Nursery cafés fill Time Out with dread: uninspiring menus, unremarkable coffee, naff surroundings. But Gillian’s is the exception that proves the rule. OK, so it’s set in a nursery, but the surroundings are gorgeous, the locally roasted Di Bella coffee decent and the food is of restaurant quality.
Palm fronds and lily leaves soften the indoor-outdoor space festooned with fairy lights and lanterns. Walls are prettied with gilt mirrors while silver candelabra drip tears of wax beside bud-filled vases from the adjoining florist and antiques shop.
Owner-chef Gillian Hirst runs plates from the kitchen. Fans have followed her since the early ’90s at Four Steps on Mary (now a pole-dancing joint), where her signature sand crab lasagne was created, and her tenures as kitchen queen at Il Centro, Indigo and Tapas Mercado.
That famed crab lasagne ($23 with salad) is on today’s menu. It’s soft, creamy and pleasingly heavy with sand crab, the rust-coloured abalone sauce filled with flavour. The crowd is conservative so the menu stays within those bounds without being plain-Jane. Hirst says, "We cook what people like to eat. My sister-in law Tracy heads up the kitchen, we know each other and food so well." Tracy started as Hirst’s apprentice at Chevaliers, Milton, going back close to 30 years. Today at Gillian’s, Tracy does one of the best risottos in town – a lush Champagne and asparagus combo with seared scallops ($23.50). Do leave room for dessert though: namely Tracy’s roulade-style lemon curd scroll ($8.50).
Having just celebrated its first birthday, Gillian’s Garden Café is well and truly blooming. Come visit and smell the roses.