Why aim low? Why not be numero uno? If you’re opening a restaurant, why not stick Noma right in your sights? It’s a question Shaun Quade and John Paul Fiechtner are asking with their first restaurant venture, Lûmé.
Set in a former bordello on Coventry Street, the South Melbourne restaurant, which is slated to open in May, will be decidedly fine dining. “We definitely want to be a world-class restaurant,” says Quade. “I know that sounds lofty, but you’ve got to aim for something.”
After stints at big-name venues such as Chateaubriand and Bo Innovation (Fiechtner), Quay and the Royal Mail (Quade), the untested restaurateurs have form. “We’ve worked for Top 50 restaurants,” Fiechtner says. “We know the expectation and how to produce that product. It’s not like we’re just coming from nowhere.”
Though the two only met in recent years (at the ill-fated Little Hunter), their connection goes back much further. “We’ve worked together before, but it turns out that we grew up in the same town, went to the same school for 10 years, and never knew one another,” says Fiechtner. “There weren’t quite a thousand people. You’d think we would have known each others faces or whatever.”
Since those heady days at St Mary’s Christian Brothers Toowoomba, both men have carved out a name for themselves as talented, ambitious young chefs. Quade, in particular, has turned heads with his ability with a pastry brush. But, neither felt that Melbourne dining could stretch their potential. “We spent most of our spare time complaining that there was nowhere good to eat,” says Fiechtner. “Nowhere we could feel inspired.”
Quade takes issue with the casualisation of dining, where experienced chefs are applying their hard-won skills to fried chicken and burgers. And, given the excitement around The Fat Duck, Quade wonders whether it has sparked a renewed interest in fine dining. “Sydney’s left us for dead with that kind of dining. There’s so many great restaurants there, but Melbourne’s got Attica and Brae and that’s about it,” he says. “It’s a big risk, but we’ve got something to say.”
That something to say comes in the form of an 18-course degustation at a price somewhere between $140 to $180. Dishes are designed collaboratively between Fiechtner and Quade, with at least seven desserts on the cards. It’s an entirely new menu, with no dishes from either chef’s back-catalogue. Guests will finish eating before they ever see a written menu, and all Instagramming is banned completely. They’re not pulling any punches.
“We decided we’d just go hard from the start,” says Fiechtner. “It won’t be the traditional degustation, where you start light, build up, then come back down again. We want to play around with the palate a bit more, hit it a bit harder at the start, so it ebbs and flows the whole way through.”
While they’re keeping quiet about what’ll appear on their first menu, there are trays of crystallised elderberries stored on every available surface. Because they’re in season for about three weeks, Quade is preserving the spidery frames and slight black fruit for later use. They’re also employing a not-for-profit gardening organisation, Good Garden, to tend a plot in Woodend, planted with unusual varieties grown especially for the restaurant. “Seasonality goes without saying in kitchens, but we’re actually using stuff and doing something a bit different with it, not just using it when it’s in season,” he says. “We want to get into old techniques, like fermenting and drying and crystallising.”
Meanwhile, gun sommelier Sally Humble (who’s worked the bottles at Vue de Monde, Cutler and Co. and Circa, is putting together her fantasy list, pulling small vineyard, natural, and biodynamic wines from Europe and Australia. Today, for instance, she’s at Fighting Gully in Beechworth, picking grapes for a vintage made especially for Lûmé. “We are trying to get behind a lot of Australian vineyards. I think they get a bit of a bum steer in high-end restaurants,” says Quade.
The venue itself is equally ambitious. Formerly the home of the Bohemia Cabaret Club, they’re stripping the innards back to brick and beams and employing St Kilda’s Studio Y for the fit-out. An atrium at the back of the building allows for outdoor dining indoors. The restaurant-proper seats 40, while an adjacent bar space seats somewhere around 60. “It’s quite naturalistic, a little bit Scandinavian. Lots of wood, lots of exposed brick, copper,” says Quade. “But we don’t want it look like we’ve spent an absolute fortune on the place. It should look like it’s always been there, and that it’s comfortable.”
Unsurprisingly, the pair has plans for the bar side of the business. While they’re yet to appoint a bar manager, they’re planning on seasonal cocktails and a-la-carte dishes at a lower price-point than Lûmé proper. “We want the bar to be a destination in its own right, like you’d go to Eau de Vie or Der Raum back in the day to have something fucking cool,” Quade says. “We want for it not just to be a restaurant bar because we’ve got the space.”
Ultimately, it’s Quade and Fiechtner’s fantasy restaurant, where there’s little constraint on their creativity, where there’s no compromises for accessibility’s sake, and where the music on the stereo’s exactly what they want to hear. “The playlist’s such an important thing,” explains Quade. “Like everything else, it’ll be carefully orchestrated.”
Lûmé is currently under construction, and is expected to open in May at 226 Coventry Street, South Melbourne.