Warm sun on your back, a gentle breeze, great company and a cold beer in your hand. The stuff the great Aussie weekend is made of. Myth or reality? The statisticians reckon we work longer hours than any other nation in the developed world. Perhaps a permanent Great Aussie Weekend is what we’re all working for?
South Bank Surf Club is built on this Aussie weekend myth – and allows you to experience that feeling in bite sized chunks, manageable by even the most solid workaholic.
Like South Bank itself, South Bank Surf Club is a fairly inorganic venture – TV Chef meets Night Club Operator on the site of a former vendor of cheap hotdogs and cinnamon donuts overlooking a public swimming pool. There’s no surf, except for when a fat kid jumps into the deep end. For the record, the consulting chef is Ben O’Donoghue (Surfing the Menu, etc – at least he’s not pimping a supermarket) and the backers are Karatzyna Group (Family, Cloudland, The Press Club etc) and South Bank was once the business centre of Brisbane before being left to rot as cheap industrial space, a fish market and a place to acquire an STD.
Despite this unholy marriage, South Bank Surf Club has claimed one of the best locations at South Bank and elevated the standard of dining available in this tourism precinct. I’ve often been mortified to think that visitors to the city might leave thinking that the ‘cuisine’ offered at South Bank was indicative of what Brisbane offers. The prices here are just high enough to keep the rabble out without being unfair. They also allow the kitchen to source quality ingredients with a focus on freshness and simplicity.
I’ve now visited South Bank Surf Club at least ten times, mostly because its is at the mid point of the six kilometre walking circuit I try to complete daily. This is both a blessing and a curse. But still, I choose to stop at this venue over the many other eateries for good reason. The venue offers a great mix – fresh, vibrant food that suits local produce, well sourced local seafood, beachside basics like oysters, fish and chips and steak sandwiches, cold beer on tap and a short but well compiled wine list. Coffee is by Campos and staff are friendly and welcoming if perhaps lacking a good floor manager to get things humming along.
Today I sampled vanilla and vodka cured ocean trout which glistened with tiny bursts of lemon, capers, fennel and dill and some delicate olive oil. A winner at $12.50 with a glass of 2009 Mitchell Watervale Riesling at $9.50. Fish and chips featured a couple of beer battered fresh Mulloway fillets with chips and tartare sauce. This dish is better than pub fare and good value at $21.50, but let down slightly by food factory chips. Big Helga beer is available on tap at the moment for $5 – certainly better than a XXXX at the pub. A Caprese salad of heirloom tomatoes, buffalo curd and herbs rounded out our meal. The steak sandwich with bearnaise sauce, Hervey Bay scallops, salt and pepper calamari with crisp curry leaves and lime mayo and chicken ‘snizzer’ have all been great of previous visits. Some of the portion sizes are a little mean, I’d personally prefer to pay a couple of bucks more and leave truly satisfied.
This is also a great place to have a leisurely breakfast on the weekend. Again, freshness is at the fore and there are a few unconventional but winning combinations like the Surf Club Classic featuring grilled Gold Coast tiger prawns, quality bacon, a corn and herb hotcake, a deep fried free range egg, oyster sauce and some fresh red chilli for $18.50. It would be great to also see a more conventional ‘man meal’ breakfast option on the menu. The small selection of desserts are also good and indulgent and the cheese platter I sampled on a visit for dinner was one of the best I’ve had anywhere. Queensland wines from the Granite Belt and South Burnett also make an appearance along with a good list of cocktails.
Given the fitout of this venue took many months, it’s clear a lot of money has been sunk into the venture. The downstairs bar is well kitted out and my guess would be that there are 150 seats in the venue between the piazza area at bar level, a wrap-around verandah cum private room at the rear and the upstairs terrace. From what I’ve observed, it’s not quite getting the rousing reception you hope for as a restaurant owner. Possible reasons are that it’s a little out of sync with the average South Bank visitor in terms of menu and price point and its up about a dozen stairs. The multi-level dining and bar areas mean there’s no ‘threshold’ to cross into the venue and often no-one immediately greeting and seating patrons. I think South Bank Surf Club misses a trick here as I’ve observed a high bounce rate of patrons having a look, starting up the stairs and then leaving. I do hope some of the creases at this venue are ironed out so that it can find the loyal audience it needs to be a permanent fixture at South Bank.