It seems like every week there are new restaurants and cafes opening in Brisbane and they all sound AMAZING. Photos flood our Instagram, Facebook and Twitter feeds and we struggle to keep up with them all. Unfortunately this means sometimes we forget about the older, more established places; the restaurants which have been around for years and have earned their stripes time and time again for providing Brisbane diners with consistently great food, impeccable service and overall, a fabulous dining experience. Gambaro on Caxton St falls into this category for me and I was reminded of it recently when I had the opportunity to try their new Winter Menu.
Gambaro: My dining experience at the Brisbane Icon
The Gambaro name is synonymous with quality seafood in Brisbane and the first Gambaro establishment, a fish and chip shop, opened on Caxton St in 1953. Today, the Gambaro family have expanded their focus to providing five star hospitality in the award winning Black Hide Steakhouse and the luxury 5 star Gambaro Hotel, one of only two 5 star hotels in Brisbane. The restaurant has a warm and glamourous feel to it and from the moment you step inside you are made to feel special.
After beginning the night with a glass of classic Moet & Chandon champagne, I was seated at the round table with a group of fellow foodies to begin a five course meal featuring some of the highlights of the new menu. Before eating, we were introduced to John Gambaro himself, who welcomed us to his family’s restaurant and introduced us to the history the Brisbane icon we have come to know and love. He then went on to describe that while Gambaro was known for its traditional seafood menu, such as the classic Lobster Mornay, they also introduce new dishes seasonally.
Our first course of the night was calamari served with radicchio, zucchini, chilli and aioli. The lightly battered Mediterranean style local whole baby squid was incredibly tender as it was flash fried. The shredded radicchio and zucchini ribbons were crisp and fresh additions to the light dish and the aioli was the perfect accompaniment. Appreciative murmurs were audible around the otherwise silent table as we savoured each bite. Alongside the calamari, we were served a glass of Cloudy Bay Pinot Gris which was a perfect citrusy match for the seafood.
After the empty plates were cleared, it wasn’t long before the next course arrived. Showcasing iconic local Hervey Bay Scallops, this dish served the scallops as half shells with a zesty lemon-herb butter and crunchy pangrattato. The fried crumb added texture to the perfectly cooked fresh scallops and the simple sauce allowed the scallop flavour to shine. A simple dish but executed so well – it was the stand out for me!
Following the scallops, we were treated to roasted split king prawns served with a harissa, herb and pomegranate salad. The prawns were giant and served split but with their heads intact. Juicy and flavoursome with a lightly charred flavour, they were delicious by themselves but the salad was the perfect fresh and zingy partner.
After finishing my glass of white wine, I was offered a glass of the Mitolo 2008 Serpico Cabernet Sauvignon from McLaren Vale in South Australia, where John had recently visited. John described how he was always looking for new wines to bring back for the restaurant cellar for their guests and that this was a new favourite of his. The wine was perfectly matched to the fourth course, a pasta dish featuring the narrow twisted tubular casarecce pasta served with nudja, a spicy spreadable pork salami originating from Calabria in Southern Italy, tomato and oregano. The spicy nudja contained so much flavour which the pasta just soaked up. By this point, we were all feeling extremely sated and full. But wait, there was still dessert to come!
The final dessert course was simply described as Raspberry, Chocolate, Almond Milk Bombe with raspberry sorbet. The French style set parfait was creamy but lighter than I expected and after spooning in, I discovered a tart raspberry centre which was amazing. The parfait was beautifully plated alongside a scoop of raspberry sorbet, chocolate shavings, a few fresh raspberries and my favourite touch – dried raspberry dust. Despite the relative lightness of the dessert, I was feeling beyond full by this point.
Earlier in the night John regaled us with stories including that of the classic Gambaro dessert – Crepes Suzette. So after our intended final course, John decided that we absolutely must try the crepes and out came John the Crepe Specialist (not to be confused with John Gambaro), wheeling a trolley setup with two burners. Nonchalantly, he flicked them on and began to prepare the crepes while describing the crepe making method as we all watched in amazement. He deftly chopped up fresh banana and strawberries and began to caramelise them in separate pans, all while warming the crepes.
Then, after dousing the crepes in syrup and a glug of Grand Marnier, he flambeed them in front of us and trust me, the cameras were out for this spectacle! The crepes were then plated alongside ice cream and John walked around to serve us the caramelised fruit. All of our stomachs were beyond stretched at this point of the night, however we all managed to find room for those crepes and I think we can all see why they are still such a classic. A fabulous, interactive dessert option which I highly recommend if given the opportunity!
It was a wonderful evening and introduction to Gambaro for me. With the lovely company of fellow food lovers and John, along with introductions to Executive Chef Sunil Savur and Head Chef Lukas McEwan as well as the man himself, Michael Gambaro, I was made to feel incredibly welcome by everyone there. It was a special event, and not one everyone would get to experience, but I’m certain that every diner would be made to feel like I did, whether they are there for a media dinner or not. I have every intention of returning (their breakfast is now on my hit list!) and I’m now reminded that there are old faithful restaurants that have been around for many years, and there’s good reason for that (note to self – don’t forget them when caught up in the excitement of the flourishing Brisbane dining scene). After all, they are the cause of Brisbane’s growing foodie hubs.
You can check out the flavours of Gambaro and Black Hide Steakhouse at the Caxton Street Festival on June 7. Click here for all of the details.