The sun is shining for the first day of spring and Henley Surf Life Saving Club head chef Nick Filsell is energised, having indulged in a brisk morning swim out the front of his “office”.
Filsell was appointed earlier this year as the club’s head chef, taking a departure from his high-pressure career in top restaurants, which included helming the kitchen at Jamie’s Italian when it first opened in Adelaide in 2014.
He is a founder of Uraidla’s acclaimed Lost in a Forest pizzeria and has been a key figure at iconic establishments including Treasury 1860, Regattas Bistro and, most recently, CBD restaurant Aurora.
His morning swim – a perk of the new job – featured a close encounter with Henley Beach’s resident seal, who is still lolling about the jetty as the chef discusses his plans for the restaurant this coming summer.
“I found out about this job and thought I’d be mad not to pursue it,” says Filsell.
“I love open water swimming and triathlons and if I work on the beachfront, I’ve got no excuse not to be in the water.”
The chef grew up at Largs Bay and was a Nipper at Semaphore, and later in life discovered a passion for training and competing in triathlons.
Filsell decided to resign from his job at Aurora earlier this year, a move partly motivated by the fact that he wasn’t able to dedicate enough time to train in the water and on the bike, as well as a desire for more family time.
Meanwhile, the head chef role had been vacant for several weeks and, despite the efforts of the kitchen team and front of house, the restaurant was having trouble keeping up.
It was only a short period, but a critical time that included the Easter long weekend when the club made the unthinkable decision to close the restaurant. It would normally turn over up to 500 covers a day.
“They had trouble finding the right person,” says Filsell.
“That was when I came in. We immediately brought in some really nice fresh options with big flavours; not just your surf club classics.
“[But] we still keep them – you have to.”
The new two-sided menu is described as smart casual, with one side featuring a rejuvenated offering of classic surf club meals, with the other side featuring bistro/brasserie fare with plenty of gluten-free and vegetarian options.
“There are some really nice salads and main courses that tap into my previous repertoire and are a departure from those surf club classics,” says Filsell.
“We are a surf club, so your fish and chips and schnitzels are what people are coming in for, but we’ve raised the standard of those.”
Other dishes include slow-cooked lamb shoulder, Malaysian chicken curry, falafel and hummus, and Thai beef salad.
Having worked under the incredibly stringent guidelines for sustainable produce at Jamie’s Italian, Filsell has carried through the ethos to what he does today.
“I buy Coorong mullet, which is sustainable, as local as you can get and arrives to me fresh every week.
“It’s actually quite a pleasure when we’ve sold out of fish on a Sunday evening, because we only buy a specific amount and we don’t freeze any.
“Because we have the environment at our doorstep – right here in front of us – we want to carry that ethos through every single part of what we do to minimise our impact.
“This place also used to be famous for its fish and chips, there were articles written about it, but slowly but surely it’s dipped. It really has something to live up to.”
The club will officially launch the Surf Life Saving season on the October long weekend, from which the restaurant will increase its trading hours to open every day.
“Many people don’t know that this restaurant is available to the public, so I’d love to see a huge groundswell of non-members coming through,” says Filsell.
“The sunset sells itself. As soon as daylight savings hits, the sunset is at a time of day that people can get down here after work.
“As for what I want to achieve here for summer, I think it’s just planting my flag in the sand.”
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