Last Saturday, I was invited to try the dinner menu at the brand new Helm Bar and Bistro. Drawing influences from its sister bar in Darling Harbour, Helm replaced the old Titanium Bar with a more modern fitout and stronger gourmet focus.
We took the opportunity to stay a night at the Gold Coast and for once, the weather gods were smiling down. The days were beautiful, albeit just a wee bit frisky. Winter is drawing near. It was a short stroll from our hotel to Helm Bar and Bistro. As we headed inland, Marc started assuming that the venue couldn't possibly be that good because we were walking away from the ocean. Contrary to his expectations, Helm was perched right over Nerang River, which provides lovely water views without the heavy beach crowds.
The building is huge. We tentatively approached the entrance and were waved in by a bouncer, which made me think we were entering a nightclub. The front section of the building was a bar that felt not dissimilar to a local RSL, with men sitting around watching races on screens and making bets. Just add pokies machines and the forumla would be complete. I was very relieved when the bar girl told us the restaurant was further inside.
Once we got to the bistro section, the ambience improved greatly. The decor is stylish with a distinct nautical theme. I hear the architecture was done by the same people behind Jamie's Kitchen in Sydney. The space was open and welcoming and I liked that a large portion of the tables were on what appeared to be a giant, enclosed deck. We scored a table in this section overlooking the water.
The menu at Helm contains typical bistro fare like breads, pizzas, burgers etc. Being a Gold Coast venue, it was fitting that it also offers many fresh seafood options. What I was most interested in was the 'Sharing is Caring' menu, which listed share platters of nibblies. As someone who pretty much always shares food at every restaurant I go to, it's nice when they design dishes with this in mind. Sharing is great! Everyone gets more variety and I just think it's more fun and feasty.
Pear and cranberry bellini and beer
The drinks menu is quite thorough with lots of inexpensive beers, cocktails and (my favorite) jugs of tasty-sounding concoctions. I started the night with a pear and cranberry bellini whilst Marc had a Grolsch beer. I thought my bellini was light and easy to drink. I liked that it wasn't too sweet.
For our food, we chose a herb pizza bread for starters and the 'All Aboard Meat Plate' and 'Ocean Lovers Plate', both from the share menu.
The food arrived all at once, which lead to the challenge of how to arrange everything on our table. When I ordered, I asked the counter girl if it would be enough for 2 people. She replied "yes" quite confidently and when we got our dishes, I could see why. There was a lot to munch through but it all looked so delicious, I was feeling very able to the task.
I started at the herb pizza bread. On first bite, I wasn't blown away but by the third piece (I couldn't stop at one), it had really grown on me. And, I had also figured out what was special about it. The crust was thin but very buttery and reminded me of shortbread. Marc didn't like that desserty aspect but I thought it was great and worked well with the mild herb seasoning.
Ocean Lovers Plate - with fresh chilled prawns, oysters, herb crusted ocean trout, provencale mussels and salt and pepper squid with dipping sauces
I moved onto the seafood board because for some reason, I think of seafood as more of an entree and red meat as the main affair. From the left of the plate, there were huge juicy prawns that were great with the lemon and dipping sauces. Marc once said "prawns are just prawns" but on this occasion, noticeably enjoyed them, probably because they were so big that the meat to effort of peeling ratio was well worth it. The oysters were small but very fresh. Marc never liked oysters in the past but he didn't mind these ones.
I thought the ocean trout would be dry when I picked it up with my fork but it was actually perfectly cooked, with the meat falling apart in pink flakes. The mussels in the mini pot were small and at first, uneventful, but then I discovered that the soupy sauce they were cooked in worked as an amazing dipping sauce. There was some turkish bread on the side that was perfect for soaking up the mussel juices. Heavenly.
The final component of this board was the salt and pepper squid. My first thought was "KFC squid" because they had that wonderful, original spice herb batter flavor plus a kick of spiciness. Both Marc and I loved the squid and would happily order it as a full-sized dish.
All Aboard Meat Board - seared beef fillet and caponata, honey soy chicken drumettes, greek style lamb kebab and BBQ pork ribs with dipping sauces
The meat board was a recommendation by our waitress and not at all to be overshadowed by the seafood board. I started at the lamb skewers because they looked the least messy to pick up. They had decent flavor but were a shade overcooked and dry. I then decided to embrace messiness and went for the ribs. They were delicious! The little ribs were much meatier than they appeared and finger-lickingly tasty with their sweet, sticky coating. The chicken drumettes were similarly good. I'm not usually a fan of chicken bits but these were juicy with a sweet glaze, highlighted by pops of sesame. It really brought to my attention how bland store bought honey soy marinades are in comparison.
Close up of seared beef fillet
The last item I tried was the seared beef fillet with caponata. I probably liked this the least only because the other components were so vibrant. The other thing is with these big platters, food gets cold over the course of the meal and whilst seafood, chicken wings and even ribs are OK lukewarm, steak definitely suffers from not being eaten straight away. The fillet was cooked to a lovely med-rare and the topping lended some flavor but not enough to make it stand out.
Jug of 'Sailor's Punch'
Marc and I enjoyed our meal at Helm so much that we stuck around for more drinks afterwards. This time, we shared a jug of 'Sailor's Punch'. It was a deliciously refreshing ginger beer cocktail and ended our night on a good note.
Helm Bar and Bistro definitely exceeded our expectations on food. Upon entry, we thought it would be like a local pub but the restaurant itself is more refined, fun and the menu is top notch. I think it would be a great venue for a birthday party. There are plenty of dishes to choose from to suit everyone from light eaters, big appetites and friends who want to share. Our favorite items were the prawns, salt and pepper squid, ribs and honey soy drumettes.