Adelaide was always going to be an avid cricketing city, with so many of the original settlers in South Australia being of British origin. So, it was no surprise to learn that a purpose-built oval was already being constructed in 1871. As it is now, was then and – hopefully – ever will be, the Adelaide Oval sits in the park lands on the northern bank of the River Torrens, and in the shadow of St. Peter’s Cathedral. The Oval was officially opened on December 15th 1873, with a cricket match between teams representing the British-born and the colonial-born inhabitants. The first test match against England was played three months later. And lost.
In 1877, footballers were given entrée, and in the first football match at the Oval, Adelaide Football Club played against St Kilda. And lost. On September 7th, 2014 the first Australian Football League (AFL) elimination final at the ground was played between Port Adelaide and Richmond. Port Adelaide won.
The Oval was also redesigned that year. It now looks more like a spaceship and teams nicely with the festival centre across the river. Since those early years, the Oval has seen tennis and baseball, soccer and test cricket played on its hallowed turf. In 1885 an Indigenous corroboree attracted 20,000 spectators. Since the 1970s, the Oval has also hosted numerous rock concerts, including David Bowie, Midnight Oil, the Rolling Stones and Ed Sheeran.
As youngsters, my sister and I spent some sunny days at the Oval – me to socialize and sip champagne (yes, I was over 18), my younger, sports mad sister to collect autographs from the players and actually watch the cricket.
The scoreboard, an Adelaide icon, was designed and built in 1911 by my great great uncle, architect Kenneth Milne. Despite all the latest technology and upgrades, she still stands proudly on the Hill at the northern end of the stands, the Cathedral providing an elegant backdrop. With an old-fashioned style and lack of fussy detail, she is much softer on the eyes than the huge electronic screens with their flashing advertising, while still providing spectators with all the information they need to follow the game. Thankfully, the board has been heritage listed by the National Trust, so it should be there for years to come.
Facing the park lands, the new Oval Hotel can be found on the eastern side of the Oval and opened only last month. The hotel, much criticized when first mooted, is a subtle and elegant design that wraps nicely round the back of the eastern stand. The entrance is so unobtrusive, we almost missed it, tucked quietly away to the right of the Victor Richardson Gate, so that nothing about the hotel impinges on the entrance plaza, other than the sensual copper fascia.
Last week, keen to investigate, I strolled from North Adelaide and across Creswell Park with the One & Only. Gliding up to the third floor in the lift, we were welcomed in the reception lounge with a glass of bubbles, a friendly smile and some amazing light fittings. Eventually, we took ourselves off to see our room in the south wing. As we walked in, the curtains opened automatically, to present a wonderful view across the north park lands and the River Torrens, between the leafy branches of a beautiful plane tree. The hotel has 138 rooms, a reception lounge, and two restaurants that look out over the Oval itself.
Before dinner, and while the spring rain took a recess, we wandered across the elegantly curved pedestrian bridge over the Torrens. Adelaide’s skyline has grown very tall in the years we have been away. Until 1975, no building went above nineteen floors. These days, even Westpac House (once the State Bank and the tallest building in Adelaide for thirty years) with its 31-storey, 132m tower has been overshadowed by the Adelaidean on Frome Street which has risen to 138m high with 37 floors, and at least two others of similar height have been proposed, since planning reform in 2012 changed the rules. Sadly, the plan to revitalize the inner city with a greater volume of city apartments has been scuppered, at least temporarily, by Covid 19. The city centre was largely deserted and many previously thriving eateries were closed for business.
The new restaurant at the Oval was a different matter. By 7pm, the tables in the Bespoke Wine Bar and Kitchen were full. A small outdoor terrace sits at the top of the tiered seating overlooking the Oval,. If it hadn’t been so chilly, it would have been the perfect spot for a pre-dinner drink as the sun set over the stands. As we waited for a table, we had a long chat with the sommelier, who proudly showed off a wall of South Australian wines, picking out many of our old favourites and introducing a few new names. There is a seasonal degustation menu in the Fine Dining restaurant, ‘Five Regions,’ which is – no prizes for guessing – named for the five main wine regions of SA: the Barossa & Clare Valleys, McLaren Vale, the Coonawarra and the Adelaide Hills.
The meal was excellent: well-priced and beautifully presented, and wine was available by the glass, which for dinner a deux on a weeknight was a great idea. The sun set over the stands as our server arrived with some lovely soft sour dough bread, with a satisfyingly crunchy crust. The menu sounded terribly glamorous. In our ignorance, we even had to google some of the ingredients. A delicate and delicious kingfish ceviche garnished with burnt mandarin and grilled padron (those tasty Spanish peppers) although the leche de tigre (a sauce of lime juice, salt and spices) may have ‘cooked’ the fish, but had been left off the plate. But a mille feuille of potato topped with smoked scallops was divine.
Fish again for the main course: grilled mullaway served with macadamia and harissa, bush tomato yoghurt and kohlrabi for me, Port Lincoln octopus cooked to perfection on a bed of fennel puree with fermented chilli and herbs (like a pesto) and lardo for the One & Only. While I was not a fan of dripping with octopus, the rest was really tasty. There was a lot of emphasis on texture, and our white wine choices accented it all nicely. Sadly, I was too busy concentrating on flavours – and of course my gorgeous companion – to remember to take photos, but the food was both delicious and very prettily displayed.
Back in our room, the ‘intuitive technology’ switched on the light, and illuminated the bathroom with a terrific shower and plenty of elbow room. The bed was huge and wonderfully comfortable, and we could choose between a view of the vast Morton Bay figs in the parklands or an equally vast TV screen. And there were crisp towelling robes hanging in the bathroom, which was a much appreciated little luxury.
Sporting events are still largely forced to succumb to Covid regulations, so it may be a while before we visit again… although I am very tempted to try the rooftop walk one summer evening…
*With thanks to Google for the pictures. Next time I’ll remember my camera!