Hungry Pete is pretty down on pub meals in Adelaide; too many pre-cooked schnitzels, topped with tomato paste and processed cheese, reheated in the microwave and flogged off to unsuspecting punters for around $20 a shot.
The Hotel Tivoli on the other hand is much more the gastro pub. When I first heard this I was really surprised. I remember working as a student in the car park which used to be next door, back when the most notable thing to come out of the Tivoli was a horrible stale beer smell on a hot summer's day. Well, those days are certainly in the past.
A lot of care and money has obviously been spent on the interior. We thought (but weren't 100% sure) that there might have been some sort of stage out the back which had been converted into the dining area, it had that kind of shape and feel. The other thing quite noticeable about it is the colour scheme. It felt quite retro to me, with lots of dark browns. Not quite my thing but not too bad.
Hungry Pete and I have kind of similar tastes, so I wasn't surprised when he went for the deboned lamb shanks. These came wrapped in prosciutto, and served with Thai eggplant salad, butternut pumpkin, chilli jam and tamarind dressing. Given that our tastes are so similar I was surprised at Hungry Pete's feedback: that he liked the pumpkin but found the dish as a whole a bit lacking in taste. I thought the bit of the lamb shank I tried was quite good, moist and meaty, but then I didn't have the benefit of trying the dish as a whole.
Ruby who had joined us for lunch went with the paella. This included chorizo, free range chicken, prawns, mussels, roast capsicum and saffron infused rice. It's something I really like when done properly but am always a little reluctant to order in restaurants, as it needs to be cooked (and preferably served) in a pan and cooked so that it forms a crispy shell of toasted rice on the bottom. To me the crispy rice adds both flavour and texture and is the key to the dish but you rarely seem to get it in restaurants. No crispy rice here but otherwise the flavours were fine.
My own choice was the crispy skinned pork belly, with steamed bug tails, pumpkin and coconut puree, apple and cucumber salad and tamarind dressing. While the skin could have been crisper, the pork was moist and not too fatty. The bug tails were nicely cooked and the slight tanginess of the salad offered a refreshing contrast to the pork. I thought this was clearly the best of the three dishes.
Hungry Pete and myself are normally pretty close in how we feel about a place but not here. I liked it: I thought the food was good and a big step up from how Pete had described most Adelaide pubs, the set up ok and I could even tolerate the background muzak which was playing. Hungry Pete, on the other hand, was a bit disappointed. However, two things I would change. It took us a couple of minutes including a detour through the front bar to find the restaurant, so better signage would have been appreciated. And ordering our lunch at the bar was a little weird given it's aiming well above general pub grub.
Food - 7.5
Service - 6.5
Ambience - 7
Price - 7
265 Pirie Street
Tel: (08) 8223 4790