Fresh seafood. On a boat. On the Brisbane River. A stone’s throw away from the CBD. Why hasn’t someone done this before?
“Good question,” Martin Brennan says. “I’m still scratching my head.”
Brennan and his wife Donna Brennan own The Prawnster, a new fresh-seafood joint housed on a refurbed trawler moored at Dockside Marina, opposite the New Farm Riverwalk. Brisbane boasts plenty of restaurants overlooking the water (and there are party boats and barges that meander their way through the CBD while offering food). But restaurants that float on the river have been few and far between, especially since the 2011 floods when Drift broke from its Milton moorings and went crashing through the city.
“I’d seen what they do with oysters on the water at Constitution Dock in Hobart,” Martin says. “I saw what Danny [Moore] was doing up in Cairns with [trawler eatery] Prawn Star. I saw what was happening down on the Spit at the Gold Coast [with the Fisherman’s Co-Op].
“I’ve stood in a big line of people down on the Spit, in the sun. And you get to the boat and you’re half-baked, and sometimes they’re sold out. I thought, ‘There’s a niche here. Brisbane really needs trawler-direct seafood.’”
The Brennans didn’t want to just sell fresh seafood to customers, though. They also wanted to invite them onboard to sit down and go large on platters of prawns, oysters, Moreton Bay bugs and Tasmanian salmon.
These kinds of ideas come with a lot of red tape, and you begin to suspect that’s why no one has tried something like The Prawnster in recent times. Martin says that over the three years since he first envisioned The Prawnster, he’s dealt with at least two different departments at each of the three levels of government. The Brennans are still waiting on their liquor licence.
“There’s a lot of complexity involved,” he says. “I’m a patient man. Those people have to do what they do and they’re just trying to help.”
That patience has paid off. The Prawnster opened in mid-August and has been buzzing ever since. The digs are a 1971-built trawler, the Del Fuego, which the Brennans have stripped of fishing gear and transformed into a floating eatery. The back of the boat is now a set of communal dining tables, the old wheelhouse a kitchen and prep area. The entire 50-foot vessel can seat 35 people (although it’s currently limited to 14 because of covid restrictions).
The Prawnster is benefitting from the Brisbane dining scene’s greater recent access to fresh Queensland seafood, much of which used to bypass the city for the bigger southern markets. The Brennans are for the most part sourcing their seafood direct from trawlers working up and down the Queensland coast. It means that what’s available will change almost daily but might include Balmain bugs, Moreton Bay bugs, endeavour prawns or red spot king prawns. The food is served in a variety of platter sizes ranging from an 800-gram medium-sized prawn platter, through to a large platter that includes six natural oysters, two bugs, Tasmanian salmon sashimi, a serve of large king prawns and a serve of medium-sized prawns.
The only deviations The Prawnster makes from its local focus is the Tasmanian salmon and its oysters, which are sourced from Coffin Bay in South Australia. “In time, I’d like to do local oysters. But at the moment, the market is demanding Coffin Bay,” Martin says.
Otherwise, he reckons things will really kick into gear when the South-East Queensland prawn season restarts in October (and when The Prawnster finally secures its liquor licence – it’s currently BYO only).
“The local trawlers will work the other side of [Stradbroke and Moreton Islands],” he says. “The boats will go out at night [and] fish by the moon. They’re catching it and cooking it on the boat for us. And within hours we’ll be serving it to people.”
Then there’s that beguiling location on the river, opposite New Farm, under golden-hour skies, which will only become more appealing as the weather warms up and the days get longer.
“Everything is served head-on, tail-on and you peel them yourself,” Martin says. “It’s just a great way of eating and sharing a meal.
“You’re on the water, there’s a bit of a breeze, the boat’s rocking. It’s good for the soul. You’ve got great seafood, good company, a can of beer or wine, and you just take your time. It’s almost otherworldly.”
Berth 1, Dockside Marina, 44 Ferry Street, Kangaroo Point
0450 447 886
Mon to Wed 4pm–8pm
Thu to Sat 11am–8pm