Evolution. That was the motivation for brothers Johnny and Elie Moubarak when they undertook a substantial renovation of Gerard’s Bistro, which shut in June and re-opened earlier this month.
“We’ve evolved in the 11 years since we [opened] Gerard’s,” Johnny tells Broadsheet. “[We’re] paying an homage to our heritage and the Levant region in the Middle East.”
Gerard’s Bistro is one of the city’s best modern Middle Eastern restaurants. It first opened in 2012 under executive chef Ben Williamson (now co-owner and chef at Agnes). Williamson departed in 2018 and was succeeded by Adam Wolfers, who incorporated his Ashkenazi and Sephardi heritage into the menu. Now Jimmy Richardson, who previously worked under Wolfers before a stint as executive chef at Leonards Bar & Bistro, steps up to the plate.
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Richardson’s first menu leans heavily on Levantine cuisine, featuring starters like savoury Lebanese awamat (doughnuts); calamari tartlets with hawaij (a Yemeni spice mix); and coal-grilled barbari bread (a Persian flatbread). Larger dishes include baba ganoush with blackened eggplant and parsley oil; Brisbane Valley quail mombar (an Egyptian sausage); and Bangalow pork tomahawk served with garlic chive dagga (a spicy salsa).
“As much as we like traditional [cooking], we [also] like being able to interpret and change things up,” Johnny says. “Jimmy does that really well. His philosophy [revolves around] reimagining Middle Eastern cuisine.”
While the menu saw some changes, the most striking transformation was to the venue itself. The space underwent a complete renovation with the Moubaraks working alongside designer Jared Webb (formerly of Richards & Spence). The result is a textured room featuring rammed earth slabs, concrete, white fabric and stainless steel. Stepping inside the restaurant feels like entering an ancient tomb.
“My travels [to the Middle East] were the inspiration,” Johnny says. “We looked to the Baalbek temples in Lebanon. Jared took [that brief] and elevated it. I’m really proud of it.”
As for the drinks, not much has changed. The diverse wine list continues to span from the Mediterranean to Australia with a focus on Queensland and Middle Eastern wines, like a Lebanese rosé and a Moroccan shiraz. There are also elaborate cocktails that incorporate Middle Eastern flavours, such as a smoked harissa Margarita and an Espresso Martini made with hawaij-spiced syrup.