226 Coventry Street South Melbourne, Victoria 3205
|Opening hours||Mon and Thu-Sat, 6pm-late; Sun noon-3pm|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Bar, Licensed, Degustation, Private dining, Vegetarian friendly|
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9690 0142|
Some pretty big talk preceded the opening of Lume. The biggest. Talk of The World's 50 Best. Of reshaping the fine dining form. Of packaging diners' expectations and punting them out the window.
You could feel the industry collectively wince. No one doubts that chefs Shaun Quade and John-Paul Fiechtner have the form. Between them their resumes list Quay, the Royal Mail and Paris's Le Chateaubriand. They've hired an all-star cast of sommeliers, led by Sally Humble. They've spent 10 months turning a South Melbourne cabaret bar into a double dining room for 40, where fixtures glow bronze, toiletries are complimentary and rare herbs sprout for use on the most eclectic ingredients you could dredge from the land.
Still, them's fighting words that call to mind Omar's immortal quote from The Wire: ‘‘You come at the king, you best not miss.''
From this, the real Lume has emerged, guns blazing, to the tune of the White Stripes, Sigur Ros and The Brian Jonestown Massacre.
Unless you're here to eat at the bar (and you well might be given the punch of Humble's international wine list that's low-intervention, but not exclusively, and the charcuterie and bar snacks likely to pay a chunk of Lume's rent) you're looking at a $140, 15-course degustation that's a wild, challenging, technique-driven ride.
Croissants are dropped in the middle of the meal with cauliflower masquerading as camembert. Ribbons of cow udder redefine our offal frontier. True to promise, no other Melbourne restaurant right now is likely to make you squirm quite as hard in your seat.
Messing with the program is this kitchen's MO. Bread? No dice. Proceedings kick off with a spongy nugget of steamed brioche, slicked in duck fat and showered in truffle. Cutlery? Sometimes, but gamey emu strips, dry aged, hung and involving white miso for just the right amount of wrong are plush, leather-soft finger food.
That udder isn't as weird as you think – calamari-tender and salty from a curing. It's blow-torched and plated with a silky crab custard disguised as baby corn, sheltered by a polenta crisp. Eating the whole thing like a rich, luxurious tostada, you realise just how good this restaurant can be.
This is frontier cooking, and while on the one hand that means there's the thrill of cracking a salt-dough tomb to find a whole roasted globe artichoke, perfumed like a spice cake from zesty beer praline and quince, it also means you'll likely want to hide a couple of things in your purse.
What'll hit your buttons? The union of scallops, honeydew and a gloopy blanket of jamon dashi? Ganache of lamb's blood, rolled in maple oats, with bittersweet native apple jam that's somewhere between morcilla, chocolate mousse and apple crumble? I don't love it. But I can see how you might.
Likewise you can see where Humble's head is at when she pairs those scallops to a fusty, unfiltered sake. And butter-soft, chamomile-tinted poached chicken to nutty oloroso sherry, and that emu to a cocktail made on Maidenii vermouth. That it all adds up to more booze than you want (everyone I know has left plastered), and a slightly too-eclectic mix when you look at the big picture, the great redeemer here, as with the food, is that you can see exactly where it's all going.
Lume is a little loud, a little bright and sometimes a little weird. Dining here takes a leap of faith, but the reward is an adventure. One that culminates with a cacao pod being smashed like a pinata to reveal petits fours.
World class restaurants are about big ideas and Lume has plenty of them. But the road to becoming world class invariably involves taking those ideas and getting down to some whittling. It takes months - if you're lucky - but often years of knapping away at the edges until you have a pure and original statement and a menu that works as a whole.
Come here now, by all means, but know that you are witnessing an uncut diamond taking shape. A few facets gleam already - and make no mistake how impressive that is at this level - but only time and trimming will show its real worth.
Pro tip Dip your toe in first by eating at the bar
Go-to dish King crab, corn and dairy cow (part of the $140 degustation)
Like this? Only Sydney's Marque comes close in the weird and wild. 4/5 355 Crown Street, Surry Hills, Sydney
How we score
Of 20 points, 10 are awarded for food, five for service, three for ambience, two for wow factor.
12 Reasonable 13 Solid and satisfactory 14 Good 15 Very good 16 Seriously good 17 Great 18 Excellent 19 Outstanding 20 The best of the best