In the late 1990s, an all-male group of my workmates from a Canberra ad agency ventured to the Central Café in Queanbeyan for lunch. The pièce de resistance at the Central Café was the mixed grill. It featured eight styles of meat – pork chops, lamb chops, sausage, ham, bacon, chicken, steak and lamb’s fry. The menu boasted “Famous around Australia for its size, weight & quality, our Mixed Grill is NOT FOR THE FEINT [sic] HEARTED! Have you got what it takes?”
It was a challenge few red-blooded Aussie boys could resist. They proposed a competition – the first one to finish the Mixed Grill was to be declared the winner. In deference to effete Canberra food preferences, however, they decided that it wasn’t compulsory to eat the lamb’s fry. Of these five strapping lads, only one actually managed to polish off the entire dish (minus the liver, of course). Yes, the Central Café was a place where no one ever asked for seconds.
The mixed grill, still traditional fare in many a country café, has a history that dates back to the very early days of the 20th century or, possibly, the end of the 19th century. It had its origins in Britain, where “grill rooms” had flourished since the 1860s. Chances are mixed grills, in all but name, were being served in many of these establishments from their earliest days. However, the first references to the term I can find are in 1902. In that year the Washington Post described the mixed grill at London’s posh Carlton Hotel as “a marvellous concoction of lamb cutlet, kidney, bacon, sausage, mushroom, and grilled tomato, served with a potato in its jacket”.
Three years later, the London Daily Telegraph gave instructions for preparing the dish at home.
This dish has of late become very popular, especially so as a luncheon or supper dish. It also makes a capital, though a somewhat solid, breakfast dish. For a correct mixed grill, mutton cutlets or lamb chops, sausages, and tomatoes or mushrooms, and rashers of bacon are needed. It is not, however, essential that all of these should be got to make a mixed grill. The cutlets or chops should be pared, flattened, and then trimmed and grilled. The sausages require to be scalded, cut in halves lengthwise, and then grilled. The mushrooms or tomatoes can, if liked, be cooked in a frying or sauté pan with a little butter over a quick fire, but are nicest if cooked on the grill. The former should be peeled, stalked, well washed and drained before being cooked, whilst the tomatoes require to be cut in half crosswise, the pips removed and then cooked. The rashers of bacon must be cut thinly, and can either be fried or grilled. The daintiness with which the things which constitute a mixed grill are dished up adds greatly to the success of the dish, which must be served hot.
Even in those pre-television, pre-international air travel days, trends in eating soon migrated to other countries. The mixed grill was on the menu of the Café de Paris in Monte Carlo by 1905. The earliest mention of the dish in Australia was in 1909 when it was a major attraction at the Cafe Nationale in Hobart. In America, a mixed grill was being served at New York’s Waldorf Hotel by 1911.
The mixed grill was a standard dish at the Greek cafés that proliferated across Australia from the early 1900s through to the 1960s (the Central Café being a late starter, founded by John Danassis in 1979). These establishments never served Greek food but catered to Australian tastes with pies, grills and sandwiches.
You’d think that, as our tastes moved on, the gargantuan spread of steak, chops and bacon would become a thing of the past. Not so. Now it seems to be a specialty of country pubs and highway roadhouses. There’s even a Facebook page devoted to it, to which I am indebted for the photograph above. This depicts a mixed grill from the Hi Way Inn, Daly Waters, Northern Territory and the author has this to say about it:
Double snag and eggs, massive rump cooked perfect, crumbed lamb cutlet, rissoles. What more could a man want? Bonus points for distinct lack of vegetable matter.
It may have been invented in the old country, but the mixed grill clearly still has a strong following here in Oz.