I think we need to have a talk about plate art. Fads, whims, trends; call them what you like, but like it or not, they define an era and stamp the culinary passport with a particular date in time. -Think about eighties fine dining and images of soup duos in floral patterned plates come to mind as does asparagus and carrots tied up into bundles with blanched shallots and mosaic-like arrangements on hexagonal black glass plates.
The nineties ushered in sky scraper dining where blobs of mash acted as the cement and the entire contents of the dish was piled on top – this was possibly the worst era for waiters.
These days its all about dots and blotches, deconstructed dust, miniscule micro leaves, smears and skid marks. Lines of off-centre ingredients are the go, plating is delicate and pretty and that is very much the case at Gerard’s, James Street’s latest hotspot. And while this particular phase can be fussy and lead to miniscule portions and over-complicated flavour profiles, it takes a deft hand to balance the look of the plate with the each element of the dish.
Chef Ben Williamson spent five years in the Middle East before returning to Brisbane where he clocked up stints at 1889 Enoteca, Cha Cha Char and The Euro. He uses classic food pairings and techniques with a dash of the avant-garde and firm nod to current plate art trends.
The room at Gerard’s is airy and colourful with a contemporary salute to the Middle East but really it’s a fresh, open space with a large concrete bar and an open kitchen framed with decorative slabs of reclaimed wood. There’s a pile of woolly rugs for chilly laps if you choose a table in the walkway out the front of the restaurant.
Soft fried quail eggs are rolled in a spice blend and sit on an onion puree and it’s a dish of powerful flavours but it’s the special of veal bone, cross sectioned and roasted then topped with goat meat done two ways – slow braised and crisp fried pangratatto-style that dazzles. Inspired by a dish of chef Ryan Squires (Esquire) presentation is dramatic, garnish free and served with a little spoon so you can scoop out the near-melting marrow. This is really very good cooking.
Lambs brains with a spice crust miss the mark slightly – they are not crisp enough on the outside and this messes with the overall texture of the dish.
No such disparity exists in the flathead and freshwater red claw lobsters, pan roasted and served with smokey potato puree and buttery chanterelles. This is one of those cracker dishes, packed to the brim with powerful flavours that sit on the classic duo of fish and potatoes. Shaves of Tasmanian truffle look good but there’s no need for them here as the smokey potato and sweetness of the flathead and shellfish are as much as anyone would want, and then some.
Pieces of spatchcock are grilled over coal and served with a punchy salad of coriander, mint, fenugreek and toasted walnuts. Pomegranate seeds pop in your mouth and the baby chicken is sweet and juicy with salty-spice skin while a lemony dressing rounds things out nicely.
All four side dishes appeal especially the fried potato and green chilli and ‘Shirin Polow’ goji with organic cherries, pistachio and almond rice but our choice of heirloom baby tomatoes, sprinkled with sumac and shanklish is dotted with dehydrated shaves of onion. It’s another modern take that adds spice and texture to a classic flavour combo and it works really well.
Xerotigano, a Greek fried pastry is usually served as round spirals but this version is made like a crispelli. Cumquats are candied and these are arranged over a swipe of sheep’s milk yoghurt garnished with micro mint. This is another hero dish and a great way to finish and interesting, colourful and delicious meal. Rum baba with whiskey ice cream, pistachio financier and Valrhona aero with strawberry leather and rose marshmallow will tempt those with a sweet tooth as the Xerotigano has a much more savoury edge.
Gerard’s food is polished and accomplished and it’s obvious there is a talented young bunch behind the burners. Service is a tad shaky on this visit but relaxed and prompt on a previous one and it’s not hard to see that as the weeks pass all elements will fall snugly into place.
E SCORE 16/20
James St, Fortitude Valley