Laurus, with its high ceilings and multi-level seating, is inspired by the mountainous valleys of southern China. And its colour palette of deep greens, charcoal and mushroom reflects the ingredients found in both Chinese and Australian cuisines.

Moving through the sleek space, choose from intimate, curvaceous booths; tables by the floor-to-ceiling windows, with views of Victoria Street, Carlton, and the CBD; and a hidden-away, cosily lit mezzanine floor.

Behind the new modern-Chinese diner is owner Boyang Fu, head chef Roger Lu (Sezar, The Atlantic) and general manager Quentin Ferguson (Ezard).

Fu is from Nanjing, the capital of China’s Jiangsu province, and his hospitality-centred family has owned and run restaurants, tea plantations and resort-style hotels on tea estates for generations. “My inspiration has always been about taking the best from my heritage and traditions, and blending these with a progressive approach,” he says.

While Lu has worked mostly in European kitchens, Chinese cooking has always been front of mind. And the menu reflects this enduring interest, combining it with Australian influences and impeccable presentation – long tweezers sit in his apron pocket during our chat. It was Lu who came up with the name Laurus, which translates to “bay leaf” in Latin. For him, the bay leaf is an expression of the crossover and blending of the two cultures. Bay leaves feature in the European braises he’s perfected in his professional life, and, along with star anise, they’re central to many of the Chinese dishes he likes to cook at home.

From his open galley kitchen – with its row of colourful pickle and preserve jars over the pass – Lu serves bite-sized soy cakes made from house-made soybean paste. They’re topped with a creamy chicken-liver parfait with Chinese five spice (although Lu’s version actually has 10 spices), plus chopped English chives and slice of pickled daikon. The thinly sliced kingfish is light and fresh, served with an aged soy and hai zao (seaweed extract) dressing. And the chow mein might test friendships – with its smoky chargrilled octopus and the house XO sauce that generously coats the noodles, it’s not one you’ll want to share.

Elsewhere on the menu, the crispy red-vinegar-caramel-glazed eggplant has a chewy batter made from tapioca and rice flour, and a lingering heat. Lu says while it’s “there to remind you that you have had something delicious … the heat doesn’t mask the other flavours”. A hero is the fall-apart soy-glazed beef short rib, which is cooked sous-vide for 24 hours then finished in the oven and topped with chilli strings.

There’s also a tasting menu – and a vegan version – that can be paired with wine, zero-alcohol alternatives or tea.

Ferguson has curated a considered beverage list that’s almost all-Australian. Only the teas and two tequilas are imported. The cocktails riff on the blend of Asian and Australian cultures, making use of makrut lime, osmanthus and oolong tea.

“If we are going to do modern southern Chinese food, I didn’t see the point in putting French and Italian wines on the menu,” says Ferguson. “I am a big believer in constraint. I don’t have any space to stock a lot of wine, and when you have constraint in terms of a wine list, then you end up pushing yourself to source locally and source some really cool stuff.”

An osmanthus gin – exclusive to Laurus – showcases the floral symbol of Nanjing, which is infused alongside traditional botanicals. It’s made near Geelong, at Logan’s Micro Distillery, and it’s already taken home bronze at the 2021 Tasting Australia Spirit Awards. Try it in the Guilin Summer cocktail with limoncello, lime and ginger.

Laurus
160 Victoria Street, Carlton
03 8797 2366

Hours:
Wed to Sat 12pm–10pm

laurusmelbourne.com.au