19/12/2006 - 22:00

Punters streaming in to Soda

19/12/2006 - 22:00


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Ben Andrijasevich made an incredible sea change about 12 months ago.

Punters streaming in to Soda

Ben Andrijasevich made an incredible sea change about 12 months ago.

He turned his back on a successful six-year stint running the kitchen of one of the city’s most respected restaurants, Balthazar, and embarked on a makeover of North Beach seaside hamburger and pizza café, Beachcombers, with his wife Bridget LeGrove.

The move sent tongues wagging up and down the coastal strip. And while the change to a sophisticated eatery may have upset the North Beach burger faithfuls, Soda has been doing a roaring trade for the past six months.

Dinner bookings have become essential and there is a constant stream of customers flowing through each day for a coffee, a bite to eat and a glass of wine as they soak in the million-dollar view of the beach, just north of Trigg.

The initial success has surprised Mr Andrijasevich.

“I had not anticipated things to take off so quickly but I’m happy at the way things have progressed and that we have managed to keep up with it,” he says.

The move has also allowed Mr Andrijasevich to enjoy one of his favourite pastimes – surfing.

“I have surfed since I was a kid,” he says. “When you become a head chef, life gets a bit trickier, but I’ve picked it up again in the past 12 months.”

Many head chefs find the transition from running a kitchen to running a business demanding, stressful and more than they’d bargained for.

But Mr Andrijasevich says his six years as head chef at Nic Trimboli’s Balthazar kitchen provided a good training ground.

“Nic was always good at letting people take the bull by the horns so I have had ownership of the kitchen I ran and that has put me in good stead for running this place,” he says.

Ms LeGrove runs the front-of-house service and was equally surprised that the cafe attracted so many punters so early.

“It really picked up in June and July, which was a time that we thought would be really quiet because the weather is miserable,” she says.

“But I think we really built up a name for ourselves in those first six months and it built up the momentum. We certainly exceeded our expectations.”

Now in its eighth menu, Soda serves up-market food in a casual setting, with mains priced between $16 and $29, including a duck confit, grilled aubergine and couscous, gazpacho and a beef fillet, potato tortilla, courgette, red pepper and chorizo, olive tapenade.

There is also a selection of gourmet sandwiches for those after something a little lighter.

Ms LeGrove and Mr Andrijasevich bought a share in the business from Beachcombers owner Greg Gleeson, while Mr Andrijasevich’s cousin, Aaron Hunter, also bought a stake.

Mr Gleeson operates the Trigg Pizza business, which has a small shopfront adjacent to Soda.

Mr Gleeson runs a pizza night at Soda on Tuesday evenings, while Mr Andrijasevich cooks dinners from Wednesday to Sunday. Soda is also open for breakfast and lunch seven days a week.

Ms LeGrove has welcomed the passing of legislation earlier in the month that will allow restaurants to serve wine to customers without the need to sell a meal.

She says she is often embarrassed when interstate and international visitors come to her seaside restaurant and simply want to order a glass of wine while they enjoy the view.

“I don’t like having to explain to them that because of our archaic liquor laws I can’t serve them a glass of wine without a meal,” Ms LeGrove says.

While they have their hands full with Soda, and their two boys aged three and five, Ms LeGrove says her husband’s love for fine dining may lead them to open another restaurant in years to come.


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