30 Dec Lume, South Melbourne
Chefs Shaun Quade (formerly of Royal Mail Hotel, Quay, Biota Dining and Urbane) and John-Paul Fiechtner (Bo Innovation, Hong Kong, and Le Chateaubriand, Paris) intrigued us with their pop-up preview before the official opening of Lume, and successfully excited their audience with thoughts of what was to come. A2 wanted to visit back in August, but it was relatively new so we decided to give them time to find their feet. With its sudden popularity it’s unlikely we would have been able to secure a last-minute booking anyway! A few months later, and with A2 going back overseas, a special farewell treat was planned and it was finally time to see what Lume was up to.
The facade is modest, and very subtle. Blending right in alongside its neighbouring terrace houses, it could easily be missed. The open kitchen can be viewed from the front room, where the a la carte menu is available. Pale timbers abound, both on the floors and the walls, giving it quite a modern but warm feel. Passing by the wine room we come to the back section where only the degustation is served. The stone floors, a very high, peaked glass ceiling, and liberal use of potted plants make it seem almost like we’re seated in a summery glasshouse. It’s relaxing. Almost like we’re sitting in a friend’s backyard. It is quiet though, and disconnected from the hubbub of the kitchen. I suppose there’s a place for both environments to suit different personal preferences.
Before you read on, I would highly recommend going into Lume with no preconceived notions. The intended element of wonder and surprise is kept more intact by not having too many expectations. I purposely went in without having read any review in depth, and I enjoyed the experience more than I would have if I did read extensively. So why write a blog entry? Well, the primary intention of this blog has always been to be a record for myself, but if you’d still like to continue reading, feel free!
As with some other degustations, the menu isn’t displayed before the meal begins, but it is, however, presented to us at the end in a sealed envelope. It helps keep things a surprise, but also helps us remember what our eyes and palates have just experienced. The first few plates arrive soon after one another, but are well paced. The dishes are presented as if we’re on a journey, with the waiter explaining the area inspiring the dish, whether that be an environment, a city, a region or a particular coastline.
Our adventure begins with Breakfast Eel on Burnt Barley Crumpet. It’s described as a breakfast dish, because the first meal of the day is the one that sets you up and gets you ready for what’s to come. The butter and honey are laced with a subtle, savoury and slightly smoky eel flavour, and I half wish there were more crumpets so I can devour all the honey in the jar.
Raw Taro and Calamari Entrails warmed with Saltbush Butter. Artful squiggles of crunchy taro strands, smooth calamari entrails and squirts of olive paste are surprisingly flavoursome. This is mum’s favourite course.
Scallop Dressed with Jamon Dashi, Honeydew and Roe arrives next. I love the bowls, which are like broken egg shells. Almost like we’re eating treasures we’ve just discovered and cracked open. There’s something that looks a bit like pork floss inside and I wonder if they’re dried scallops. The Tasmanian scallops are juicy, and the dish is surprisingly savoury. Or perhaps not so surprisingly, given there’s roe, Jamon, saltbush and dashi in it. There are bursts of moisture and saltiness from the roe.
Emu Tart with Warm Jersey Milk and Rose Geranium is rather pretty. Macadamias are mentioned in the verbal description, and we wonder if that was the white shaved ingredient that looks like coconut. The tart had a savoury punch to it, and interestingly, the centre was rather liquid. This is one for eating with the hands.
Another of the particularly interesting dishes is the Sea Corn and Dairy Cow. I’m not exactly sure where the crab comes in, but I think the King Crab has somehow been transformed into a creamy custard-like substance, then set in a mold to create a smokey flavoured ‘baby corn’. Strands of corn silk, and a polenta chip contribute further to the corn theme, and the blow-torched strands of what may have been the diary cow component (perhaps udder?) have an addictive smokiness to it. Now, if the waiters mentioned ‘cow udder’ in their description, the thought of eating such a thing might psych out the unadventurous. Plates might keep returning to the kitchen with the udder untouched, even though it was one of the nicest things on the plate. A thought to ponder.
