I am in the bright, airy dining area at Canberra’s Eastlake Club at Gungahlin. Everything is gleaming, and some surprising plates of food are before me.
When I think of club dining, I think of going out with my aunties for a birthday lunch, where we choose from a menu that is essentially 10 variations of meat and three veg. Inevitably, one of my aunties will send her plate of lamb cutlets back to the kitchen to get cooked some more.
But the menu we are looking at today is a far cry from those dinners.
Ant, the executive chef of all the Eastlake clubs in Canberra, has 40 years of cheffing under his belt. When it comes to creating a new menu, he says, “I look at the patterns, I look at the numbers because that tells you where you are going”.
Ant found that those reliable patterns went out the window after Canberra’s second round of COVID lockdown. Everything became unpredictable.
What has surprised him is that after the lockdowns ended, the clubs’ popularity among young Canberrans has flourished. As a keen observer of food trends, he says that when coming up with this fresh new menu, he and his team sat down together and brainstormed.
“We decided it’s time for a change. Let’s take what we have done for so long and whittle it down to become our club favourites, and everything else on the menu is fair game as we create a fresh, fun menu.”
The team added more sharing items to the menu. They incorporated fresh, imaginative, hearty salads that have optional add-ons. The Club Favourites section houses the sentimental crowd pleasers: schnitty, a Parma, fish and chips and some beautiful steak options. The burger and pizza range includes a tandoori chicken burger and a plant-based burger.
Among the smaller sharing bowls are Haloumi chips, sweet potato fries, salt and pepper squid and flathead bites. There’s something to please everyone.
We order several dishes for lunch. Each mouthful of the battered salt and pepper squid brings a massive crunch. The dipping sauce is tangy with gentle garlic hits.
The specials board gets updated each week based on seasonal produce. The pie special is made in-house using meat sourced from a local farmer. Today’s pie is large and bursting with tender chunks of beef in a reduced wine sauce. It’s melt-in-your-mouth beef and the accompanying mash is lush and creamy.
From the favourites menu, we order the sea scallop and chorizo risotto. It is a familiar and comforting taste sensation: scallops and tender rice infused with wine, shallots, lemon and parmesan cheese. The morsels of chorizo bring rich umami to the risotto.
If you want beachside vibes, try the sweet potato salad with coconut cream and lime through the yoghurt dressing. Pops of chickpeas, chunks of red onion and delicious cubes of roasted sweet potato zest up those baby spinach leaves. I make a mental note to try to recreate this at home.
The prawn and wakame salad showcases delicately steamed prawns, luxurious feta and smooth avocado. It is a fun salad with bursts of sweetness from the pomegranate and deep savoury hits from semi-dried tomatoes. The wakame seaweed strands have to be my favourite part. Their texture is unique and very moreish.
The club offers member promotions every week, including Monday Schnitty Night and Thursday Steak Night. Friday night’s meat raffle brings the opportunity to win one of 20 meat trays!
The club has two function rooms and a boardroom that can be opened to form one large function space to cater to up to 260 guests. A modern and brightly coloured indoor play area is conveniently based in the dining area.
Eastlake Gungahlin Club is located at 51 Hinder St in Gungahlin.
It is open from 10 am to 4 am seven days a week.