There was a time when the crinkle cuts on your chip were the fanciest embellishment at your local club. Meat raffles and $10 chicken schnitzels ruled, and there were no conversations about which gin you’d like with your tonic.
Now, thanks to a steady stream of Sydney RSLs and diggers’ clubs offering sophisticated restaurants, that’s beginning to change.
Suburban clubs are recruiting chefs with experience in some of the city’s most high-end restaurants, or undergoing a complete makeover.
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Here are five Sydney clubs changing the rules.
How many clubs have a spritz bar? After an extensive renovation, the former Lane Cove RSL does, and it’s almost unrecognisable from its former days.
Now called The Alcott, the once-humble club has a sleek, plant-filled fit-out courtesy of Pony Design Co., and a Mediterranean-inspired menu by head chef Richard Slarp (formerly of Aria and Est). It’s big on chargrilled flavours; there’s a smoky eggplant with a tahini yoghurt dressing, and a show-stopping calamari that’s marinated, cooked whole, sliced and served with pickled fennel. The spritz cocktails are best consumed on the sunny outdoor terrace.
Modern-Asian eatery Nu Bambu is inside the Canterbury-Hurlstone Park RSL, a building that shares a busy stretch of Canterbury Road with a McDonald’s and a Domino’s. Inside chef Freddie Salim delivers a sophisticated menu that criss-crosses Asia, and the dining room is very un-club-like. A large window means there’s plenty of natural light, and there’s a vast sculpture made from hand-dyed, pleated crimson silk on the ceiling.
Salim’s time in the Longrain kitchen is evident from the Thai-influenced dishes served here. There are two curries and a som tum salad; and a salmon ceviche with nahm jim hits the right balance of Thai sour, sweet and spicy flavours. There are also touches of Chinese, Vietnamese and Japanese cooking (he worked at Sokyo, and a yellow spiced chicken dish from Indonesia, a nod to Salim’s heritage.
With 600 seats and seven food stations spread over 2000 square metres, District 8 is big. The hawker-style dining precinct in the Cabra-Vale Diggers Club took almost a year to complete, and additional consideration was given to elements that would bring good luck: feng shui, the name of the precinct (eight is a good-luck number in Chinese culture) and an auspicious opening date.
The food follows the flow of the Mekong River; there’s hand-pleated har gau prawn dumplings, noodle soups and congee. Or choose your own seafood from the live tanks and have it cooked on the charcoal grill.
If you splash $200 million on a renovation, you want to make sure your food game doesn’t let you down. Freshwater’s Harbord Diggers club has outlaid that cash and recruited fine-dining chef Giovanni Pilu of nearby Pilu to lead its offering.
AcquaFresca by Pilu is a casual Italian trattoria serving puffy-edged, thin-centred Neapolitan-style pizzas made with semolina flour imported from Sardinia. There are handmade pastas, too, and a mix of Italian and local wines.
Elsewhere there is a Chinese restaurant, WaterDragon, a steakhouse, a casual cafe and, on the outdoor terrace – which offers clifftop views of the Northern Beaches coastline – you can try the sample menu which covers the club’s four new dining venues.
Chef Oliver Heath is passionate about provenance. The Garden, a paddock-to-plate restaurant, relies on Heath’s close relationships with a network of farmers to secure meat, vegetables and fruit.
You’ll find this light-filled, 300-seat eatery up the escalators at the Wests Ashfield Leagues Club – with hanging pot plants, a fireplace and a very fine looking curved bar. It’s a little oasis from the sports club vibes downstairs.
Want more to eat? Here are 10 recently opened Asian restaurants to try.