New look, new chef, new menu – Gerard’s has reopened in Fortitude Valley
Even in a year filled with exciting new restaurant arrivals, the biggest opening might actually be a reopening. In early November, lauded Levant-inspired restaurant Gerard’s opened its doors after a substantial renovation, showing off an earthy and textural aesthetic rejig alongside a fresh menu masterminded by new executive chef Jimmy Richardson. We took a peek inside the new-look Gerard’s, which is poised to remain one of Brisbane’s most esteemed eateries for a long time to come. Here’s what we saw …
Long before James Street was, well, James Street, there was Gerard’s Bistro. When the Moubarak family opened the progressive eatery 11 years ago on the nascent shopping strip, it quickly earned (and retained) acclaim for its modern interpretation of Levantine cuisine. Over the years, head chefs like Ben Williamson and Adam Wolfers kept Gerard’s at the pointy end of Brisbane’s hospitality pyramid, even as new players emerged and the scene – particularly the pocket contained within the recently transmogrified James Street – got more crowded. The team could have feasibly kept this momentum going ad infinitum, but if there’s one thing Johnny Moubarak has sought to eschew over the past decade-plus, it’s complacency.
Back in June, Gerard’s temporarily closed its doors for a complete facelift, a process that saw the restaurant inactive for the better part of five months. It felt like an age for those who frequented the restaurant often, but the wait has proven to be worth it. Gerard’s reopened in early November, showing off its refreshed digs, a slick rebrand (the ‘Bistro’ has been dropped – it’s just Gerard’s, now) and a new executive chef at the helm, heralding what is less of a full system reboot and more of a software update. “I guess it’s just a reset – a fresh new space for everyone,” says Johnny. “It’s not so much the start of a new era, but maybe a new chapter for Gerard’s. That’s why we’re calling it Gerard’s 2.0.”
On a scale of light touch-up to full-blown refit, the new-look Gerard’s sits at the latter end. Jared Webb from J.AR OFFICE has collaborated on the revamped interior, using ancient Levantine temples as key reference points behind the new aesthetic. “He’s interpreted [those inspirations] so brilliantly,” says Johnny. “The walls are influenced by the old ancient ruins of the Levant, the Ottomans and the Romans, and he’s used the beautiful colours of the earth over there, which is very dark and red.” The chief eye-catching fixtures of the space are the new rammed-earth walls, built via a labour-intensive process that saw earth mixed and pounded on site. “It’s the way they built walls back in the day,” Johnny elaborates. “It’s nothing new – it’s been around for so long. We just don’t do it that way. Usually everything is pre-fabricated. This was literally done here.” These textural pillars surround the new-look dining space, which is further furnished with steel benches and timber tables. A new bar has been made as well – a square-shaped chocolate-hued slab that serves as a central pivot point between dining room and kitchen.
In addition to the cosmetic overhaul, Johnny and new kitchen head Jimmy Richardson (whose resume includes a previous stint as head chef of Gerard’s, in addition to senior roles at Leonard’s Bar & Bistro, Shangri-La Sydney’s Altitude Restaurant, Café Paci and Annata) are stripping back the restaurant’s scope when it comes to interpreting, reimagining and paying homage to the flavours and traditions of the Middle East. “Originally we were a progressive modern Australian and Middle Eastern restaurant,” reflects Johnny. “We’ve definitely evolved from that deconstructed food approach. It’s still refined in the sense of what a modern restaurant provides, so I think the core of it hasn’t changed – we’ve just leaned more heavily into our roots.” While the culinary traditions of the Levant help give the Gerard’s menu its silhouette, to Johnny – who is of Lebanese descent – the influence of his mother is what gives it its soul. “That art of hospitality that she provides, I have inherited,” Johnny admits. “As much as the food, recipes and ingredients are the traditional elements, [her influence] is also a part of that identity.”
Jimmy has brought his creative and technical skills to the fore when shaping the offering at Gerard’s 2.0, which still manages to nudge boundaries while remaining firmly tethered to tradition and familial inspirations. “Simplify,” says Jimmy, in regards to his guiding principle. “There are quite a few dishes on the menu that are very simple with big flavours. Obviously a lot goes on in the kitchen to get to the plate, like the ageing, the fermenting and the curing. So it may look minimalist, but that’s where we get all of that flavour from.”
The Gerard’s menu breaks down into simple categories – you’ve got the always essential breads and dips, a suite of raw and fermented snacks, star seafood and meat options, large share-style showstoppers, sides, and desserts. You could spend a night just devouring snacks, like the Turkish simit bread (which is great for scooping up swathes of blackened eggplant baba ganoush), or the woodfire-licked skewers of Westholme Wagyu karubi plate shawarma and the one-bite buckwheat ara’yes filled with candied beets. But Johnny and Jimmy’s personal recommendations are located further down the menu. “If there was a dish that I favour as the epitome of our collaboration, it would be the swordfish,” says Johnny, singling out the Walkers swordfish mujadara, which comes with woodfired lentils and tahini butter. “That to me, I think, is one of Jimmy’s best – it’s so creative without taking away from the traditional aspects of the dish itself.” Jimmy points to the Brisbane Valley quail mombar as his pick. “We make our own black barley molasses, which takes something as simple as harees – a very peasant-style food in the Emirates – and turns it into something a bit more special that hits every note for me,” Jimmy explains. “It’s salty, it’s sweet and it’s rich.”
And then there’s the drinks. Over the past six-or-so years, the Gerard’s beverage program has leaned towards showcasing local wines. These days, the ratio has evened out to include more international wines, with a focus on Mediterranean styles (including a bunch of Lebanese bangers) that best reflect the food. Cocktail wise, a one-sheet page of signatures showcases a slick infusion of Middle Eastern influences, from the potent Pomegranate Punch and Baharat salt-laced Smoked Harissa Margarita to aromatic, rose-water-infused Delightful Turk.
Looking around, it’s easy to imagine Gerard’s continuing its esteemed run for another decade or more. For Johnny, he’s less concerned with the future and more on the now – ensuring the restaurant is as good as it can be, night in and night out. “There’s a love for hospitality and that’s never going to stop – that’s never going to end,” says Johnny. “Although I think about the future, I’m more thinking about how we can be better. There are many things we can do and create and evolve and the evolution isn’t going to stop. It will continue.”
Gerard’s is now open to the public. Head to the Stumble Guide for current operating hours, menu info and booking links.
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