20-26 Canterbury Rd Hurlstone Park, NSW 2193
|Opening hours||Lunch Fri-Sun 11.30am-3.30pm; dinner daily from 5.30pm|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 9559 0088|
Grilled champagne lobsters with confit sambal butter are not necessarily foremost on your mind as you enter the Canterbury-Hurlstone Park RSL, affectionately known as CHPRSL.
You might be more tempted by the $10 fish and chips in the bistro, or a cold beer in the bar. But clubs are changing, and the CHPRSL is moving with the times, installing a very flash new Asian restaurant called Nu Bambu and hiring gun Sydney designer Paul Kelly to pull together a moody, modern space.
An equally gun young chef was required. Up stepped former Longrain chef, Sumatran-born Freddie Salim, and I'm glad he did.
The menu is something-for-everyone mod-Asian with an almost tropical twist, from a handful of different baos to coconut-based curries, Sichuan chicken wings, and koji-marinated pork with a palm sugar glaze. Thailand, China, Japan, Vietnam and Indonesia all get a look in, as well as Salim's mum's egg tart.
It's a wow of a space, open to the long public lobby, and flanked by a high communal bar down one side and sleek kitchen counter with lots of textural flourishes on walls. A 10-metre silk sculpture by artist Michael Killalea floats overhead like a giant crimson silkworm cocoon.
I'm here early in the week but the room is filled with couples and small groups ordering bao, spring rolls and Shanxi duck with pancakes. Staff are responsive (shout outs to Tiana and Jamil), and tickled pink that Nu Bambu is pulling in punters from outside the membership base.
"I haven't seen you here before," says one. "Have you come to try our new restaurant?"
Hand-cut Cape Grim beef tartare with crunchy black sesame crackers ($16) is so good, packing a real flavour punch with its balanced notes of lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf and quail egg yolk.
Salim and his young team do that dramatic free-standing, deep-fried snapper of days of yore, but they do it so well – white flesh that peels off the bone in translucent chunks, sweet and fresh – that it's no longer a cliche.
And that champagne lobster – sorry, I know you've been waiting to hear – is just like eating at a Balinese seafood market. Two small lobsters ($39) are split and brushed with confit sambal butter, and grilled over coconut charcoal. As in Bali, they could have done with less time on the grill.
A red curry of slow-cooked Cape Grim brisket and wild ginger jumps with life, finished with crisp eschallots and dobs of coconut cream. Sorbets ($12) form a dessert of spectacular restraint – just three smooth whorls of charcoal coconut, mango lychee and a sharp yuzu passionfruit.
Nu Bambu could have been a step too far for the RSL, had it been fancier and more formal, but I think they've struck the right tone, with only a touch of the surreal.
And the sense of community you get from a club like this – where Mum's off learning how to cha cha while Dad has a cannoli in the cafe – is compelling.
What stands out are the obvious cooking skills, the structured curries, the clean freshness and the sense of detail, all delivered without any pretension whatsoever, by people proud of what they do.
As much as that steak tartare was memorable, it's the pride that I remember most, and that will ensure Nu Bambu is a success.
Vegetarian Limited to tofu bao, vegetable spring rolls, green vegetable curry and stir-fried vegetables.
Drinks Asian beers; house-made sodas, classic cocktails and a globe-trotting list of reasonably priced whites, roses and fruity reds that suit the food.
Go-to dish Beef tartare with sesame crackers, $16.
Pro tip Take ID so you can sign in as temporary member – or join for $5.50 a year if you live within five kilometres.