South Bank Surf Club takes me by surprise. Weeks after a visit to dine there, I am still talking about their poutine.
It is a common Canadian dish—a humble bowl of chips the chef has played Pick-up Sticks with, feet stuck in gravy and heads sodden with melted cheese. It sounds underwhelming, but the experience has sustained me longer than many fancier feasts.
South Bank Surf Club is a bit the same. The name alludes to a casual coastal setting for fish and chips, burgers, and scurries of fit folk in tight swimwear. This restaurant, however, is the city version. From a subtropical pavilion with high, open spaces and much timber it looks over South Bank, the Brisbane River, and the conspicuous CBD beyond. Arriving for an evening meal, we are seated in a row of tables on the terraced verandah, which feels like a domestic setting. A colleague sits a few tables away, treating his mother to a meal before enjoying The Lion King at nearby QPAC.
Service is attentive—my order of the Surf Club Poutine is on its way with salt and pepper calamari. From the generous menu of beers and ciders, we select something fairly local—Byron Bay Pale Lager. Usually I shy away from lager, but this example is light, fresh and pairs perfectly with our starters. The poutine takes some introduction but is indulgent, each chip containing an unpretentious variety of flavour and texture. Our calamari is served classically in rings and deep-fried. I am looking for some lemon to juice over it but a bowl of chilli mayonnaise dip is moreish.
I read past the sparkling Aussie and Kiwi wines to the still—plenty of piquant pinot gris to be seen. The single vineyard BK Wines from Adelaide Hills suits the kingfish, blackened externally by a miso marinade but still white inside. This method is delightful for both sight and taste, as is the knoll of salad around the fish. The menu calls it an Asian salad, and indeed it crunches with harder things and delights with softer things—all tremendously healthy and flavoursome.
Meanwhile my companion is flexing his mussels with a tomato and chilli broth. The mussels are small but flavoursome. There is also much pleasure to be had from dipping sourdough into the broth, soaking up the fragrant fluid. As we look over to the city, we notice many of the buildings are changing colour—part of the G20 cultural events. This ambience invites a shared dessert, and we choose the sumptuous chocolate fondant partnered with the pleasing acidity of rhubarb puree.
The South Bank Surf Club hides a tuxedo under Speedos—it has the easy atmosphere and amenity of a beachside bistro but harbours fine food and wine. After a day of fun in the pools and playgrounds of South Bank, you can get dressed and reappear at the Club for an elegant dinner—and do not forget the poutine.
Words by Chris Hassall
The West End Magazine was kindly hosted by South Bank Surf Club.