Gillian Hirst was one of the original ’rat pack’-Chefs in the 1980s & 90s who pushed the boundaries and helped advance Brisbane’s food. She had stints at Chevalliers and Il Centro before going it alone with her own places, including the great Tapas Mercado and Indigo.
These days, life would seem to be a lot more casual for Gillian- with her latest venture in the Cottage Garden Centre on Stanley Street in East Brisbane. It’s a great space- you walk in through pots of lavender and greenery then into a large shed type structure past antiques and knickknacks into an indoor/outdoor space full of character.
There were a lot of well dressed middle-aged people there when we were-conservative looking and presumably well -off- imagine the antithesis of its geographical and social opposite, West End, and you get the picture.
We were just there for coffee, so I can’t judge the lunch menu which is short and ever so slightly comfort/food retro. We did however try the fabulous looking cakes with mixed results. Our waiter recommended the carrot cake, which was moist and lovely and unusually, sandwiched with cream cheese as well as topped with it. My Lindt chocolate cake wasn’t as great- it looked schmick and I loved the little gold cachous which were actually like gold covered rice bubbles, but it didn’t deliver up the salaciousness I was looking for (breaking my diet for it and all) and I regretted not ordering the chocolate cheesecake.
The owner of the apple cake deemed it too sweet, which it was. It tasted a bit like it had reduced fruit juice (apple?) in it. The lemon curd sponge roll was delicious -light, gooey, and tart/sweet. Coffee was good but service was patchy. We had a lovely efficient woman with an accent I couldn’t quite place to start, followed by an eye-rolling, sighing younger waiter who barely turned around to acknowledge us and made us feel our second coffee order was an imposition. She didn’t bother writing down our order and despite a fairly lengthy wait and to little surprise, our coffees never turned up.
Gillian’s Garden Cafe is obviously highly popular. We went on a Thursday morning and people continued to pour in even as we were leaving.
Verdict: It’s hard to judge a place on a few slices of cake, so I won’t but when it comes to service it’s pretty black and white. The white equals older dark-haired woman who was solicitous, concerned and professional but a black mark for the younger one who treated us with disdain.