26 February 2024

Meet Mark LaBrooy – the man behind the menu at the new North Wollongong Surf Club restaurant

| Keeli Royle
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man standing in front of greenery

Mark LaBrooy is in the process of creating and curating the menu for the new Boathouse restaurant at North Wollongong Surf Club. Photos: Keeli Royle.

The man behind North Wollongong Surf Club’s new Boathouse restaurant has been busy cooking in his Austinmer home to create the perfect menu for the beachside space ahead of its opening this winter.

Mark LaBrooy was announced as the venue manager for the long-awaited restaurant earlier this month after more than a decade with the Three Blue Ducks, which he founded with his mates Chris Sorrell and Sam Reid-Boquist.

But it was his love for adventure that brought him to The Boathouse Group.

“You go from owning your own business and you know it inside out, and with that comes a level of comfort and I think when I got offered this the first thing that it did was it scared me a bit – it was a big opportunity,” Mark said.

“And I think if you get scared and you’re challenged and you question whether or not you can do it, then you’ve got to go do it, otherwise you’re just going to live in comfort.”

READ ALSO New operators announced for North Gong Surf Club’s spectacular waterfront restaurant

Mark knew he was destined for the kitchen from a young age when he spent his summers working at his uncle’s restaurant.

“I think I was always going to do something with my hands and with my mouth – I’m either eating or talking, it doesn’t stop.”

He went on to be mentored by highly respected chefs and worked at fine-dining restaurants before he moved overseas for five years, living the dream of snowboarding in the winters and surfing in the summers, while also learning about new cuisines and techniques.

“I could live this really transient life and it was just a time to be free and to cook and to travel.”

He returned home to Australia and started his incredible journey as part of the Ducks, opening restaurants around the country, writing books and earning impressive accolades.

And now the Austinmer dad is excited for a new chapter, creating something special in a place he calls home.

“I’ve never lived in an area that has a greater sense of community,” he said.

“We’ve been here for six years now and I love it and we’ve started a family and my wife is studying medicine at the uni and our kids are in daycare and there’s a wonderful community of people that we’re a part of and attached to.”

North Wollongong Surf Club

The newly renovated North Wollongong Surf Club will soon be home to a new restaurant by The Boathouse Group.

He’s using his expertise to create a menu that suits that Illawarra community and meets their expectations for the highly anticipated venue.

“When I think about Wollongong, I’m thinking seaside,” Mark said.

“We open in June, so it will be a bit more chilly, so I’m thinking like a bouillabaisse and tomato mussels and crusty bread, just showcasing some of those wholesome seafood items.

“But then obviously summertime moving into some more raw-fish dishes.

“And I love my hunting and fishing and all the rest of it, so wild game and wild-caught fish feature on the menu.”

He’s been recipe testing at home and forging key connections in the region to make his vision a reality.

“I’ve been meeting some local suppliers, who am I going to use for my fruit and veg, what’s happening from a seafood perspective, understanding what’s available in the area,” he said.

“There’s fantastic blue swimmer crabs, for example, in Lake Illawarra, there’s a sweet prawn that’s coming out of there, I need to get my hands of some of that.

“And there’s some wonderful mussels coming out of Jervis Bay, so there’s produce to sniff out to have a look at.”

READ ALSO NSW Good Food Guide recognises top Illawarra restaurants

But despite Mark’s love of good food, he’s determined that the place will be suitable for everyone.

“I think easy, fun, seaside vibes, where you can feel completely welcome and at home sitting on the deck with sandy feet after having a swim and deciding to have a couple of cocktails or a few beers, but also if you want to have a bit more of an elevated experience and come into the dining room and be waited on, we’ll offer that for you as well,” he said.

“But there’s going to be a burger, there’s going to be a fish and chips … because I want to eat fish and chips by the ocean, so I think we’ll still do those things.”

And although there’s immense pressure to get it right, Mark can see incredible potential in what this restaurant could become.

“I just love the idea of it being attached to the Surf Life Saving Club and there’s such a clubbies and members mentality that’s attached to that and that’s all about community.

“I think one of the things that really touched me with starting the Ducks all those years ago in Bronte was that I lived in Bronte, I opened a restaurant with my friends in our local community and we cared about the people that came in there … and I think that this has that type of ability.”

The exact date of opening has not yet been set but the venue is already seeking expressions of interest for about 100 job opportunities, with potential workers encouraged to get in touch through The Boathouse Group’s website.

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