Gerard’s Bistro is causing a stir, of that I’m certain. Things aren’t quite what anyone expects, which for some folk is an irritation, while for others it’s heavenly. Either way, people are talking about it.
There’s little dissension about the look of the place. It’s tucked away in an alley in that new complex on the corner of James and McLachlan streets, Fortitude Valley, and its lack of street frontage is refreshing. There’s something nice about being hidden from view and taking a small detour to find your destination.
The interior manages a careful balance between some really smart design work and the things that make a restaurant tick, like a view of the kitchen (and the kitchen’s view out to us), and an open bar that had me salivating from the moment I walked in. There’s plenty of raw wood in the decor, and the kitchen,
and it works on all sorts of levels.
The biggest point of argument will be the food. I think it’s terrific, in fact, I’ll go further and state that it is terrific. But given the restaurant’s location, it is bound to attract many folk
looking for less adventurous, more familiar fare, hence the stir.
The menu brilliantly melds French, Middle Eastern, classic and contemporary foods and techniques.
Perhaps the most traditional dish I tasted was the saltbush lamb tagine ($38, inset) paired with a side of shirin polow (a superb Iranian rice dish, $15), and it also happened to be the best. There was magic in the textural combination of the rice and the sweet, decadent richness of the lamb. Every food-nut
should visit simply to try this pairing.
The disappointment was the one touted (by our chatty, informed and exceedingly competent waiter) as the signature dish: suckling pig with Jerusalem artichoke, pear and walnut ($52). Until writing this, I hadn’t registered the price. It’s a brave move for a new restaurant to break the $50 barrier.
Gerard’s version of pork (which embraces many cuts, not just the belly) had been confit before being put through the culinary hoops that turned it into a main plate. It was too salty. Far too
salty, and that’s a risk when you dabble with confit.
But given the skills of the chef and the quality of everything else from the kitchen, I gave it the benefit
of the doubt. Ignore the salt and it was a mighty dish with textural and flavour contrasts. It showed the culinary trickery that’s there, but doesn’t dominate the menu. It’s clever food, but perhaps too
much so for folk traipsing James Street in search of an easy meal. But for food lovers, it’s
destined to be a hit. All the other pieces of the puzzle have been considered and delivered with polish, including a well-priced and comprehensive wine list. Gerard’s is a confident restaurant piping its own tune and doing it exceedingly well.