By Leigh O’Connor.
Regional restaurants all around Australia are delivering some amazing culinary experiences and Matt Merrin’s new Townsville dining hot spot is at the forefront of this growing trend.
The mastermind behind Chef-hatted JAM, which has been setting the standard in Townsville for several years, now brings Bridgewater Restaurant and Bridge Bar to local diners and visitors. Offering a touch of coastal elegance in North Queensland, Bridgewater has been purposely created to offer unparalleled dining with an open plan design and unsurpassed river and city views.
"We purchased a two-storey building on the CBD waterfront which had sat empty for 10 years,” Matt explains.
"It was very disjointed and poorly laid out. Engaging a local architectural firm, we came up with a design to double its size with a new extension, which created a venue that actually flows and maximises its views along the river.”
Positioned over two floors, the upstairs restaurant embraces the coastal lifestyle with splashes of aqua, and green and blond wood table settings, while downstairs is the place to enjoy a light lunch by the glistening water, or chill out after work with drinks and nibbles as the sun sets.
Matt says he wanted to raise the bar with Bridgewater and provide a different dining destination for guests, taking advantage of the waterfront location and its panoramic views both day and night.
"The modern coastal Australian design elements flow from the restaurant through to the bar. We wanted to create a new upmarket dining room that offers a stylish, yet relaxed atmosphere for our guests to enjoy. Townsville has been crying out for a new restaurant to open up of this calibre.”
In the 14 years he has lived in Townsville, Matt says the food scene has grown extensively as locals and visitors alike have become passionate about good food.
"Regional restaurants around the country are delivering some amazing experiences, but one of the biggest challenges is recruiting qualified and experienced staff. We have put our efforts into developing apprentices and our front of house staff.”
Interpreting the region where he lives and works onto the plate, Matt chooses fresh, clean flavours that work well with the warmer climate, such as local seafood and produce. Utilising his go-to ingredient for 2019, he shares his recipe ruby chocolate and strawberry cheesecake, berries and strawberry curd.
"Ruby chocolate is a new ingredient we have recently been introduced to and combining it with Summer strawberries and ice cream is a popular choice for our guests,” Matt explains. "Ruby chocolate is a new taste and flavour most people are yet to discover, produced from the ruby cocoa bean.”
With many Chefs and restaurants pushing the culinary boundaries, Matt points to the Rockpool Dining Group and Adelaide’s Jock Zonfrillo (Orana) as leading the charge.
"Rockpool wanting to grow further with 16 brands in their group and 60-plus restaurants across the country, is a massive undertaking. While at Orana, Jock’s passion for the elements of indigenous Australia creates a unique experience.”
Passion is something this Chef knows a little about and he instils that drive into his team at both Bridgewater and JAM.
"I get really proud of my team; I have to hold myself back from shedding a couple of tears in front of them when they get a promotion, or finish their apprenticeship and qualify.”
Along with the eternal flow of the river, Matt will be a strong current in the North Queensland dining scene for many tides to come, with his innovative and creative take on Modern Australian fare.