The Prairie Hotel, Parachilna, South Australia
About six clicks out of town, on a dusty road, a dusty sign announces the immanence of The Prairie Hotel. The sign depicts the silhouettes of a camel, a kangaroo, and an emu in the familiar back diamond/yellow background of Aussie road-signs.
“Eat Some Today” says the sign, invitingly.
The Prairie Hotel has made quite the name for itself. Its “feral platter” is an award-winner, famous the world over, and has made the Prairie a hot destination for any serious foodie-traveller happening to be in these parts. And a very welcome stop on the drive north it is, too.
But please: put any thoughts of road-kill away. And don’t even think of the ho-ho wriggling bush-tucker that features in a certain Australian-set reality show…
Feral, it may be. But this is feral gone gourmet.
To the eye. The Prairie Hotel is a classic Aussie stop-over. It should be a film-set: it sits on the skyline as you approach like an oasis in a desert (which it is, I guess); the red and white candy-stripe awning offers some meagre shade for outside dining; lines of 4x4s, the ubiquitous ‘utes’, and motor-homes mingle with lorries and trucks; men in cowboy hats sit drinking beer … Squint and you can just see Nicole Kidman playing the frustrated wife of Hugh Jackman, with, maybe, Guy Pearce playing his heart out for an Oscar as the good-turned-bad-turns-good-in-the-end lonesome hobo. With a soundtrack by Nick Cave.
In reality, the hotel is the brainwave and passion of the Farghers, who have lovingly created an old-meets-new paradise, where relaxed outback style meets modern tastes. They even brew their own beer: the brilliantly named Fargher Lager.
It may be outback, but there’s nothing backwards about The Prairie.
The feral platter is the must-eat signature dish — listed among the top 100 gourmet experiences in Australia. The FMG (Feral Mixed Grill) is presented neatly, with identifying flags. The camel sausage is yummy. The emu fillet mignon is delightful. But, if we can get a little Masterchef here, the kangaroo fillet steak is A Triumph. To paraphrase Greg Wallace: Cooking Doesn’t Get Tenderer Than This.
Lean, low in cholesterol, fresh… cooked to perfection, and darn tasty too. What’s not love?
We were just finishing our meal with a creamy espresso when we heard the sound of a distant locomotive horn. Two plaintive honks from the south. We’d been following the railway for what felt like forever. A single, lonely track, which never failed from being a straight line. Not a sign of a train. Until now.
Suddenly we’re running like giddy children towards the track to see. Kent has told us about the coal train. Once a day, it goes up empty from the power station to the coal mine, and returns full. “They can be three kilometers long, these guys,” he said. I thought he was having us on. He really wasn’t.
Sure enough the locomotive blasts past us followed by a seemingly never-ending tail of coal wagons. All I remember is the sun shining silver from the steel and the rhythm of the wheels on the track; and the air, filling with dust and the smell of hot rails. And the noise.
It takes a good five minutes for the entire train to pass. When it does finally end, the train disappears as fast as it arrived … fleeting, already distant.