No more salad bars and lairy carpet, Golden Grille gets $5m makeover

It's a simple oval-shaped sheet of glass with a garish brass frame - but for a generation of Canberrans, the golden grill is the official logo of the ultimate Canberra childhood.

The striped decorations of the old Golden Grille Restaurant and Salad Bar, located inside the Canberra Southern Cross Club in Phillip, once provided the background to thousands of kids' birthday parties, family celebrations and sometimes even weddings.

Lex and Toni Courage, with son Benjamin, 6, in front of the iconic golden grills. Photo: Dion Georgopoulos

Lex and Toni Courage, with son Benjamin, 6, in front of the iconic golden grills. Photo: Dion Georgopoulos

They bring back joyful memories of the 1980s; dad, smelling of Old Spice and wearing his best shirt, ordering the filet mignon. Mum, with giant permed hair and even bigger octangular glasses frames, ordering the chicken hollandaise. Meanwhile the kids - on a sugar high from skolling their soft drinks - placed orders for $2.10 fish fingers.

And, unbelievably, it seems the old golden grills have stood the test of time when it comes to sophisticated interior decoration. In the Southern Cross Club's new multi-million dollar dining precinct Woden Central, there they are: those famous oval-shaped grills taking pride of place.

"That's what people remember - in particular the booth seating and, in between the seats, the beautiful golden grills," Woden Central venue manager Matt Walshe said.

"They've become part of the fabric of the club.

"In briefing our designers, we said we'd like to retain certain elements of the old Golden Grille, and it's also about our members who have just been so loyal to us over 45 odd years.

One of the first photos of the Golden Grille Restaurant and Salad Bar, July 1983.

One of the first photos of the Golden Grille Restaurant and Salad Bar, July 1983.

"It's something for them to remember the old restaurant by."

The golden grills have remained but the mostly plastic furniture, makeshift salad bars with low overhanging glass roofs, and the lairy carpet is gone.

A stylish checkerboard-tiled floor unites what are now four distinct food experiences inside the $5 million Woden Central. One experience is the Clubhouse - with tall, American-style bar stools, pool tables and low-hanging lights - while full table service is now available on The Patio.

Golden Grille restaurant staff from 1993: Jadranka Cimbora, Bronwen Drover, Gordana Mauk, Kay Barrs and Annie Hovar. 

Golden Grille restaurant staff from 1993: Jadranka Cimbora, Bronwen Drover, Gordana Mauk, Kay Barrs and Annie Hovar. 

The golden grills are a feature of The Cafe (except they're hung horizontally instead of vertically) and even more nostalgia can be found next door in Henry's, where a few of the old red booth seats from the original Henry's restaurant (next to Phillip swimming pool) can be found.

"People walk in and they're so shocked and happy and they say, 'I can't believe you kept all this stuff'," Walshe laughed.

"Canberrans have a real affinity for the Golden Grille but let me tell you, they also have a real soft spot for Henry's."

One menu unites all four of Woden Central's new dining spaces and includes a "Golden Oldies" section, featuring none other than dad's famous filet mignon and the iconic chicken hollandaise.

1990: Barry Mudway, maitr d'maison of the Canberra Southern Cross Club's Reef and Beef restaurant. The old Reef and Beef later became the kids play area, but, as part if the $5 million redevelopment, is now an a la carte dining experience called The Patio.

1990: Barry Mudway, maitr d'maison of the Canberra Southern Cross Club's Reef and Beef restaurant. The old Reef and Beef later became the kids play area, but, as part if the $5 million redevelopment, is now an a la carte dining experience called The Patio.

But while both dishes stood at about the $5 mark when the Golden Grille first opened in the early 1980s, today you're looking at $33 for the mignon and $26 for the hollandaise.

For long-time Golden Grille regular Lex Courage - he'd head to the Southern Cross Club in the 1980s with big groups of teenage friends - the pricing is irrelevant. He's buying "the experience" of the venue, he said, and now treats wife Toni and son Benjamin to dinner at the club every Friday night.

Courage still orders the same thing he did in 1988, the fish special, but six-year-old Benjamin is obsessed with the club's new woodfired pizzas.

"I have great memories of eating out at the club and now I'm creating new memories with the next generation," Courage said.

Woden Central executive chef Nick Wren (left) and general manager Matt Walshe sit in the old red booths from Henry's restaurant. Photo: Lawrence Atkin

Woden Central executive chef Nick Wren (left) and general manager Matt Walshe sit in the old red booths from Henry's restaurant. Photo: Lawrence Atkin

The Canberra Southern Cross Club opened in August 1972 in what was described by early board members as a "momentous effort" of various committees to establish a club for Catholics and their friends in Canberra.

The club had 2000 members when it opened; today that number stands at 85,000. The Golden Grille restaurant made its first appearance in 1983, and the pork and veal sausages, quiche lorraine and shrimp salad were among its most popular dishes.

A young Matt Walshe, one of nine Walshe kids (the eldest is Queanbeyan Tigers legend and former ActewAGL staffer Paul), remembers dining at the club as a huge family.

"Dad worked on the door for 13 years. He'd knock off at 7.30pm and we'd all meet him at the club for dinner," Walshe recalled.

'It was important for us to innovate but also to retain some of the old character,' Canberra Southern Cross Club chief executive Ian Mackay said of the 3000 square metres. Photo: Lawrence Atkin

'It was important for us to innovate but also to retain some of the old character,' Canberra Southern Cross Club chief executive Ian Mackay said of the 3000 square metres. Photo: Lawrence Atkin

"The club was like that, big Catholic families and friends and just this wonderful, friendly atmosphere.

"The demographic's changed now of course, but that atmosphere is something we're very proud of."

Walshe joined the Southern Cross Club as a casual barman straight out of school in 1993 and has never left. (Must be in the blood: older brother Paul worked for ActewAGL for 37 years.) He said the new Woden Central was expected to serve 5000 meals this week.

"It's a wonderful place to work. And if people are keen to show off a restaurant they loved as a kid to their own kids, we'd love to see them."