Review: Exchange Beach Club pop-up in Port Melbourne

The Exchange Beach Club, a pop-up restaurant on the sand at Port Melbourne Dog Beach.
The Exchange Beach Club, a pop-up restaurant on the sand at Port Melbourne Dog Beach. Photo: Wayne Taylor

I'm suspicious of the beach club scenario. Fencing off stretches of strand feels more like Riviera deckchair dollying or posh poncing on the Costa Brava than democratic lay-your-towel, can-you-do-my-back Australia.

But then, here I am under an umbrella on Port Melbourne beach eating halloumi and watermelon salad, drinking a margarita slushie, thanking a waiter for my dog's peanut butter treat, and feeling pretty good about things.

Exchange Beach Club is an on-sand offshoot of the Exchange Hotel, a block up Bay Street.

Fried halloumi with watermelon.
Fried halloumi with watermelon. Photo: Wayne Taylor

The outdoor venue popped up last year when Victoria was buzzing with creative ways to eat in the COVID-safer outdoors, and it's back now for a summer of sunshine and spritzes.

There's a cruisy resort party vibe with sweet beats, chirpy staff and inter-table banter, helped along by tail-wagging dogs. Mood-boosters like Pilates classes and bottomless brunches are best not tackled at the same time.

Seating includes cabanas for four people (minimum spend $200) and daybeds and tables (all free to hang).

Rockling and chips.
Rockling and chips. Photo: Wayne Taylor

Ordering is via QR codes; pick-and-mix Eskies make it easy to kick back and sip on.

Food is an easygoing pubby array of burgers, skewers and seafood. That halloumi salad comes with fat wedges of fried cheese and cubes of watermelon drizzled with a balancing blast of balsamic.

A long, soft roll is packed generously with lobster, prawn and Kewpie mayo. Crisp-battered rockling comes with skin-on spice-seasoned fries. It's all totally decent and makes great drinking food.

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We're on the sand so it makes sense that glass and crockery are banned. The downside is that everything is served in disposable vessels. There are (some) biodegradable cups and food scraps are collected for composting but the loop isn't exactly closed.

If we focus on the fun stuff, Exchange Beach Club has plenty to go around. I wouldn't want our free-for-all beaches dotted with such places but the fact that it's so novel is part of the considerable appeal.

Rating: Three and a half stars (out of five).

The lobster and prawn roll and a seltzer.
The lobster and prawn roll and a seltzer. Photo: Wayne Taylor

Address Dog Beach, Port Melbourne, 03 9810 0058, exchangebeachclub.com.au

Open Mon-Wed 4pm-10pm, Thu-Fri noon-10pm, Sat-Sun 10am-10pm (November 6-January 30)

Food $10-$34; dog treats $3