Shaun Quade’s the kind of guy who reads the comments.
When Broadsheet first wrote about Lûmé in February 2015, for instance, the young chef put some noses out of joint for mentioning the name of his as-yet-non-existent restaurant in the same breath as Attica and Brae. “That first article – we copped a lot of shit for that,” he admits. “There was a bit of shit-talking on social media from other chefs, but nothing that bad. We weren’t big-noting ourselves; the whole point of mentioning Attica and Brae is that that’s what we wanted to aim for.”
There was a fluttering of hospitality gossip last week when Quade’s business partner and Lûmé sommelier, Sally Humble, announced she and co-head chef, JP Fiechtner, were moving to Singapore after just six months. Particularly given those matching tattoos.
While the timing was a bit of a shock, the news wasn’t wholly unexpected. “JP leaving was always on the cards, he was just looking for the right thing,” Quade says. “From the start, we didn’t tell anyone he was only there short-term because it sounds a bit wishy-washy. Whatever he’s doing in Singapore, he’s decided to take the opportunity. It has probably come up a bit quicker than expected, but I think it’s kind of for the best.”
Broadsheet reached out to Fiechtner and Humble for comment, but is yet to receive a response.
From the start, Lûmé was an unusually ambitious undertaking. Fiechtner, Humble and Quade intentionally set expectations sky-high, claiming they wanted to go against the grain of casual dining, serving high-concept, heavily technical food that aspired to the world’s best. Their menu set out to fuck with diners’ minds: air-dried emu that looks like burnt eucalyptus; discs of Camembert crafted from cauliflower; enormous cocoa pods that spew petit fours; duck liver that looks like quince; and quince that looked like duck liver.
For all the hype – and genuine excitement – that greeted Lûmé’s arrival, the early reviews were often qualified. And, from our experience, while every dish was visually, texturally and technically inventive, quite a few dishes disappointed with the simple things – over-seasoning chief among them. Here was an audacious restaurant experience from three hugely talented young professionals, but it didn’t always come together. A moon shot, for certain, but one that might take a little while to get there.
Quade cops the criticism sweet. “If we hadn’t had said anything in the first place, I think the reviews would have been more congratulatory. But they were totally right,” he admits stoutly. “You can’t build a restaurant in six months and not have problems. Even now we’re developing who we are and what we do.”
There were, for instance, fundamental differences in taste that required compromise – which is a problem when you’re trying to be uncompromising. “There was a lot of stuff I thought tasted great that he [Fiechtner] didn’t agree with, and vice versa,” Quade says. “Someone says, ‘Nup, that’s too salty’, and the other says, ‘Nah, that’s right’. It’s one of those things that’s classic creative difference.”
The kitchen, if not the restaurant in entirety, is now under Quade’s sole direction. He believes that having a single vision will help unify Lûmé’s offering. “Just having my palate in the kitchen, across everything, will be a lot more consistent,” he says. “We’ll still change the menu regularly, trying new ideas and new produce. We might put a few smaller, snack-style dishes on, but not necessarily at the start. I still want to have that ebb and flow throughout the menu. I think it’ll be a bit lighter. It’s more my style of cooking.”
Along with changes to the menu, there’ll also be some finessing on the floor. Quade is hiring acting coaches and psychologists to help set the tone and style of service. Gun cocktail-shaker, Orlando Marzo, formerly head bartender at Eau de Vie, is coming on board to support current barman, Nick Tesar. A new $95 “chef’s selection” is available in the front bar, a shorter-course degustation comprising highlights from the a-la-carte menu. A new head sommelier is in the offing.
What Quade is not doing, however, is walking back on his plan for World’s Best Restaurant. While he’s committed to food being tasty (“Obviously I’m not going to put something on the menu that tastes like shit just because I think it’s cool. I’m not an arsehole”), he’s equally determined to be surprising, if shocking, or downright confusing.
“I’m absolutely not interested in dumbing down and playing it safe,” he says. “I think we’ve got enough casual restaurants, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with them. But that’s not why I opened a restaurant myself.”
So is Lûmé, without Fiechtner and without Humble, still capable of levering El Celler de Can Roca out of numero uno? It could be bluster, but Quade says he absolutely thinks so. “Getting back to that world-class restaurant thing I keep spouting on about, we’re going to get there,” he says. “It’s just a matter of how quickly.”
That’ll get us talking.
This article was updated on February 10, 2016.