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Camp Greenhill

Perhaps it was the shrine to Princess Diana, or maybe the portraits of Queens past and present on the walls. Maybe it was the sheer amplitude of glossy antiques, bric-a-brac, gilt, crystal, coloured glass, silver, mirrors and a hundred other rococo flourishes.

This room was camp in a way that made Liberace look butch.

In fact the Greenhills Inn, somewhere in the middle of nowhere near York and Quairiding, is a delicious, amusing, jaw-dropping high camp oasis on the featureless red soil country of the wheatbelt about ninety minutes from Perth.

The question that imposes itself immediately on one’s brain is: “Why?”

The grand late Victorian verandahed hotel sits confident in the middle of nothing.

The township of Greenhills was once a bustling community servicing wheat and sheep farmers in the days when the nation was hitching a ride on the sheep’s back and the rural sector was prosperous.

According to our waiter, an economic downturn saw large holes dug at Greenhills into which homes, commercial buildings and presumably most of the residents were bulldozed and covered up as if nothing had ever happened.

It’s a story that rings true when one first sees the Greenhills pub loom out of the countryside like an antipodean Ely Cathedral.

Getting there, though, can try the most generous of relations.

The Broadfields were travelling en famille on this occasion, and, in scenes reminiscent of National Lampoon’s Summer Holiday, things started getting ugly when everyone began advising everyone else about which road we were supposed to be on.

Despite being handicapped by the navigationaly challenged, we arrived not too late and in good spirits.

Eventually, like Clark Griswald’s trans-American hadji to Wally World, our journey became a seminal bonding experience.

The greeting at Greenhills is genuine, warm and friendly, especially so when we discovered that they don’t usually open for Saturday lunch.

Our booking had been accepted because the kitchen had to open anyway for a Variety Club function, which involved strangely costumed people driving a garishly painted United States poe-leece vee-hickle with a big siren (Had we stumbled onto the set of Priscilla Queen of the Desert 2?).

Consequently the menu was restricted to just a couple of choices for each course. Owner John Perry was quick to point out that the normal menu is much more expansive.

The regular menu comprises a choice of six entrées, six mains, four desserts and coffee or tea for a set price of $38.50.

Entrées include honey scallops with Asian stir fry, hot cajun style prawns, Italian style antipasto and soup of the day.

Mains include chicken satay with jasmine rice and peanut sauce, rib-eye steak with garlic and potato mash and red wine jus, homemade ravioli, grilled fish of the day and lamb cutlets.

You get the idea. This is good uncomplicated farm food with a Margaret Fulton flourish and perfectly pitched at both locals and visitors alike.

We were charged just $32.50 per head on the day, probably because of the restricted choice.

The soup of the day, a carrot purée with ginger and coconut undertones was terrific, with just a dollop of sour cream to add piquancy. For mains, two of our party had the Nile perch in lemon butter sauce, two had the filet mignon and I had the rib-eye steak, which came with dire warnings about its size.

The fillets were ordered rare and medium rare. Both were cooked beyond well done, transforming then into grey, dry and flavourless pucks of protein.

My rib-eye, ordered rare, was delivered on the well-done side of medium. It was however, a marvellous piece of meat and yes, it was big.

In fact, the charity bush bashers at the next table gasped in awe when the waiter paraded the thing through the room on its way to our table. There were muted, respectful murmers of awe from our group too. Fred Flintstone would have baulked. It must have been close to a kilogram in weight.

As it turned out, the fillets were inedible, so the rib-eye fed the Broadfields and there was still some left over.

The fish was frozen product, simply grilled. Nothing spectacular there.

The veggies that accompanied every dish were simple, well-cooked and included lightly steamed carrot and cauliflower.

I had a tiramisu served in a coffee cup, which was quite delicious.

The others shared a cheese board: blue castello, pepper cheese (a sort of processed cheese product rolled like a log in cracked peppercorns) and a goat’s cheese. It was served with crackers and fruit.

It wasn’t a great culinary experience. But to be fair, the food is probably much better when the kitchen is geared up for the three restaurant services it provides each week: Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday lunch.

However, if a great day out in the country at a unique, quirky and delightful hotel is what you're after, you couldn’t do much better.

The haute cuisine crowd should stay at home. The parents-in-law had a great day. The European brother was gob-smacked by the seemingly impossible juxtaposition of isolation, endless Australian skies, creamy skinned gum trees and the whole Barry Manilow-esque, dried-flower-arrangement campness of the place.

“Can’t wait to tell my mates,” he enthused.

Upstairs at the Greenhills Inn there are bedrooms, many of which open out on to the wide, covered verandah through French doors. Antiques are everywhere. The bed covers are plush and colourful.

The restoration of these rooms is a credit to John Perry. They are marvellous. Importantly, the bathroom and toilet facilities are modern and clean.

It’s not uncommon for a group of Perth people to make a weekend of it – book for dinner en masse on Saturday night and have what amounts to their own house party by staying overnight in the comfortable rooms.

The Greenhills Inn is really something quite special.

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