Barbequed Ice with Raw Cobia, Shiitake and Lemon Aspen. The idea behind this one was to give the impression of barbecued fish, without actually having barbecued the fish. The cobia is raw, cut straight from the bone like sashimi. The other elements are smokey, but I find them to be too bitter and overpowering for the beautiful piece of fish.
The Dry-aged Duck, Preserved Summer Fruit and Elderflower looks spectacular. The giant sugar-cured duck egg yolk is delicious. The outer part of it has hardened slightly during curing, but the inner liquid gold had been preserved. Now, I’m not a fan of black liquorice, but the liquorice is so subtle that my brain isn’t reminded of liquorice lollies at all. We’re told the ducks ate nothing but strawberries for the last six weeks of their lives, so that the meat would come out sweeter. The preserved cherry complements this sweetness quite well. The duck skin is crispy, and the fat so well rendered that there’s almost nothing left but moist and flavoursome goodness.
Cauliflower Cheese with Pastry Smoked over Pear Wood. After the preceding courses I’ve come to expect the unexpected. We later discover the ‘cheese’ isn’t really cheese at all, but rather cauliflower. The ‘washed rind’ of the cheese has a sprinkling of sugar, contributing to a slightly sweet flavour, and the inside of the cheese is rather liquid. The pastry had been baked in the morning, then smoked over the pear wood all afternoon. It’s not light and crispy like most croissants, but I find the denser texture of the pastry perfect for catching and scooping up the run-away cauliflower cheese. The others aren’t sure if they like it, but I enjoy it quite a bit.
The egg bowls reappear, this time containing Lambs Blood Ganache Rolled in Maple Oats, Native Apple Jam and Riberry Pepper. I don’t taste any gameyness in the lambs blood ganache, which has a dark chocolate-like bitterness and has a dense fudge-like consistency, though mum’s super-sensitive-to-lamb tastebuds pick it up. It’s like eating a slightly naughty breakfast with apple jam, apple skins, and the bits of chocolate distributed throughout the ‘granola’. There are also some little cubes that are rather acrid. Unfortunately they are distractingly bitter and I end up eating only a few, which was more than plenty to go with the rest of the dish.
Blueberries and Sour Goat’s Milk is the second sweet course. The sour goat’s milk is not a flavour the parents are accustomed to, and some is left behind. Hidden amongst the blueberries are tapioca pearls disguised as blueberries, and finding the first one in my mouth is at first confusing, but pleasurable.
Jerusalem Artichoke, La Sirene Praline, Caramelised Apple and Chamomile makes a reappearance, but this time in dessert form. The ice cream is laced strongly with stout, the apple features as a reduction, and the artichoke shell is filled with something that is almost like white chocolate. At this point I really don’t know what is what anymore. This melts quickly and doesn’t leave much time for appraising with either the eyes or the camera lens. The alcohol is pretty strong and I feel my cheeks warming up almost right away, but I enjoy this very much.
Our fifteenth course is another spectacular one – the Cacao Pod from Maralumi with Notes of Tobacco, Green Banana and Currants. This finale is plated at the table. Tobacco ‘Wizz Fizz’ is sprinkled onto the plate first, followed by a few ‘vanilla pods’, then the chocolate cacao pod. A firm tap with a spoon reveals many different components stashed inside the cacao pod. There’s a dehydrated banana scroll that reminds me of dried jackfruit or lychee, egg-shaped currant jelly, a yellow custard-like substance, an orange fruity-flavoured thing, and tiny cubes of Granny Smith soaked in strawberry absinthe. There are so many interesting things to contemplate, and the cacao ice cream on the side was also delicious.
The service we received was efficient, attentive and warm. And the food? Well, no, not everything worked, but everything sure was inventive and different. Go in with an open mind and allow yourself to be surprised.
Note: at the time of booking, the 15-course degustation was $140. They’ve since introduced a pre-paid system which also includes a service charge, and the menu is now $165.
226 Coventry Street
South Melbourne, VIC, 3205
(03) 9690 0185