Business was the reason for the team and I to be Melbourne for a couple of days. It was the perfect opportunity to introduce my young staff to “doing it in style”. Opportunity knocked so I arranged a table at Lûmé, South Melbourne. All I told the crew was that I had arranged something very special.
Something funny happened on the way to Melbourne
The excitement was building up as we got closer to heading off. My young team just gorgeous with innocence and inexperience. Every travel story needs a little humor and it’s usually me that does something silly to provide my love with new material for his stand up comedy routine. Today, I got the day off and our lovely Liam stepped into the breach.
As we settled into our seats on the plane he spotted the Airline iPad provided for passengers entertainment poking out of the pocket. His honorable qualities immediately came to the fore and he anxiously called for the Hostie to hand the thing in, thinking some poor soul had left it behind. She was gorgeous, with a gentle look of understanding she quietly said “No Sweetie that one is all yours”.
Poor lad as soon as we got off, the first thing he said in his gorgeous northern english accent was “do you know what I did? ….Christ! ….What a fokin idiot!”
And we laughed and laughed ….all vibed up ready for a great couple of days.
Throughout the day there were questions about the evening’s plans “ what is it? is it japanese?” but they couldn’t get me to spill the beans. I wanted everything to be a surprise. As our business day came to a close I was getting very excited, I was so looking forward to introducing them to a dining style they had never experienced before.
Lûmé creates an unforgettable experience.
We arrived at what looked like a little residential street of terrace homes rather than a commercial district. The only sign that we were at a restaurant and not my grandmother’s house, was a simple subtle sign “Lûmé” near the front door.
As we entered, we were shifted gently from the “olde world” feel of the two terrace houses, as they opened up into one light airy modern interior. We eagerly agreed to the suggestion of a pre-dinner drink and were escorted to the bar where we ordered one beer, one vodka martini olive and one “surprise me!”.
As we sipped our drinks we had a great view of the open kitchen where quiet but strong calls of “yes Chef!” were the backing track for the incredibly detailed and orderly operation. I watched my wide eyed staff as they saw Shaun plating incredible dishes and were wowed by the elegance and the unpretentious sophistication of the place.
Our gorgeous Patrice was so taken with the respect that she sensed, emanating from every staff member at Lûmé “ she said, oooh I want to work here!”
“So do we choose from the menu? How does it work?” I explained that the choice is about how many dishes, not what they are; and we were already set and ready to go and all they had to do was sit back and enjoy the surprise. I had picked the 5 course menu “a proposition” as an easy introduction.
We were escorted to our table in the courtyard under the beautiful Melbourne sky, perfect. It wasn’t long before our table was sparkling with glasses filled with our first paired beverage. Our first dish arrived in a pottery sphere cracked open on one side like an egg. Corn husks are wrapped around to line the sphere holding our Sea Corn Taco. I pop the gorgeous little thing into my mouth, the delicately crisp tortilla giving way to an incredibly creamy little baby corn centre’. Absolutely delicious. My only question is where are the other 2 dozen?
Next a sensory explosion that instantly transports us to the seaside. The smell of sea air wafts gently from the plate as it is placed before me, evoking that magical sense of calm that comes with being near the ocean. I was mesmerised for some time by this work of art. Vibrant green ocean succulents were growing out of the sand and a pure white wave of foam washed up against them.
Nestled in the centre, a small white pearl just big enough to make a mouthful. Our waiter advised that chef suggests we start with the Pearl to prepare our pallette. Into my mouth it went and I was surprised to find it was freezing cold. Wow, fresh cold and cleansing.A beautiful start.
I felt like a child as I began to dig and play in the sand, uprooting and shovelling spoonfuls of little plants and seaweed. I found a surprise hiding beneath the sand. Oysters! I drag each delicate and creamy morsel through the sand scooping up some of the foamy wave as I went. The granular crustiness of the Sand brings a dynamic element. The wave, so salty it was like a spoonful of the ocean. I wonder if chef Shaun made it from that little juicy puddle that the oyster sits in when you crack open its shell? What an incredible combination!
Our waitress brings bread and then a plate with two creamy quenelles of butter and a pot of honey. But as we are finding out, Shaun is full of surprises and has taken bread and honey to a whole nother level. Our dark country style loaf is Jerusalem artichoke bread. No it’s not an artichoke and it has nothing to do with Jerusalem. It is the underground tuber of a plant in the sunflower family. So think daisy roots!. The flavour is so yummy bringing sweetness and nuttiness to the bread.
But it doesn’t stop there, when the waitress tells us our butter is smoked eel butter I’m thinking yum but when she says we also have smoked eel honey, I am thinking what the fuck? Weird as it sounds I can’t wait to get a taste of it. I try a piece of bread with just the butter first and it is delicious.
Then I take the honey dipper and drizzle the dark rich eel honey onto a piece of bread and pop it into my mouth. Oh…My…God! Really? Who on earth would think of infusing honey with smoked eel? And it doesn’t just work, it is insane!!
My imagination is going wild thinking about how he has achieved this. I have a vision in my head of Shaun tending a huge glass vat, filled with long dark eels slithering slowly through thick golden honey.
Next a pretty earthenware plate with a simple composition. A wee carrot and a spiral of calamari sitting in little puddle of bergamot marmalade. It is one of the things I love about chefs that work so hard to respect the ingredient, the carrot is just that, intense vibrant carrot, wonderful. The calamari is scored so finely, it is visually very pretty, slices easily and is beautifully tender. Swooshing the calamari through the bergamot jam just takes it to another level. I can’t begin to describe what on one hand seems simple and clean but is clearly layered with such complexity.
The divine, refreshing citrus burst just seems to pull every element on the plate together.
A bowl of Lamb, two very generous pieces of lamb surrounded by tender beetroot and topped with thin salty mackerel crisps. The pink tender lamb dipped into sweet earthy beets is wonderful but the masterstroke is the mackerel skin crisp that balances the sweet beet and provides the most satisfying crunch and a perfect saltiness. Again an incredibly creative combination of ingredients.
And we finish with Shaun’s version of pav. Berry meringue, an exquisite burst of sweetness that dissolves instantly making me want more. Fresh berries zingy tart and fresh balanced beautifully with a light but rich creamy fluff.
What a magical inspirational night. I am left feeling powerfully connected to the essence of imagination. Chef Shaun has reminded me of the importance of honesty in the creation of art.
It is like there are no preconceived limitations to Shaun’s imagination, no rules. It feels like he is working with the pure essence of every ingredient and applying his own rhythm to the alchemy of his dishes. It reminds me of of painting, creating art with no rules. Is he a water colourist or an oil painter? Who knows, who cares! He is an artist, he is perfect.
As they rightfully say on their website: “Lûmé takes a thoughtful and considered approach to dining. It’s a restaurant that doesn’t just serve food, rather, it creates experiences”.