Gentrification. There’s no doubting that it can be a tricky, unpredictable beast wielding a most decidedly double edged sword about our ever changing city. Done right it can turn drab, underutilized locations into exciting new venues, but when it’s taken too far it can turn great, divey locations into bland, soulless shadows of their former selves (eg: The Hyde Park Hotel, may it rest in peace). That being said, I think that the conversion of an inner city provider of automotive repair into the new eatery that is Gordon St Garage definitely falls into the first category. Perth has a million square miles of boring suburbs to house garages in, so I’m all for this switch from spanners and wrenches to knives and forks. It’s what the downtown area of a city is meant for anyway! So, given my enthusiasm for this seemingly well executed bit of gentrification I rounded up a few of my usual partners in crime and headed on down to check it out Saturday night.
Ok, although I don’t normally do reviews in this style, I’m going to divide the following entry into three distinct sections: the venue, the food and the service. This is because I have different things to say about each of them, so here goes…
Having a lot of space to work with, the folks at Gordon St have done a great job of refitting the place. It’s a huge, open place with a semi-industrial vibe and a few nods to its previous usage (such as a few tools on the wall, although judging by their level of cleanliness I’d wager that they’d never been put to use on an actual car). In general it has an eclectic, slightly ramshackle feel, with an array of different light fittings and furniture styles that really suited the wharehouse-esque feel of the place. In addition to the huge floor space, there’s also a small upstairs section and a more intimate area towards the front of the building. The placement of the bar (with a coffee roaster visible at the rear) and desert cabinet and cake stand in the middle of the downstairs floor were original and cleverly done too. Overall a pretty good job that incorporated a lot of the hipster chic trends that are in vogue these days while still managing to retain an original, individual identity.
Being as that I’m on a health kick and am staying off the booze, I had an iced tea instead of something stronger to drink while we were waiting for our table. Given that I wasn’t expecting much from the “boring” non-alcoholic option, I have to say that it was sensational. Freshly made to order and packing a peachy, fruit driven punch it was definitely a pleasant surprise.
Surveying the menu I have to say it was a little hard to pin down exactly what they were going for as it divided between salads, wood fired pizzas and meat & fish. That being said, I’m generally more than willing to roll with something a little different so the four of us decided to share the roast beetroot, blue vini, honeyed walnuts and nashi pear salad ($18), the Israeli couscous, wood fired ironbark pumpkin and pomegranate salad ($18), the fish tagine, potato, tomato & olive ($35) and the braised lamb neck, sweet & sour shallots ($33) with some frites and bread on the side for good measure. Without doubt the salads were the highlight of the meal. A mixture of cooked and raw beetroot combined perfectly with the robust blue cheese and sweet walnuts and pear, while the Israeli couscous (which was a new experience for me), pumpkin and pomegranate was a delightful mixture of texture and flavours. The lamb neck was laden with fragrant spices and the tagine quite tasty too, but neither was anything that spectacular and, to my and my friends’ mind, not necessarily deserving of their considerable price tags. Unfortunately I can’t report as to what the desserts are like due to the aforementioned health kick, but if they tasted anywhere near half as good as they looked then I’m sure I wouldn’t have found them lacking.
In terms of the drinks side of things, not that I was able to partake of any given that I’m currently abstaining from intoxicating beverages, but they had a good range of beers, a decent wine list with a good number of non-Australian options (which I’m a big fan of) and an impressive range of spirits including Gosling’s rum (my favourite!) served with fever tree ginger beer, mint and fresh lime, so bonus points are awarded there.
Up until now everything’s been sounding pretty sweet, right? Well, dear readers, I’m sad to say that this is where things take a bit of a turn for the worst. I’ll start with the booking system. Now while I’d read on another blogger’s review that they did take bookings for weekend dinner, both times I called the day before the phone rang out and I got a message cheerily informing me that they did not, as it turns out, take bookings and that we should just present ourselves on the night and all would be well. “Fair enough,” I thought, “if that’s the way they want to roll then I can handle a little bit of a wait.” Well, as it turned out, while we were waiting in line to see about getting a table, several people strolled in, announced that they had a reservation and were duly whisked away to their waiting table. Now, while I have to confess that this did piss me off more than a little, we were soon told that it would only be a 25 or so minute wait for our table of four to get a seat. Being as we were expecting as much, we were happy to wait that long to try out this new and happening eatery.
So, as things transpired we waited around 15 or more minutes for space to open up for us to have a drink until became available. Despite the fact that a couple of tables near the bar did soon clear we were taken right upstairs and out the back to an outdoor area that, whilst comfortable enough, didn’t have any seats and wasn’t exactly what you’d call cosy. We then waited a while longer for our drink order to be taken. After about a total waiting time of 50 minutes or so, I feared that our location had become a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ and I went down to enquire as to how much longer it would be until we were seated. When I was finally able to get a hold of the chap that was running the show he unapologetically informed me that there was still another 3 or 4 tables still waiting ahead of us and then hurried off. When I returned and gave the others the news we had a quick conference, decided “bollocks to this”, and were literally on our way down the stairs to walk out when the aforementioned unapologetic chap caught us and finally lead us to our table. Given that we’d waited so long we stayed and to be fair they did give us the first round of drinks on the house, but not until we’d voiced our discontent about being grossly mislead about the wait time.
Having finally made it to our table I had hoped that they’d be able to make up for their lacklustre performance thus far, but sadly that was not to happen. On top of the fact that our food took quite a while to get to the table once ordered, the poor waiter who was looking after us was obviously run off his feet and was thus unable to give us the friendly, personalised attention that is the hallmark of good restaurant service. He did mention that he was sorry about that as we were leaving, and like I said I don’t hold him personally responsible, but being busy on a Saturday night is no excuse for not providing good service and the management should ensure they have the right staffing level to ensure that this doesn’t happen.
So, given Gordon St Garage’s previous usage, I think it’s quite adept to use a motoring metaphor to sum up my assessment of the place: it’s like a beautifully restored vintage car with an engine that doesn’t quite work properly. They’ve refurbished it perfectly, the interior is great and it has all the right elements there but it just doesn’t run smoothly. That being said, with a bit of a tune up and a tweak here or there it has the potential to be a fantastic addition to the burgeoning CBD nightlife scene. I must also add that I’ve heard good things about their breakfasts and given that they roast their own coffee I’m definitely going to head back there and try out some brekky and a brew some time soon. For those of you thinking of heading there for dinner I’d advise you to avoid the weekend and try for a quiet weeknight, as while the dinner we had was nice enough, it definitely didn’t warrant all the dicking around that preceded it by any stretch of the imagination.