Friday night in early spring and thoughts turn to a Chicken Parmigiana eaten overlooking half an acre of rolled, green lawn. Time to go to the bowlie. The two Bowls clubs in New Farm crank up over summer surge through Christmas and New Year, to slow down again into winter. They both offer cheap social memberships of a dollar a year and similar menus of club grub with a couple of higher end specials. In this time of public service cuts and financial austerity, which one should get your patronage over the summer months?
Merthyr Bowls Club
The Merthyr Bowls Club was the first in Brisbane to open its door to the ‘youngies’ and offer barefoot bowling and a relaxed social atmosphere. It has the advantage of outlook, being right on the Brisbane River and has slowly improved facilities over the years to cater for the Club’s surge in popularity. For a cool drink on a hot afternoon, it is hard to beat. But what about the food?
The New Farm Food Stories team visited on a quiet Friday night where playing the pokies was the focus of patron’s attention rather than eating. The menu starts with casual club food such as dips, nachos and dips. There are a couple of burgers ($14.90), pasta, fish and chips ($17.50) and Rayners bangers with mash ($19.90). We ordered the special of pan-fired barramundi with chips and salad ($26.90) and the Atlantic salmon, wilted spinach and mash ($23.90), lubricated by a bottle of Tim Adams Riesling ($25.00).
The food was OK but expensive for what it was. The salmon was properly cooked and still pink in the middle but the mashed potato was a bit ‘wet’ and there was a lot of it. It all looked messy on the plate. The barramundi wasn’t bad and the chips were from the corporate catering truck. My main concern was with the cost. There is not a lot of thought in the menu and the club probably dishes up the kind of food people want to soak up a few drinks by the Brisbane River. If the meals were under $20 I would probably treat it in that spirit, but when they creep up to the mid-twenties, then I am looking for a bit more in flavour and presentation.
New Farm Bowls Club
The New Farm Bowls Club was later to the barefoot bowling scene and still retains more of that 1970s traditional ambiance. It feels more ‘clubby’ with a large, brightly lit dining room and some table and chairs on the front veranda for a Friday night drink. There is a separate room for pokies off to the left of the entrance and a long bar near the dining room. The dining room was pretty empty when we arrived on a Thursday night but soon filled up with groups of people eating before the Trivia Night. The menu was similar to that of Merthyr Bowls – dips and nachos for snacking, a wagyu burger ($16.90), fish and chips ($16.90), and a bistro salad with rocket and prosciutto ($15.00).
For consistency, I ordered the Atlantic salmon with mashed potato, wilted spinach and salsa verde and the review team club connoisseur went for the special of Thai beef salad ($15.00). We also ordered a side of chips. The food came out smartly and the serves were very generous. The Thai beef salad had a respectable chilli hit and the salmon fine, though the large amount of salsa verde , tasty as it was, overpowered the dish. There were enough chips for a table of six and we could only make a small dent in them.
The New Farm Bowls club feels more member focused than Merthyr. There is discounts on food and drink for members and the prices are much more reasonable. It is the sort of place you could hang out a couple of nights a week and not feel the pang in the pocket too much. The club is attracting different crowds with music and trivia nights. After dinner, we stayed for the first round of trivia but with the question ‘what is the name of the second contestant kicked out of the Big Brother house?’ knew we were out of our depth and vacated the competition.
The Winner Is….
So who won the Battle of the Bowlies? For my dollar a year, I’d happily become a habitue at the New Farm Bowls Club. I like the 1970s feel of a real club for locals and their understanding that a cheap drink and a meal is at the heart of any bowls club.