Big Sydney club taking on the big Sydney casino.
Canterbury Hurlstone Park RSL:
20-26 Canterbury Rd, Hurlstone Park NSW
(02) 9559 0000 or www.chprsl.com.au
Story: Christopher Holder
30,000 members, 240 on staff, $46m annual turnover. They’re big numbers. That said, Canterbury Hurlstone Park RSL (CHPRSL) knows only too well that its local patrons have a whole constellation of competing options on their doorstep. It’s something that evidently occupies the thoughts of club CEO Dean Thomas:
“Star Casino is about 15 minutes drive from our club; there are some very large clubs within 10-15 minutes drive; there are some well-established restaurant precincts in nearby Newtown and Leichhardt; so you could say that our are has a lot of competition but it’s also a strong market.”
Dean and the board were acutely aware that expectations of its members were on the rise. People want options. But whether that’s the roast from the bistro or top-draw a la carte nosh from a ‘name’ chef, they expect value and something special:
“We don’t want to alienate our traditional members,” noted Dean Thomas. “But we want to be appealing to new members. Which saw us approach our new direction as ‘venues within a venue’, so we could have different spaces within the club that could appeal to different markets.”
And this is a story of a big club taking a big step… ‘levelling up’, you might say. Dean Thomas again: “We needed to elevate the offering above the competition which is why we engaged Paul Kelly Design, because that’s what they do and that’s Paul Kelly’s forte.”
Stage One of the ‘levelling up’ masterplan is a new restaurant, Nu Bambu; an all-day cafe; and work on a common area which will act as a touchstone for future work.
The restaurant is, for all intents and purposes, its own destination, and adheres to Dean’s ‘venue within a venue’ philosophy. Early signs are all very positive. Chef, Freddie Salim’s (ex Longrain) food is exceptional, turning the head of hard-to-impress Fairfax food critic Terry Durack with a 14 out of 20 review — unheard of for a RSL house restaurant.
Nu Bambu’s fitout is also exceptional. The work of the Paul Kelly Design team (led by Associate Interior Designer Scott Trebitt) sees a classy world-class venue with a host of eye-catching moments: the huge communal table, the art pieces on the flocked feature wall, the open kitchen and bar front, the portal entrance and the exotic silk sculpture (a Diemme commission) that floats weightlessly mid air.
“For me, it was the the portal entrance that really made an impact on me when it was installed halfway through the build,” recalls Scott Trebitt. “It’s subtle but a huge hero, and grounds the design; provides an anchor point.”
The communal table is one special piece of timber. Scott Trebitt explains: “You set out on an adventure like this and sometimes these things work with ease and sometimes they don’t. By which I mean, you could go looking for a slab of timber like this and come up empty nine times out of 10. We were fortunate. This piece has return ends, so the table is naturally rounded by nature, and they bookend. It’s unique and beautiful. Like I said, you could spend a lot of time, money and effort to try and ensure that outcome, and still not be get anything like the same result.”
ALL DAY EVERY DAY
If Nu Bambu provides a blueprint for the level of class and quality we can expect from future improvements to the club, it’s a mouth watering prospect indeed.
The common area may not grab any glamour headlines, but it’s fundamental to the future of the club. Any visit to the club will involve the common area. It’s the nexus point that makes the ‘venues within a venue’ concept possible.
Dean Thomas was at pains to ensure the common area again provided an ‘elevated’ sense of quality and prestige, yet remained approachable. This is a club that couldn’t be accused of being ‘up itself’.
When other clubs may have been tempted to go further out on a limb to appeal to a younger demographic, CHPRSL maintained its composure: “We wanted regulars to walk back in after the renovation and not feel alienated but comfortable,” offered Scott Trebitt “There would be a familiarity about the space but they’d feel happier because of the upgrade.”
NU & OLD
Speaking to CEO Dean Thomas, it was clear his priorities were much broader than getting under 25s into his club on a Saturday night: “It’s true, we’ve not gone hard in one particular market because we want everyone to be welcome here. And the reality is, throughout the day and throughout the week the mix of clientele changes and a large club needs a variety of offerings to reflect that. Nu Bambu is going amazingly well, but that doesn’t mean we still don’t have a strong traditional patron who loves the roast in the bistro.”
So reports of the demise of the subsidised bistro roast have been exaggerated, then?
Dean Thomas: “What’s dead is the idea of ‘cheaper is better’. People crave value. That’s what we’re offering with Nu Bambu and people are loving it. The traditional customer has a different sense of value and we’ve got to cater to those different markets as well. The days of specials and the Wednesday Night Roast aren’t over but you’ve got to have more strings to your bow. A restaurant like Nu Bambu is serving to change the conversation and that’s what it’s designed to do.”
This stage of redevelopment was huge for CHPRSL, not only strategically but also practically. The club traded through the works, and Boden Projects again proved adept at getting things done without turning the whole club into a work site, but Dean admits that it has been very disruptive (“customers were eating Gyprock sandwiches for a number of weeks”).
Now is the time to collectively take a breath.
It gives the fresh direction and new venues (within a venue) time to find their feet and for the jury to convene — is the compass set perfectly or does it need calibration?
Dean Thomas summarises: We’re really, really happy with the results of Stage One. I firmly believe we’ve got the core of the club right — the all-day cafe, which is right at the heart of the club, the entrance to a gaming area and an Asian restaurant… these are thing things we’ve tested first. Paul Kelly Design and Boden Projects has worked with us and have delivered on that. And I’m delighted. There’s always an element of faith about these types of projects. You can commission as many plans and fly-throughs as you like but there’s always an element of trust with the architect about what’s going to be delivered. But they certainly delivered.