Lithgow, NSW: Historic club sets table for changing food scene
By Ellen Hill for Lithgow Workies Club Photos: David Hill
The oldest registered club in NSW is serving a modern era of upmarket dining for the home of Australia’s first industrial hub, Lithgow.
The new Esk Restaurant at Lithgow & District Workmen’s Club was part of a recent $6.5 million revamp which also included a new 36-room 4-star (self-rated) motel with two disability access rooms, a refurbished showroom, conference centre, art gallery and more.
Established in 1887, the club (known affectionately as “the Workies’’) is located just west of the Blue Mountains at the gateway to the NSW Central West, an historic food bowl of the state and latest foodie hotspot.
Esk Restaurant was added to complement the existing successful Cino Café and club bistro, both of which will continue to serve traditional food and beverage favourites.
Armed with a diverse background ranging from mobile fast food to fine dining, club executive chef Tim Standing plans to gradually infuse the Esk Restaurant contemporary Australian cuisine menu with a growing amount of local and regional produce to tempt local tastebuds and attract visitors to the area.
Diners have already reviewed positively to the menu since Esk opened in January.
Club members and guests can expect a contemporary blend of traditional favourites with multicultural influences from Asia and Europe presented with the unique flavours of ingredients from the NSW Central West, Blue Mountains and the wider Sydney region.
“People’s expectations of club food has really risen,’’ Standing said.
“They still expect to be able to get basic meals at a reasonable price like rissoles, sausages and mash, schnitzels, a good steak and pot pies but the quality has lifted a lot.
“Our first menu is not too intimidating but we’ll develop it into a very modern, contemporary restaurant using many local products over time.’’
Raising the culinary stakes has been the result of innovations in farming techniques and crop choices, manufacturing of boutique products and a migration of top chefs from Sydney onto the central plains.
Standing himself made the shift two and a half years ago.
“There’s loads of great chefs and restaurants out here in the west now,’’ he said.
“I want to be one of the best restaurants in town because I’d like all the restaurants in Lithgow to be good because that makes a food destination.
“If people drive up here Friday night and stay until Sunday, they’re not going to eat here every night, so we need other places in Lithgow to be good too, and they are.’’
Standing’s culinary passion began as a child. His mother was a cook and the family trawled the show circuit in fast food vans throughout Victoria.
Young Tim started his career as a hotel dish washer before an apprenticeship at the Dromana Hotel in Dromana. From there he worked at the best restaurant in the region, Moonlight Bay Resort.
When he was 24, Standing went to London and worked for agencies and hotel groups in upmarket areas as well as the large Slug and Lettuce group at the forefront of cutting edge pub food at the time.
Returning to Australia, he worked as executive chef with Captain Cook Cruises in Cairns then at the Union Hotel at North Sydney and The Watershed at Darling Harbour.
He was executive chef at the 500-seat Japanese restaurant Zenbu at Darling Harbour, Bamboo at Circular Quay, Liquidity at Rose Bay, The Zettle Room at The Exchange Hotel at Balmain and Il Baretto at Surry Hills.
Standing opened his own pizza restaurant, Rialto Restaurant at Narrabeen, and Bar Rialto at Surry Hills before joining Lithgow Workies Club in 2013 where he is executive chef to about 35 staff at the Esk Restaurant, Cino’s Café and the club bistro.
Cooking is the one thing I was always good at,’’ he said.I cook at home. To me, going to work and cooking is not a job, its fun.’’
Most of Standing’s kitchen staff at Lithgow Workies Club are young locals. There are also four apprentice chefs and the club has two hospitality trainees.
Head chef Aaron Engler, 23, returned to his apprenticeship training ground 18 months ago after gaining experience throughout NSW and Canberra including in a 500-seat café, as a function chef, at the 5-star Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley near Lithgow and the hatted Darleys Restaurant at Katoomba.
You go to Katoomba, Sydney and Bathurst and there’s great food everywhere,’’ he said.Esk Restaurant could be the beginning of a new contemporary Australian food scene for Lithgow.’’
Lithgow Workies Club general manager Geoff Wheeler said: “We’ve never had a dining venue at the club before where you can have table service and enjoy quality wines and food in a quality environment with lovely views and décor.’’
Esk Restaurant at Lithgow Workies Club, Tank St, Lithgow, is currently open for dinner from 6pm (last orders 8.30pm) Friday and Saturday. Bookings: firstname.lastname@example.org or (02) 9682 3807.
The official opening of Esk Restaurant, the new club motel and associated works will be hosted by media and sporting identity Mike Whitney in the new showroom from 7.15pm on Saturday, March 19.
The evening will be rounded off with spectacular entertainment from Australia’s “Queen of Soul’’ Lisa Hunt and her band in the revamped showroom. Tickets: $20.
Go to www.workies.com.au or phone (02) 6350 7777 to book and for more details.