If you needed proof its staff believes in Lûmé, look no further than its members’ matching tattoos. With tradies still in the kitchen and some of the team at a loose end, five waiters and chefs got collectively inked: Lûmé logos for life. “So far, everyone really loves being here,” says chef and co-owner, JP Fiechtner. “We get to do whatever we want.”
Freedom of culinary expression is exactly the point of the new South Melbourne fine diner. Fiechtner and his business partners, Shaun Quade and Sally Humble, have worked for some of the best venues anywhere: Le Chateaubriand, Bo Innovation, Biota, Quay, Vue de Monde, Circa and Royal Mail Hotel. But it’s only at Lûmé the trio can give its imagination free rein.
Split into two connected-though-distinct sections, the back part of Lûmé is 100 per cent degustation. It’s $140 for around 15 courses, plus another $140 for Humble’s matched wine. Officially, the dishes are a secret – diners are only presented with menus once the meal is finished.
But, if you’re open to a light spoiler, Fiechtner and Quade plated up some crazy stuff for Broadsheet, including pickled quince (which looks like liver) and a duck parfait; a faux-truffle filled with mandarin and served on chocolate earth; and a cocoa-pod that bursts open, spilling petit fours on the table. “No-one sees a menu when they sit down; they place their trust in us,” says Fiechtner. “But everyone has been really receptive.”
A huge amount of process goes into the dishes; Fiechtner, for instance, showed me his cool-room where he’s air-drying sides of emu and homemade bresaola that will be served in coming months. The rear wall of the restaurant is entirely covered in edible herbs.
Up front is markedly more casual, with a sharp a-la-carte menu, wine by the glass, an unusual beer selection and a surprisingly broad spirits list. Nick Tessa, formerly of Gin Palace, is mixing the drinks – this week he was serving Red Snappers, a Bloody Mary variant made with local gin, house-made passata, nihonshu sake and garnished with saucisson sec. There’s Madenii Vermouth on tap and a cocktail made with sodas Lûmé fermented itself.
Dishes in the front room are simpler than out back, though no less impressive. For $33 there’s a Hollyburton suckling pig; six different cuts have been cooked separately, pressed onto skin, and served with sautéed sprouts and steel-cut oats. The Cape Grim flat iron steak is served with coconut shards and mushroom. “It’s for locals, you know, an affordable place to stop in,” says Fiechtner. “For the front bar, we focus on produce that’s super delicious and we don’t have to do a lot with it.”
Humble’s wine list is worth a visit in and of itself. Organised by region rather than variety, there’s a massive range of organic, biodynamic and just straight-up interesting bottles from all over the world. By the glass, we tried a gentle Keller Gruner Silvaner from Rheinhessen, in Germany, and an austere Azalea Nebbiolo from Piedmont.
And, it’s all served in what’s an unexpectedly sedate space. Instead of the smoky, steel and slate aesthetic we’ve seen in Lûmé’s marketing, Studio Y’s fit-out is surprisingly inviting. The former bordello is dressed in peach-coloured rendering and blonde wood, while tactical skylights provide an almost airy quality. “It’s funny, people have this expectation that they’re coming into this dark place,” says Fiechtner. “But really, we just wanted something comfortable where you come in and it’s warm and you’re instantly relaxed.”
While Fiechtner, Humble and Quade continue to fine-tune the restaurant, Lûmé is undoubtedly one of the most ambitious openings in recent memory. And perhaps, in the months to come, it might be diners who’ll be getting themselves a Lûmé tat.
226 Coventry Street, South Melbourne
(03) 9690 0142
Thu to Sat 6pm–late