Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Helm Surfers - A surprise packet on the Gold Coast


This has been a very cold and very wet winter so far and I have not enjoyed it at all.  So when I had the opportunity to head down to the Gold Coast to check out a new restaurant, Helm Bar and Bistro, I was pretty happy to leave Brisbane behind, for a few hours at least.  It's pretty amazing really, as cold and miserable as it can be in the Queensland capital, just sixty odd kilometres down the road is a completely different story.

We were pretty lucky really, it was one of the few weekends where the sun had been out and while it was still pretty cold, there is nothing worse than heading down to Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast on a rainy day.  It has been ages since I last visited the Gold Coast, the glitz and glamour of the nation's holiday strip does nothing to excite me.  In fact the last time we went down we had a pretty disappointing meal at a (then) hatted restaurant.

I alway forget how easy it is to get to the Gold Coast nowadays, with a pretty good road that is going to get better once the fourth freeway lane opens up and traffic flows even better.  What I always forget though, is how painful the bottleneck is when you get off the Pacific Motorway and head towards The Spit, it was like a car park.  It was also pretty painful driving into Surfers as well, with heaps of roadworks and lots of crazy coast drivers.

We were booked in for a twelve o'clock lunch at Helm but decided to get down a little earlier to get a feel for where Helm was and after a few missed turns quickly found the venue.  We were pretty early so SC took off like a rocket with only one destination in mind, she wanted to hit the beach.  On the way to the beach we were both astounded with the change since our last visit, there were new buildings everywhere and some of the tacky feel had been replaced with super cool new shops and buildings that gave the strip a very modern feel.  Amazing.

What was even more amazing was the day on Gold Coast, 22 degrees and not a cloud in the sky.  We quickly needed to discard our winter coats once we hit the beach.  In what can only be described as a stunning scene, we came to the beach to see plenty of people wandering around and many actually in the water!  I can only chalk that up to crazy southerners or tourists from Europe - sunny as it was, I can't imagine getting in the water in winter.

It was time for our lunch reservation, so we reluctantly said goodbye to the sun and the beach and wandered back to Helm.  Helm is an imposing looking building on the Nerang River and when we were seated at our table, we found ourselves confronted with a stunning view of the river through the open back deck area and were given our menus to look over.  The menu at Helm is pretty diverse and ranges from share plates, pizza, seafood and steak with a smattering of selections you would expect from a Pub, such as chicken parma and schnitzel burgers.

After struggling to decide on what to order, we decided that we would chose a couple of the signature dishes along with some seafood.  Afterall, we were on the coast and being so close to the ocean it would have been a shame not to order the seafood.

The first of the signature dishes we tried though was very far removed from seafood and was the signature sliders.  There are three options but we decided to get a pulled pork with apple cabbage slaw and honey mustard each and then share a wagyu cheese burger with lettuce, cheese and tomato relish.  The sliders were cute little burgers that were presented simply and we each started on our pulled pork sliders.  The pork was sweet and quite nice, but was really enhanced by the apple cabbage slaw, which provided some additional sweetness to the dish.  They were pretty nice, but we definitely missed out in not ordering more of the wagyu sliders, it was a cut above with wonderfully cooked wagyu, melted cheese and a tangy relish.

Next up and without doubt the star of the day for me was the Seafood Chowder with market fresh Fish, mussels, prawns & scallops in a light & creamy base served with Toasted Sourdough.  Not only did the chowder come out looking spectacular in a large cup, but it tasted amazing, with an incredible depth of flavour that only a good chowder can provide.  The chowder was creamy and had a generous helping of seafood sunken at the bottom, like a treasure to be uncovered.  The fish was barramundi and salmon, which were cooked to perfection, along with expertly cooked prawns and scallops.  I can only compare this chowder to some of the best bisques that I have had at fine dining restaurants, it was that good.

The ocean lovers plate with fresh chilled prawns, oysters, herb crusted ocean trout, provencale mussels and salt & pepper squid with dipping sauces was our next dish and it was a cracker.  There was a generous amount of seafood on the dish, which was easily enough for two and represented great value.  The prawns were massive and fresh and when dipped in the zingy cocktail sauce were just divine.  The oysters were freshly shucked, plump and fresh as the sea, with that ever so slightly salty flavour that signifies great oysters.  The cooked fish on the plate was lovely also with the salt & pepper calamari cooked expertly and was easy to bite though and not chewy at all, and what was better was the peppery flavour that the coating provided.  I also really loved the mussels, which were expertly cooked in a rich tomato broth that came with toasted turkish bread to mop up once the mussels were gone.  The herb crusted ocean trout was the only item on the plate that was a little over cooked, it was on the well done side and I would prefer to see my trout with just a hint of pink through the middle.

There are heaps of different menu items available at Helm but one area that has lean pickings is the dessert menu, with only one standard item available.  I had consigned myself to having the dessert pizza with mixed berry and Crème Brulee Calzone, which admittedly sounded great, but jumped at the dessert special.  The pecan and frangipani tart with hazelnut ice cream sounded delightful and a little lighter than a dessert pizza.  The pecan pie was artfully placed on the plate with the obligatory smear of chocolate but still had a rustic look.  I really love pecan pies and this was a great example of a tart, quite crumbly and full of flavour.  While much of the pastry was short and crumbly, if I had one criticism of the tart, it was a little over cooked on the bottom and tough to cut through.

Helm Surfers Paradise opened up to much fanfare on the 6th of June and is the sister venue to Sydney's Helm at Pier 26. Previously the Titanium Bar, it's been completely remodeled by the same crew that designed Jamie's Italian restaurant in Sydney.  The restaurant has been transformed into an open and accommodating space with a huge open kitchen and has a very clear beach theme going on (as you would expect on the coast).

It was pretty quiet when we arrived and were seated but by the time we were leaving it was starting to fill up quite nicely, clearly coasties like to have their lunch a little later in the day.  We found the service to be very friendly and helpful and never felt that we were ignored, even as the dining room filled out.  

We were really happy about the opportunity to get down and try out Helm, it quite defied all my expectations about restaurants on the Coast.  I found the menu to be very reasonably priced considering the amount and quality of the food produced on the day.  The real highlight for me was the seafood chowder, which on it's own was worth the drive down to the Gold Coast.  It took a long time for the wonderful flavours of the chowder to disappear from my palate and when I close my eyes and think back to the day, I can still (almost) taste it.  I think I need to get back down there for another taste!

** We were the guests of Helm Surfers Paradise for this meal

The beer battered chips were superb and were a great foil to the fresh seafood
The huge kitchen would be needed for the massive space of Helm

the front deck area was lovely and could be opened up on lovely winter days
The roof opened up to let the light and air in.  Some of the new buildings on the Coast
Lots going on each night with a different special every day!
mmmm, Oars on the wall?  Must be a nautical theme
Lots of beer on tap
Starting to fill up and such a lovely day outside
The oars for this boat are inside on the wall!
Helm is massive and right on the river

Helm Bar Surfers on UrbanspoonHelm Bar

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