but thankfully mains are about to arrive.
A decent slab of lamb shoulder is served sans bone, laid over a bed of barely cooked Ngeringa greens and florets of cauliflower. Grown organically, the vegetables are flavoursome in their own right, but it’s the hero of the dish that has us thanking the Greek gods for their offering. The lamb has been slow-roasted in the wood fire to the point of barely holding its form, breaking into delicious meaty chunks with minimal encouragement from cutlery. It sits in a jus of its own making, the only other additions a natural yoghurt to add a creamy layer to the mix and a wedge of lemon for those who like a little zing.
But the Yiasou experience is more than just the food. It’s a fun atmosphere, clever design and the brilliant, entertaining characters who work the kitchen and the floor that makes this dining experience feel more like you’re at a party (ouzo shots and all).
It’s clear from tonight’s meal that while The Stag and its dining concepts may have changed over the years, George knows exactly who he is.
26 East Terrace Adelaide SA 5000
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.