Chef JP Fiechtner carefully lowers a slate-blue plate with a half-dozen strips of what could be onion peel or bonito. The menu’s only mildly helpful: “native bird dressed with white soy and accents of aniseed,” it reads. We’re advised to get in with our hands.
It’s a preview of the fine-dining restaurant, soon to open on Coventry Street, South Melbourne. Its team, Fiechtner, chef Shaun Quade and sommelier Sally Humble, has been talking a good game: “We definitely want to be a world-class restaurant,” Quade told me recently. “I know that sounds lofty, but you’ve got to aim for something.”
And, if first impressions count for anything Lûmé’s plenty more than idle talk. That native bird, for instance, was air-dried emu, cured in sour cherry and hung for six weeks. With a texture similar to bresaola, its delicate game aromas are intensified by this new-school-old-school process. Accompanying it are dehydrated field mushrooms dressed with white soy, almost toffee-like flakes of dried red cabbage, and elderberries we saw crystallising when we visited months before.
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The dish is a statement of intent in more ways than one: the “native bird” is resolutely Australian, and a piece of produce that’s markedly absent from menus; diners are challenged to shift from their comfort zone, left without the protection of a knife and fork; and while it’s presented as “simple”, the dish conceals months of effort and thought.
Equally surprising is the second course; it’s called “cauliflower with pastry”, though it appears to be a cheese. It’s no printing error – through some culinary magic, Quade and Fiechtner have transformed the cauli into a camembert, with a washed-rind crust and goo-filled innards. The pastry’s a croissant, smoked over apple.
Humble’s importance to the menu’s creation is strikingly clear. She accompanies the dish with what could be loosely called a cocktail: Eric Bordelet Granit Poire 2013, Delgado Zuleta La Goya sherry from Manzanilla and chardonnay lees racked from a barrel of wine she’s been making specifically for the restaurant. It’s mousey, multi-layered and eventually sweet, weird and totally delicious. Wine, obviously, is an equal partner in this cuisine.
The final dish in this short tour is “a simple piece of vanilla bean”, which is not, of course, either simple or a piece of vanilla bean. It’s rhubarb with fresh vanilla bean, and it’s tactile and sweet like something you ate as a kid, with all the green aromatics you appreciate as an adult. Served with a cup of Small Batch’s delicious Noe Quinayas filter coffee (The event was hosted by Filter) it feels a little cruel to be stopping here.
It’s still not clear whether or not Lûmé can match the hype. But it’s obvious Fiechtner, Humble and Quade plan to do exactly what they said they’d do: “Go hard from the start”.