Lesa means “to gather” in Old Norse, which felt like the right name for Christian McCabe and chef Dave Verheul’s new restaurant, located upstairs from the duo’s popular and acclaimed wine bar Embla.
Pronounced “lee-sah”, the name reflects the relaxed atmosphere the duo wants to cultivate at its new Russell Street diner. While Embla offers a stop for refined, snackable dishes alongside a succinct selection of stellar wines, Lesa will be somewhere to settle in with friends over a whole evening. It opens in August.
“We figured we pay the rent on the whole building, we may as well use it,” McCabe says, laughing. “We want people to be comfortable enough to spend the whole evening there. We try not to be too fancy or made up, that’s not our vibe.”
In a shift away from share-plate eating, Lesa will offer diners a four-course menu made up of the kind of elevated but comforting dishes Embla has gained a legion of fans for. Semi-dried potato cacio e pepe with basil and pecorino is one such plate. A two-course menu will be on offer for suits looking for a quick lunch, or for those off to the theatre.
Verheul will slow-cook, smoke and grill dishes in a woodfired oven, overseeing both Russell Street kitchens while McCabe heads up front of house.
“It’s less about the trickery you do to the food and more about what you start with,” says McCabe, who emphasises provenance of quality ingredients over fine dining techniques. “So less about using different machines, and more about making a really good lamb chop or roast chicken.”
The same architect responsible for the fit-out of Embla, the now-closed Town Mouse and the pair’s Wellington restaurant Matterhorn has designed Lesa’s interior.
The space, which was “a windowless brick box” when renovations began in 2016, has been completely transformed. Now there are large, black steel-framed windows, stained-oak flooring and dark-wood ceilings.
“There were a lot of bad ’80s architectural features. We’ve ripped everything out,” McCabe says. “Now it’s filled with natural light, and it’s so nice to be up away from the street.”
A separate wine room will be home to drops sourced by McCabe over the past decade; there’s a focus on French, Italian and Australian wines. Sommelier Raffaele Maestrovincenzo will help oversee the wine selection, which will also include minimal-intervention producers and Old World vintages.
“There’ll be a more extensive wine list upstairs, whereas we try to keep the list at Embla quite tight,” McCabe says. “Upstairs will be more diverse in terms of regions and styles. We’re really exploring whatever is interesting – wherever that may be from.”
You’ll find us at one of the four bar seats overlooking the pass come August. Reservations will be available from late July.
Level 2, 122 Russell Street, Melbourne
(03) 9654 5923