Your first look inside Gum Bistro, the charming West End newcomer fuelled by Qld produce

There’s something in the water in West End. The suburb’s recent surge into one of Brisbane’s most interesting dining precincts continued over the weekend, with the awaited opening of Gum Bistro. The neighbourhood eatery, run by a pair of savvy new-wave operators, is all about big flavours, small details, pitch-perfect needle drops and disarmingly chummy service. Come and take a gander …

Apr 19, 2024, updated Apr 19, 2024

There’s a point during my chat with Phil Poussart and Lachlan Matheson, the somm-chef tandem behind West End newcomer Gum Bistro, where the discussion strays into the notion of purpose. At this point in time, the duo (both first-time restaurant operators) are about an hour or so away from officially opening the doors to their bistro, which has become one of the most-anticipated openings of the year so far.

Instead of overseeing last-minute preparations, they’re graciously fielding my questions about the spirit of their newly minted venue and the drive – the mandate – that underpins and defines their approach to hospitality.

“You need to provide,” says Phil.

It might seem like a no-brainer response from someone who has spent a considerable chunk of his adult life working in restaurants, but in this instance Phil isn’t just referring to the act of serving food and drink – he’s talking about offering more.

“If you’re going to ask someone to come and give you money for food, you also need to provide something more back,” Phil elaborates. “We’re asking for you to come and spend a little bit of time here – the least we can do is make you comfortable and give you something nice to look at.”

Despite this being their first time at the helm of a concept, Phil and Lachlan are seasoned pros in a restaurant setting. Phil has worked at the likes of Fico in Hobart in addition to overseeing the opening wine programs at ESSA and Pilloni.

Meanwhile, Lachlan started his culinary career under Ben Williamson at Gerard’s before embarking on a stint overseas working for the P.Franco crew. He also helmed the kitchen at Pasta Club, the much-loved eatery that inhabited Gum Bistro’s Boundary Street abode before the duo took over.

All of this is to say that it’s clear from the outset that Phil and Lachlan boast an innate understanding of the tangible and intangible aspects that make a restaurant great, not just good – and the proof is in the proverbial pudding.

At its core, Gum Bistro is a neighbourhood eatery – casual, approachable, unpretentious and a little bit unrefined. But it’s also purposeful, considered and handcrafted. Based on feedback we gathered from several opening-weekend diners, the vibes were immaculate. And while the food certainly earned rave reviews, most gushed about the experience as a whole.

A visit to any new restaurant involves a succession of first impressions, with interiors often setting the initial tone. In order to make Gum Bistro inviting from the jump, Phil and Lachlan have sought to make the space light and airy (a significant departure from Pasta Club’s matte-black chalkboard interior), drawing upon the building’s corrugated-iron roof and spotted-gum fixtures as inspiration for a loosely Australiana-inspired aesthetic.

From the outside, the 40-seat bistro looks every bit the part of a fun and easygoing nosh spot. Warmth radiates out onto the street from the inside, where light from the almost-spherical ceiling lamps and the kitchen pass bounces off the freshly painted white VJ walls. A fun interplay between timber, metal and linen textures is accented by the use of plant life supplied by Avalon Florals in New Farm.

As guests scooch into position along the restaurant’s lengthy banquette or crowd around larger tables towards the rear, they’ll spy numerous artworks sourced from local creatives like Sancintya Mohini Simpson, Mia Boe and D Harding.

Meanwhile, an eclectic playlist of tunes keeps the tempo upbeat. It’s a restaurant that caters to senses beyond taste and smell, and while the interior design and vibe curation is largely dictated by the tastes of its owners, it boasts a broad appeal.

“We’ve been trying to sort of cater [Gum Bistro] to everyone that is around West End,” says Phil. “You’ve got architects and barristers a kilometre away from uni students. We want to encompass that scope and give people what they want from a bistro.”

This ethos also extends to the food-and-drink offering, which is shaped by a couple of distinct influences. On the food front, Lachlan is using Queensland produce as a foundational building block for Gum Bistro’s malleable, seasonally shifting spread.  The flip-side of Gum’s textured menu boasts a list of credits, spotlighting the likes of Suncoast Fresh, The Falls Farm, Picone Exotics, Urban Valley Mushrooms, Marrow Meats, Rocky Point Aquaculture, Brisbane Valley Quail, Margra Lamb and Mick’s Nuts as key contributors to the restaurant’s larder.

Secondly, Lachlan is relishing the chance to utilise his full skillset – employing a broader range of cooking techniques across Gum’s menu, which swings from snacks to substantials. There’s also a free-flowing freedom to experiment, with no singular cuisine imparting an outsized influence on the fare.

“I’ve been cooking pasta for the last two years, so I really wanted to put my hands on some proteins,” says Lachlan of his approach. “With the menu itself, I wanted to use honest, enjoyable chef techniques – even if it’s just making ice-cream bases, or all of these things that I just haven’t been able to do for so long. In another sense, we’re obviously thinking what does Brisbane need? What pairs well with wines and such. But again, it’s also just for my enjoyment.”

The fun starts with snacks like duck-liver parfait with native tamarind jelly and brawn (a form of cold-cut terrine) served with dressed leaves and preserved apricot.

From there, portions increase in size with the likes of fried Falls Farm eggplant with tomato, shallot and herbs, pipis with oyster mushroom, young ginger and basil, and sweetcorn agnolotti with crema di parmigiana.

Gum’s large plates are shareable or hoardable, with the likes of cabbage-wrapped cobia with zucchini and creme fraiche, Margra lamb rump with sweetbread, beans and radicchio, and autumn pot pie with caramelised onion and gruyere pairing well with a side of crispy potato pave with aioli. For dessert, the Davidson plum and rhubarb sorbet, and the date pudding with cardamom ice-cream are stand-out selections.

In a similar vein, Phil is seizing the opportunity to fashion a beverage program of his own, pushing for a sense of diversity across regionality and price point. “I wanted to have around 50–60 things that were reasonably priced on the main menu that comes out to everyone,” explains Phil. “It doesn’t necessarily have a set theme – just choosing things that I found interesting or that were made by friends.”

Gum’s tight by-the-glass wine list manages to traverse a lot of terrain, encompassing the likes of a savagnin from Stoney Rise in Tasmania, an amber-hued Halcyon Days pinot noir blend from Hawkes Bay in New Zealand, and a bold cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon blend from La Grange aux Belles in Loire Valley.

A larger by-the-bottle list expands the horizons further, but oenophiles will likely invest some time thumbing through a second list of wines housed in temperature-controlled storage, which offers vintage drops across a number of niche categories. A clutch of signature cocktails make use of kitchen ingredients, like the Sun Can’t Compare (a mezcal-based number infused with Davidson plum) and the Here Comes The Crazy Man (Chartreuse and calvados blanche mixed with apricot shrub, ginger and honey).

Looking forward, Phil and Lachlan have long-term plans to open Gum Bistro for lunch services and, perhaps, even earlier on weekends in order to continue providing for the community.

“The potential for opening up even earlier in the morning is still on the cards for the future,” says Lachlan. “But it definitely has already felt that way a little bit with locals coming by the door to say hello in the mornings. It’s starting to feel like a bit of a neighbourhood spot.”

Gum Bistro is now open for dinner from Tuesday to Saturday. Head to the Stumble Guide for more info.

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