Monday, 26 July 2010
Many years ago a slightly strange set of circumstances led to my family and two friends having dinner with Jamie Oliver. Mum enthusiastically told Jamie that I liked cooking and he said he'd be happy to arrange some work experience for me. You've got to love mums.
Just over a year later I ended up spending two weeks cooking at Monte's in London. At the time Jamie Oliver had his name above the door, but Ben O'Donoghue was head chef. I was deeply impressed by Ben's knowledge of food, flavours and ingredients, and grateful for the opportunities he gave to me. Even if I did get told off once or twice!
I was really keen to try Ben's first solo venture the South Bank Surf Club on my recent weekend in Brisbane. Penne, Clint and I visited for breakfast.
First impressions weren't quite what I expected. I'd envisaged an individual cafe or restaurant somewhere. Instead the bar / restaurant occupies a modern unit in Brisbane's south bank located next to the man-made beach and swimming lagoon. When the place opposite has an identical layout it is difficult to have a truly original design. However, they've put in a lot of effort to create a space that will work really well in summer with a large open bar and casual dining area.
I'm pleased to report that the food lives up to the high standards I remembered. The attention to detail, focus on quality ingredients and Ben's ability to balance flavours led to a very enjoyable and unfussy breakfast.
I wasn't overly hungry so ordered the crumble pot. A satisfying glass of stewed seasonal fruit containing apple, pear, dates and raisins, topped with vanilla yoghurt and granola. The fruit did the talking. I'm not going to wax lyrical about such a simple dish, but it was exactly what I wanted.
Clint ordered the hot smoked salmon with poached eggs, horseradish hollandaise and potato cake. There was a lot of silent eating going on and it disappeared pretty quickly! Pretty fulsome praise then followed. The warm smoked salmon was excellent and the potato cake wonderfully creamy.
Penne ordered the scrambled eggs with a side of baked beans. The baked beans were really good. Slow cooked butter beans in a thick tomato sauce with hints of garlic, black pepper and paprika?
None of us ordered the Surf Club Classic, which we saw heading to the table next to us, looked divine. An Asian inspired mix of tiger prawns, smoked bacon, corn hot cake, deep friend egg, oyster sauce and chilli. This looked like it might become the restaurant's signature breakfast dish. Definitely the one to order next time.
I liked the food more than I've probably been able to convey. Unfussy and delicious. There were lots of staff in the kitchen and on the restaurant floor. They are aiming for a high quality experience while still keeping prices reasonable.
There are a couple of misses. I think the menu design is a triumph of style over substance and could be laid out in a way that makes it much easier to read. The restaurant also has no bathrooms, and you have to use the facilities shared by the swimming lagoon and other nearby restaurants. They're not really up to standard.
I really hope the restaurant succeeds. Based on the food, it deserves to.