The pool menu is all about the art of balance, a medium where classics rule and freshness comes first. Whether it’s a prawn cocktail, a gelato cup, or an açai bowl, there’s much for chefs to think about when it comes to creating a menu specifically designed for waterside dining.

Hospitality speaks to three chefs working in Sydney and on the Gold Coast about their approaches to putting together poolside options that fuse seasonality with approachability.

Isoletto Pool Club
The Star Gold Coast unveiled Isoletto Pool Club in April last year, with the rooftop space offering expansive views of the skyline and beyond. Pool Club guests can take an indoor or alfresco seat at Isoletto, which is headed up by Executive Sous Chef Sarah Jewell.

“It’s very similar compared to a normal restaurant menu where we focus on fresh produce and also what guests like to eat,” she says. “We want to give people a coastal experience when they come, so it’s about trying to use local suppliers as much as we can.”

The venue has been open for just over a year and sticks to a core menu as well as a unique summer offering that is part of the Uplift initiative across the hotel. “It’s a seasonal venue as such and we have key favourites that stay on,” says Jewell. “We stayed open later over the peak period where we had sundown sessions and did small plates so people could have a snack before dinner. We did oysters, arancini, cured meats, and other Mediterranean-style dishes.”

Isoletto’s menu is split into sections including bites, substantial, light and easy, sweet tooth, and little ones. “We’ve hit the ground running since we launched and everyone has been loving the Coconut Crazy which has coconut yoghurt, fresh fruit, toasted coconut, and freeze-dried raspberries,” says Jewell. “The BLT and cheeseburger have been super popular and so has the açai bowl and the salads for lighter options.”

While some guests drop in for a cocktail and a snack, others choose to spend the whole day by the pool, which means more to sample from the menu. A retro-inspired Californian prawn cocktail has become one of Isoletto’s signature dishes which sees five local king prawns teamed with dill, lettuce, lemon, and spicy cocktail sauce.

The Snapper Rocks burger is another best-seller, and is an homage to the surfers on the namesake beach in Coolangatta. While grilled fish is available on request, the original features beer-battered snapper with tartare sauce. “It’s a small menu,” says Jewell, “but it has all the favourites.”

Swissotel Sydney
John Giovanni Pugliano is well-versed in the art of the hotel pool menu, having worked at five-star establishments in Hong Kong, Dubai, and now Sydney at Swissotel. The CBD hotel recently underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation which saw the creation of a new pool deck that offers guests an oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Decked out with cabanas, daybeds, and booth dining, Executive Chef Pugliano says the team focused on guest feedback when creating the menu for the newly revamped space. “We had a total renovation, so we wanted to do something that would work with our clientele and fit in with what people were expecting from the space,” he says. “We looked at the market we were targeting and examined the data we have collected which showed us what people like and don’t like. For example, we identified we had to do a kids menu which parents can access by scanning a QR code.”

Sustainability was another key point to consider, with the hotel banning single-use
plastics at the pool. “There are no single-use plastics used up at the bar as part of
our sustainability program,” says Pugliano. “Everything is served in bamboo and cardboard packaging which was one of the requirements when we reopened.”

In terms of culinary inspiration, Pugliano decided to lean towards lighter options when drawing up the revised menu. “People weren’t ordering the heavier items such as pasta before, so we’ve focused on salads, fish and chips, and sandwiches. We’ve kept the classics which always work by the pool.”

The club sandwich has long been a go-to pool order, with Pugliano’s iteration stacking grilled chicken with double-smoked bacon, a free-range fried egg, tomato, lettuce, and aioli between bread. The chef also says a poke bowl with soba noodles, bean sprouts, edamame, shredded carrot, avocado, and toasted nori has been one of the most-ordered dishes so far.

Gelato cups are a new addition to the pool area, which have been selling well alongside a cheese plate that features assorted cheeses served with dried fruit, nuts, truffle honey, and crackers. “The feedback has been positive, and we will have a look at the menu soon and review customer feedback,” says Pugliano. “We always look at menus and tailor them to what customers are asking for as well as what’s in season.”

QT Gold Coast
QT’s striped tiled pool, aptly named The Spring, is one of the drawcards of the picturesque hotel on the Gold Coast. The poolside precinct is the ideal spot for guests to spend the day and of course order up from the menu by QT Gold Coast Executive Chef Greg Benney and his culinary team.

“A pool menu is always fun to work on as it gives chefs the chance to showcase their
ideas,” he says. “I ask the chefs to be involved as it motivates them to elevate the menu with innovation and creativity.”

The menu draws inspiration from dishes found across the Mediterranean, Japan, and Mexico as well as local produce. Snacks are on high rotation at The Spring, and the menu has plenty of options for guests to have to themselves or share with friends and family. “When curating the menu, our main consideration is our guests,” says Benney. “They are spending the day relaxed and sun soaked, so we have created a variety of light and large snack dishes that are easy to share or have solo.”

The kitchen is kept busy by pool-goers, with most guests putting in an order when they visit The Spring. “You’d be surprised by the domino effect of one family ordering an array of dishes and food envy kicking in, resulting in people around them ordering,” says Benney. The chef says the Moreton Bay bug roll with secret sauce and Old Bay spice is the most popular dish on the menu, with Wagyu beef gyozas and nachos “always in high demand”.

There’s also karaage chicken with lemon Kewpie mayo, popcorn prawns with spicy yuzu dressing, Baja fish tacos, and a crab quesadilla currently available alongside more classic dishes that cover an Angus beef burger with fries as well as a QT triple-layer club sandwich, a spicy chicken wrap, and a vegan burger with house beetroot relish. The pool sees a wide range of guests come through from local to international tourists as well as business visitors, which the culinary team have taken as an opportunity to elevate dishes throughout the year.

“The Gold Coast is such a fun city which is always evolving when it comes to audience from holidaymakers to meetings and events,” says Benney. “We change the pool menu every six months to stay up to date.”