So there I was: Champagne in hand, enjoying adult conversation, a five-course meal with matching wines and mixing it with critics and mad foodies. My Wednesday nights don’t usually look like this.
But last Wednesday night was pretty damn amazing. I frocked up for the “Editors’ Dinner” at Gerard’s Bistro as part of Brisbane’s Good Food Month, which is on throughout all of July. Recently named Restaurant of the Year in the Good Food Guide 2014, Gerard’s Bistro hosted editors Joanna Savill and Natascha Mirosch for a night of feasting and an insider’s perspective on what it takes to put the Good Food Guide together.
I’d heard amazing things about chef Ben Williamson’s food, and I was intrigued by the idea of a five-course meal consisting of sharing plates. What this actually meant was tasting 17 – yes, you read that correctly – different dishes, from canapes through to dessert. Things got off to a cracking start with Wagyu basturma (cured beef), plucked off a mottled log and topped with buttermilk custard and sour chilli. Then there was clay-baked celeriac with quail egg and yeast that looked like a puff of cloud.
From there, it only got better. It’s difficult to label even a few stand-out dishes as the incredibly high standard never faltered. Kibbeh nayyeh, a Middle Eastern version of steak tartare that’s often regarded as the national dish of Lebanon, was given a fresh twist with a cured egg yolk and served on a long crispy flat bread with individual servings that you could break off. Flavoursome and fun.
Vegetables dishes were as much of a highlight as meat and seafood, and I’d go back for the fried cauliflower with tahini, ras el hanout, smoked almonds and pomegranate alone. The whole smoked eggplant with kishk (fermented) yogurt was taken to another level with the addition of crispy blackened onions and fresh mint. Mix with a bit of ‘Morasa Polow’ Iranian jewelled rice for an explosion of flavour and texture.
One of my fellow diners, a pescatarian, didn’t leave disappointed with dishes such as cured mackeral with delicately floral flavours and crunchy scales, or the Murray cod, mussels and oysters in kishk, surrounded by petals of sweet onion, crushed hazelnuts and fermented green strawberry. Who would have thought that a fermented, under-ripe fruit would match seafood so beautifully?
Oh and did I mention the wines? Sommelier Will Wright introduced his selections with a caveat about some of his non-traditional choices – he joked that working with Ben Williamson was challenging because he managed to use so many contrasting flavours in one dish. For a Middle Eastern restaurant, it was an interesting global of wines from France, Slovenia, America and of course, Australia, with styles ranging from pinot noir to gewurtztraminer and the more obscure Malvazija.
We finished with a Turkish apple and rum cake, and a sour cherry and pistachio nougat. By this stage I could barefly take another mouthful but there was no way I would stop at the final hurdle. Sometimes you have to take one for the team (sorry waistline).
We learnt about the ratings systems for reviewing restaurants and how hats are awarded, as well as Joanna and Natascha’s thoughts on restaurant trends and how publications such as the Good Food Guide compare with crowd-sourced opinion sites. Their view, which I agree with, is that there will always be a market for high-quality, rigorous reviewing by experienced and knowledgeable writers.
I’m already planning my next trip back to Gerard’s – it’s honestly one of the best meals I’ve had in a long time. Run, don’t walk, my friends.
Gerard’s Bistro, 14/15 James St, Fortitude Valley, tel: (07) 3852 3822
Have you been to Gerard’s Bistro or attended any Good Food month events? I’d love to hear about them!