How a brand renowned for seafood built an award-winning steakhouse
Mention the name ‘Gambaro’ to anyone in Brisbane and they will recognise the iconic seafood establishment and boutique hotel on Caxton Street, one of the oldest precincts in the city. The Gambaro Seafood Restaurant is a Brisbane dining institution.
But besides their strong reputation in seafood – forged by 67 years in the seafood and hospitality industries – the Gambaro family have also carved a reputation in beef.
What was once the fish-and-chip shop opposite the hotel is now a five-star steakhouse that has won multiple awards, including Australia’s Best Steak Restaurant and a Chef Hat in the Good Food Guide Awards.
So how did a family that thrived in the seafood business come to serve up some of the best beef in the country?
A new era was born
Black Hide Steakhouse – named after real black cowhide on the walls – was the culmination of two family dynasties coming together.
“As the story goes, John met Brendan and everything just made sense,” says Lukas McEwan, Group Executive Chef of the Gambaro Group.
He’s referring to John Gambaro and Brendan Menegazzo, the Managing Director of Australian family beef and cattle company Stanbroke.
“Brendan would often bring international guests to the company’s north Queensland cattle stations and abattoirs. At the end of the tour he wanted them to experience a Stanbroke steak,” Lukas explains. “However, there was no guarantee that any of the multiple restaurants supplying their beef would actually be serving their steak on that day. The final piece of the tour was missing.”
At the same time, John wanted to open up more restaurants. “John knew all about operating restaurants and producing the finest seafood in Queensland, but he didn’t know a lot about beef and cattle,” Lukas says. “If we were going to introduce steak to our customers, he knew we’d have to get the quality and consistency right from the beginning.”
A strategic partnership kicked off where Stanbroke would supply Black Hide with its entire steak menu – the highest quality Angus and Wagyu export cuts. In turn, Black Hide would only use their beef. It was this exclusivity that gave Black Hide Steakhouse its marketing edge.
“That’s where the brand was created. It really took off and resonated with a lot of people,” Lukas says. “You could come here every day of the week and get an amazing steak, then come back the week after and enjoy the same great steak.”
Black Hide Steakhouse is the only restaurant in Brisbane where you’ll find an Angus MB3+ or a Wagyu MB5+ steak on the menu.
Cooked to perfection
Besides the single supplier arrangement of export quality beef, the other major point of difference that sets Black Hide Steakhouse apart from the rest is their distinctive cooking method.
“There are many ways to cook a steak. We are the only restaurant in Brisbane to use the broiler grill,” says Vincent Martzloff, General Manager of Food & Beverage at the Gambaro Group. That’s the Montague Broiler Grill, a special piece of machinery imported from Chicago.
“It is a high heat cooking centre with a plancha top that allows you to cook perfect steaks without losing heat. This created the brand that Black Hide Steakhouse are renowned for – we extract the fat from the meat to produce a pure beef crust. What both Lukas and John wanted to achieve with this was to respect the product, which is so pristine and consistent.
A culinary benchmark was set
The quality of the steak coming out of Black Hide’s kitchen is backed by multiple awards, including Australia’s Best Steak Restaurant three years in a row, Queensland’s Best Steak Restaurant six years in a row and a Chef Hat four years in a row – an award bestowed upon the most exceptional chefs by the Australian Good Food Guide.
“It is something we didn’t expect. We knew it existed but it wasn’t something we set out to achieve. Our mindset didn’t change and our menu didn’t change. We just continued with our method and our brand,” explains Vincent.
“Coming from a seafood-oriented family that ventured into the dark side of steaks, it was a real statement piece for us. This was a testament to Lukas’s dedication to his cooking methods and the mindset of the Gambaro family. It was a very proud moment for all of us.”
In 2019 the Gambaro Group opened up a second Black Hide location at Treasury Brisbane, offering a more luxurious dining experience (think Beluga caviar) and a dry aging program specific to this high-rolling location.
A culture of customer service
Black Hide Steakhouse is also a place deep-seated in routine and tradition.
“We’ve created a ritual that resonates with everyone. We have a cowbell at the front of the restaurant, and if you order a tomahawk, we go and ring the bell,” Vincent explains. “You can see the waiter coming down with a 1.2KG steak with a massive bone coming out. We embrace the courage to try and eat a tomahawk on your own.”
In the main dining room, there is also a “knife wall”, where the personalised steak knives of frequent customers sit proudly on display.
“We’ve introduced the concept of knife ambassadors, an ambassador program for our regulars,” says Vincent. “Guests that have been coming here regularly for years will get presented with their own special knife.” The knives are unique and hand-crafted by David Brodziak, a knife carver from Western Australia, with wooden handles made from native Australian trees.
“Every knife has a story, and no two knives are exactly the same. We give you a little knife ceremony and engrave your name on the box. So when you come and dine, we present you with your knife and thank you for your partnership and support.”
Black Hide Steakhouse has 120 knife ambassadors on Caxton St, and a further 24 at the Treasury Brisbane. But don’t think it’s easy to get your hands on one. “It’s not just about coming here and spending money,” says Vincent. “It’s about building the relationship with our strong regulars. There has to be a connection.”
Open for business
Like many other establishments, the Gambaro Group transformed their top restaurants into takeaway kitchens when the pandemic forced them to close. “We were very lucky to have an owner with a very resilient mind who encouraged us to set up takeaway. We did takeaway seafood, but we also started sending out some of our signature dishes – the beef short ribs and Italian meatballs. We got a lot of support from the community and it allowed us to keep the brand alive.”
Black Hide Steakhouse are seeing a rise in comfort levels from the guests coming back in to dine at the restaurant. “But it’s been a tough year, not just for us but for everyone,” says Vincent.
The restaurant features different dining areas and each offers a unique dining experience for their guests, whether it be a degustation menu with a meat feast, a romantic dinner, or a Friday lunch in front of the bar. “There are distinct aspects to our restaurant that create a different journey – that’s what I enjoy the most here,” says Vincent.
“But I think the key is showcasing great ingredients, simply plated – you don’t need complex cooking methods, fusion or molecular dishes with 20 elements. It’s just a great steak with fantastic wagyu fat roasted potatoes and an amazing red wine jus.”
If you can’t make it to Black Hide Steakhouse, we’ve got our hands on the recipe for their signature Italian meatballs with basil and sugo.