Saturday, 1 June 2013

Gerards Bistro - Even at the Best new Restaurant things can go wrong

There seems to be an increasing instance of restaurant shopping in Brisbane.  Restaurant shopping is where people book into several restaurants on a busy night, usually a Friday or a Saturday night, then decide on the day which restaurant they will go to.  This usually happens when there is a group of people involved, so the potential loss for restaurants is huge when people don't turn up.  This was such a big problem in Melbourne that many restaurants are moving to a no reservation policy.  Not cool.

We experienced the results of an environment where restaurant shopping happens at one of the better restaurants around town last weekend, Gerard's Bistro.  Restaurants are forced to call people who make reservations for confirmation and if they can't get onto you, the assumption is made that you won't be turning up and your booking is cancelled.  In hip new restaurants like Gerard's, the spot is filled up pretty quickly.  So picture this, we turn up for our 7:30 reservation for TB's birthday dinner, which has been booked months in advance and are told that we don't have a booking.  Pretty disappointing indeed, but  what was worse was that TB was made to look and feel silly with the question asked 'Are you sure you're not confused?'

We had all been to Gerard's many times and were a bit incredulous that this question would be asked, damn you restaurant shoppers, but after some investigation were told that we did have a booking but it was cancelled in the afternoon, after they 'called' TB and she cancelled the booking.  I'm not sure who was called, but the fact that we were all standing around at our allotted booking time should have been an indication otherwise.  I'm not sure who was called but it was not us and we were left with a conundrum, wait at a very busy Gerards for a table to open up or look elsewhere.  Right, look elsewhere in the Valley at 7:30 on a Saturday night, not likely.

We arranged for some seats and tables from around the back of the restaurant to be brought out for us and we were placed to the side (away from the cool kids) and offered a drinks menu.  After half an hour or so, our drinks were brought over to us and we were informed that we wouldn't be getting a seat inside so they would set up a better table for us where we currently sat and serve us there.  Look, this was not ideal, but we were happy just to move on with the night.  Unfortunately, due to the restaurant being super busy, it took another hour and a half before we had the tables set up, menus delivered and orders taken.  This was two hours after our arrival and we were feeling pretty annoyed by this time.  We wondered if the night would turn around or get worse.

The style of food at Gerard's is very much about small plates for sharing or big plates for sharing, but the overarching theme is getting a heap of food for the table and everyone digging in.  This is influenced by the middle east region where many of the flavours of Gerard's come from, its a great way to eat, but fails a little when the food does not come out at the same time, which unfortunately is what happened on this night.  The food came out in dribs and drabs and it was about another hour before all of the food had been delivered to us.

Onto the food.  This is where the night took a turn for the better.  Overall the food at Gerard's is exceptional, it's extremely creative and not like any food you will find in Brisbane.  Chef Ben Williamson has earned Gerard's Bistro a coveted Brisbane Times Good Food Guide Chefs Hat and took out Brisbane's best new restaurant since the last time I was here and the food lived up to that high reputation.

One of the standouts at the table on the night, which a few of us chose, was the quail and fig dish which was a deboned quail wrapped in vine leaf and stuffed with rice and middle eastern herbs, along with the legs of the quail artfully decorated on the plate.  There was some roasted fig and nuts on the plate to add contrasting textures.  The flavours worked well in combination but as usual with quail, the legs were tricky to eat without making a mess.

SC ordered another one of my favourites in the suckling pig, and I was lucky enough for her to share a few bites with me.  The pork was so light and delicate and full of flavour, it was amazing.  The problem with the dish being so delicate is that it went cold so quickly which was a consequence of our seating arrangement for the night.  I haven't mentioned it yet, but it was freezing and because we were set aside, we had only one small heater to warm us and it was doing a poor job.

There were several lamb dishes that the table selected on the night and both of them looked great.  Unfortunately they were up the other end of the table with C&B and J&E, so the closest I came to each was taking photos!  Feedback from the table was that the lamb was well cooked and quite tasty.

The single best dish of the night was the slow-roasted full blood wagyu brisket with seasonal accompaniments, which was the only 'dish for 2' on the menu for the night.  There was a wagyu brisket up each end of the table and being a bit greedy on the night, I had ordered one of the briskets all for myself.  Any thoughts of eating this by myself were discarded once it was presented at the table.  This was a huge and wonderful looking piece of brisket.

Once it had been broken down by the manager on duty on the night, I could tell that I was going to be in for a treat.  There was some flat bread and accompaniments, with the idea to take the smashed up brisket and wrapping it in the flat bread, then adding the accompaniments and digging in.  I found the brisket to be the best when mixed with the flavoured yoghurt.  While it was hot, this was one of the best pieces of brisket I have ever had, it was delicious.  I got most of the way through the meat before it went cold (due to our location), so missed out on some additional meaty goodness.

By the time we had finished our food and the dessert menus offered with was past 11pm and given that we had arrived for a 7:30 reservation, we declined.  This was unfortunate because I felt like something a sweet to finish off after the wagyu brisket, but we had other things to do.

The most disappointing aspect of our evening was probably the way we were treated when we first arrived.  I understand that it was busy and I understand that sometimes mistakes happen at a restaurant, but it's the way these mistakes are rectified that count.  We had clearly not cancelled our booking as we were standing at the entrance at (what we thought) was the reservation time and TB's name was clearly in the book, although marked out.  Good customer service is about not laying blame on either party about mistakes, but fixing them.  There is no doubt in my mind that on this occasion the restaurant had made the mistake and not taken responsibility for it in a timely manner.  There is a lesson there, I am sure.

Things turned around for us about the time that I started taking photos of the food as it made its way to the table.  I'm not going to draw any links to the fact that I got pinged as a blogger for the change, but that's what it looked like to me.  Fortunately, most of us had been to Gerard's multiple times (see post here) and know how great the place is, however if this had been our first experience, we would not be back.  As it turns out, it was the first visit for a number in our group and they didn't have previous experience to go on.

There are no real winners in a restaurant scene where patrons can't make up their mind on where they want to go and then book in multiple restaurants.  This restaurant shopping is a blight on the industry and is forcing restaurants to make tough decisions that at the end of the day hurt everyone, the restaurant, the patrons and the industry.  I hoped to never bear the brunt of this but the weekend was an example of what can happen.  I hope it doesn't get worse, I really hate 'no reservation' policies and queueing, we don't want that in Brisbane.


The accompaniments for the Brisket, the yoghurt was best
The bekka chicken wings.  I didn't get to taste these unfortunately

The monkfish was probably the only dish all night that no one liked very much
SC had a dirty martini while waiting
Gerard's Bistro on UrbanspoonGerard's  Bistro


  1. Wow - what a bummer experience. It is a bugger that restaurants are getting ripped of by patrons but expert customer service surfaces at times of maximum stress and screw up. Shame you prior planning was ignored - maybe this restaurant needs to learn the value of credibility and repeat custom for the long term rather than short term "fill the seat" mentatlity

  2. Wonderful post altogether, you just received a brand new reader. What may you recommend in regards to your put up that you just made a few days ago?

    1. Thanks, appreciate the kind words. My post from a few days ago was in NYC, there were a few and I would recommend them all, but the Spotted Pig was cool. Keep an eye out for my WD50 review, this was an amazing restaurant that everyone needs to check out


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