Saturday, 12 April 2014

Casual Dining - The George Bar & Bistro

I'd been holding off on checking out the new dining spot in 111 Eagle Street in the CBD, it had been just too painful to see one of my favourite little bistros closing down after only a year. Philip Johnson's One Eleven had been one of my first blog posts and a spot that I'd regularly dined at and I took it's closure hard.

Generally speaking though, time heals all wounds and I'd decided to check out The George Bar about a month ago for a lunch catch up with a colleague.  We'd had a fairly basic lunch and a fairly average experience at the time but since I was not in blogger mode, didn't post about my experience.  Fast forward a bit and I was looking for a nice casual spot to have some dinner with SC after she'd had a pretty late night at work.  In the past Bistro One Eleven would have fit the bill perfectly, so we decided it was time to get across together and see what The George Bar & Bistro had to offer for dinner.

The George Bar and Bistro is actually the latest offering of former Wallabies halfback George Gregan and his wife Erica, who have been slowly building a commercial empire in the dining industry.  While The George is Gregan's first foray into the Brisbane market, you may be surprised to know that he's already launched more than 17 venues in laneways and office buildings around Sydney and Canberra.  

The first thing I'd noticed when walking into The George was the striking resemblance to it's predecessor, with the same furniture and decor, with only a few very minor changes noticeable. In fact, the only real change was the name, with Bistro One Eleven replaced with The George, which sat above the iconic One Eleven signage.  Once we were seated at our table, it was a case of deja vu, especially once we sank into, what in my opinion, are the most comfortable dining chairs in Brisbane.  The spell was broken though once the new menu was placed in front of us.  Gone was the typically inventive Philip Jonson menu and in its place was very much a 'bar-food-menu'. 

We spent some time looking over the new menu and struggled to find anything that we both felt like on the night.  The one page menu provided the complete offering from The George, including a great looking breakfast menu to one side and the daily specials on the other.  We noted that there were quite a few share boards as well as a large list of tapas but the mains were a little restricted and probably were better lunch items than dinner.  Well, we were sitting down and committed to the dinner, so we selected some items off the tapas menu to start and then took a punt on some mains.

When ever I see chorizo on a menu, I find it pretty hard to ignore, so it was a 'no brainer' that I'd order the grilled chorizo with a chickpea puree.  I'd ordinarily avoid anything with chickpea included but was pleasantly surprised by the puree which was a little sweet and had that distinctive vegetarian flavour to it.  The chorizo itself was perfect, grilled so it had a little caramelisation for added flavour and texture, it was sweet and not overly hot, which is just the way I like it.  The only issue was the vast amount of chickpea puree in the cute little pan the tapas was presented on, so much that it seemed like a waste when we left most of it (of course there was no chorizo left by the end!)

We also ordered a serve of the grilled haloumi with lemon which was presented in a matching little pan and completely overflowing with the delicious Greek cheese.  It was an incredibly generous serving of haloumi and quite good value considering it was only $12 for about ten pieces.  There is not a lot to say about haloumi other than 'Yum!'.  A squeeze of lemon always goes perfectly with haloumi, as it did on this occasion. Unfortunately, as with the chorizo and chick pea tapas, there was too much and we didn't eat it all.  I hear some people crying out that you can never have too much haloumi, and that's what I thought.....  Until that dish!

With the relatively limited list of main options, SC went for the wagyu beef burger with butter lettuce, cheese, tomato, pickles and fries.  It was a huge serving, which is in alignment with what you'd expect from a bar menu but was also pretty simple...  Burger and fries.  The burger itself was not too bad, the brioche bun was lightly toasted and tasted ok and the wagyu patty was nice and thick but probably just a little over cooked.  A wagyu patty should be medium and have a little bit of pink showing, and this one didn't.  What was really good though were those fries, which were wonderfully crispy and seasoned just right....  They were very moreish!

I'd had the burger for lunch on my first visit and had thought the same thing, but having had it before, wanted to try something else on the menu.  The problem was there was not a lot else that interested me but I ended up selecting the pan fried kingfish with shaved fennel, an apple and preserved lemon salad 
with mint and chilli.  I usually love kingfish, especially when cooked perfectly, it has a wonderful full bodied flavour but unfortunately the George kingfish was very over cooked and very dry, which killed the flavour and made it quite difficult to swallow.  The seasoning was not right either with the skin tasking quite bland, which should be nice and salty.  I was quite enjoying the fennel and apple salad, right up until I scooped up some of the preserved lemon, which completely overpowered everything on the plate.  Unfortunately, the kingfish dish was not right.

I probably should have stopped there but I'm a glutton (for punishment) and decided that I'd go for dessert.  SC wisely opted out but I wanted to see how the George would go with an apple tarte tatin with vanilla bean ice cream, which is one of my favourite desserts.  Once the tarte tatin was delivered, I could see that it was not quite right, it didn't have much of the gooey caramel on the tarte and most of it had cooked away.  The apple was also really dark and looked quite burnt, something that I confirmed with my first bite.  I also found it strange that the bottom pastry part of the tarte (or top when being cooked) was a little under done also.  I would have found this extremely hard to eat if not for the lovely ice cream and as it was, I asked SC to finish off a bit of it for me.

It was quite empty in The George on our visit which matched our experiences towards the end of Bistro One Eleven's tenure in the space.  I've walked by on a Friday night and witnessed how busy it can get, mainly with suits in for a Friday afternoon drink.  It makes me wonder about the spot and if it will become one of those locations where it takes a long time for the right tenant to come in and make it 'their own'.  As it stands, it just looks exactly like Bistro One Eleven but with a different menu, and in my opinion, a inferior one at that.

The service on the night was lovely, but given there were not a lot of people eating while we were there, it's the minimum I'd expect.  I've always loved the space and in some ways I'm happy that the decor and feel of The George is the same as it always was, but I question the wisdom of keeping it exactly the same.  If a star Brisbane restauranteur and chef like Philip Johnson can't make the space work, then is a change of ownership and menu going to do the job?

Based on my two experiences so far in The George, I'm not optimistic that it will last much longer than Bistro One Eleven did.  Perhaps I'm wrong and its the right idea in the right space, but I guess if a sporting hero like George Gregan can't make the space work, I wonder if it will be the white elephant of Brisbane.  A shame really because the building is perhaps the most spectacular in our fair city.

The tapas was the best part of the meal and great value with awesome flavours
There has been practically no change to the inside of One One One at all...
It was pretty empty on our visit and for such a large space, it looks worse from the street
The George Bar & Bistro on UrbanspoonThe George Bar & Bistro

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