The casualisation of Melbourne’s dining scene is showing no signs of slowing down. Proof if any were needed can be found in the works getting fully underway for new city dining venue Lucy Liu’s Kitchen and Bar, which will open in June in the place of its now-gutted fine dining predecessor, French bistro PM24.
The Smith’s chef Michael Lambie (ex-Taxi Dining Room, Circa) will be executive chef and join director of operations Scott Borg and head chef Zac Cribbs to bring punters what will be a casual venue with fine-dining quality fare, offering a menu covering the greatest hits of Asian cuisine.
“Last year, while I was in Shanghai, I decided I wanted to open a new restaurant that wasn’t specialised in just one type of cuisine – that was a bit of everything; Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, but all done really well,” Lambie explains.
Cribbs and Lambie both concede they are not out to dazzle with new concepts or reinvent Asian cuisine, but rather to highlight the very best of what the entire continent has to offer. “As a chef it’s really exciting because we’re not boxed into any one thing,” says Cribbs. “There are hundreds of dishes that taste great from each cuisine and we are going to pick the best ones and have a menu full of things that are awesome.”
“Awesome”, according to Cribbs and Lambie, includes crayfish gyoza, Peking duck dumplings, king prawn rice paper rolls, soups, Cantonese steamed fish, crispy Szechuan duck and Korean pork hock.
“At The Smith we do a seared tuna with an Indonesian-style wasabi dressing made with kecap manis and it’s off the hook,” enthuses Lambie. “So we will be doing a version of that.”
The drinks will match the menu; Asian beers and classic, Asian-inspired cocktails such as coconut mojitos and mai tais. There will also be a wine list that spans the $70 to $100 mark and “some really interesting wines” will be served by the glass.
March Studio, who did the interior of Gazi in the CBD, is responsible for the architecture and the fit-out and have already started the renovation. It’s head, Rodney Eggleston, travelled to Shanghai with Lambie for inspiration for the design.
The team emphasises that the atmosphere at Lucy Liu will be unfussy, fast-paced and casual. How did a team with such notable careers in fine dining decide to open a restaurant like Lucy Liu? Are they simply following a trend in casualised dining that will eventually pass?
“When I came to Melbourne in the late ‘90s and opened Circa,” says Lambie, “all I had in my head was that we were going to win three hats and be the number-one restaurant in the world. It just doesn’t work that way,” he continues, shaking his head. “The whole world has gone more casual. People don’t necessarily want that fine dining service.”
Cribbs points out that in Melbourne now, there are those who dine out three times a week exactly because of the casualisation of dining, and that this is good for operators and punters alike.
Importantly, Lucy Liu will be taking bookings and walk-ins, something the team knows will please diners tired of not being able to get a table on a night out.
How casual can things get before it stops being fine dining? “Wait and see what it’s like when we open Lucy Liu,” Lambie says with a smile.
Lucy Liu’s Kitchen and Bar will open in June at 24 Russell Street, Melbourne.