Freddie Salim never saw himself in an RSL kitchen. But when his latest restaurant idea lined up with the vision of Dean Thomas, who leads the pass at Canterbury-Hurlstone Park RSL, he realised it was an untapped opportunity.
"I never thought I’d end up working at the RSL," Salim says, "but Canterbury is changing. There are many younger families moving into the area."
The modern pan-Asian eatery dominating the club's foyer, Nu Bambu is not your average RSL diner. Sure, fusion restaurants in Sydney are a dime a dozen, but both the range of dishes and the quality here are unexpected.
Salim’s hometown is Bandar Lampung, on the southern tip of Sumatra. For centuries, it was a hotspot on the spice trails and a diverse food culture remains there today.
“My mother and aunt ran a restaurant together and I grew up trying different flavours every week,” he says. “I was told to go outside and play, but I would always end up back in the kitchen helping my family.”
After arriving in Australia and finishing hospitality school, Salim’s first job was in an Italian restaurant. Then Sokyo and the Newport Arms rounded his skills out but it wasn't until a stint at one of Sydney's most iconic Thai restaurants that he found his forte.
"The turning point in my career was developing my palate with the legends at Longrain,” Salim says. "Three and a half years there reinforced my passion for Asian flavours.”
This is best seen in Nu Bambu’s beef tartare: Cape Grim steak with quail yolk, smoked soy sauce, salted coriander, lemongrass and chilli. "It's Japanese and Thai at the same time," he says.
There’s a touch of Chinese here too, with bao taking centre stage — the steamed buns are filled with either fried chicken, gemfish (or dory, depending on the day), barbecued pork or salt and pepper tofu with tamarind.
You can get a taste of Bandar Lampung through the yellow spiced chicken — it's made from his mother's own sambal.
Then in an unexpected plot twist, there’s a Latin American-Thai crossover in the salmon ceviche with coconut coriander, mint and red nahm jim (side sauce). Just, because.
Salim's favourites are the curries: beef (Cape Grim steak, crispy eschalot and wild ginger) or vegetarian (pumpkin, cauliflower and Thai basil).
“The beef short rib is the real winner,” says Salim. "It’s twice-cooked and braised for three to four hours.” Ribs are served with sweet fish sauce and cucumber relish. And like all the other ingredients here, everything’s fresh, locally-sourced and made in-house.
For something a bit indulgent, the Champagne lobster is grilled over coconut charcoal and served with sambal butter.
Co-manager Jackson Sobb (Riley Street Garage, Rockpool and Spice Temple) is making his own sodas, selling Asian beers and serving up a wine list with a few strong options. He recommends the Japanese Grace Gris Koshu.
“This wine is so delicious, you'll want me to order a case for you,” he says. Cocktails-wise, the stand out is the pomegranate and molasses-heavy Full Moon Fling.
For dessert, you can't look past the egg tart. “This is my mother’s speciality. Growing up, it was always in the fridge. I realised I took it for granted after I moved to Australia.” Many of Salim’s recipes come from his mother, who still runs a canteen in Sumatra to this day.
“I’ll bring her out to Australia soon. I’d love her to experience the dishes that were inspired by her cooking, here.”
Canterbury-Hurlstone Park RSL: 20–26 Canterbury Road, Hurlstone Park NSW
Mon - Thur 5:30pm - 10pm; Fri - Sat 11:30pm - 3:30pm and 5:30pm - 11pm; Sun 11:30pm - 3:30pm and 5:30pm - 10pm
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