Amid Melbourne's rash of restaurant and bar launches, Laurus opened quietly last week, bringing modern southern Chinese food to the city end of Victoria Street in Carlton.
The 110-seat restaurant represents a series of firsts for 25-year-old head chef Roger Lu (ex-Sezar and The Atlantic). It's the first time Lu has led a kitchen, plated the food of his heritage and named a restaurant. (Laurus comes from Laurus nobilis, the Latin name for bay leaf, an ingredient Lu uses widely.)
Lu is tipping fried eggplant with red vinegar caramel – inspired by his childhood favourite wonton dipping sauce – as an early signature. He's making his own XO sauce, which he tosses through octopus chow mein, and five-spice mix, which seasons a dish of crispy duck with mountain hawthorn sauce.
Dessert might be house-made soybean curd with ginger syrup, his play on the yum cha classic, or sticky rice pudding with Sichuan pepper ice-cream and salted caramel.
General manager and sommelier Quentin Ferguson (ex Vue De Monde, Ezard and Grossi Group) has put together a drinks list that's 99 per cent Australian.
A nine-dish set menu that's like an edited highlights package ($78 a head, or vegan $74) can be paired with wine, alcohol-free drinks or premium teas imported from China, thanks to Laurus owner and director Boyang Fang, whose family business, Cloud Places, runs tea plantations, restaurants and hotels in Nanjing.
Designed by Alta Architecture, Laurus features black marble benches curved around concrete pillars, cream leather stools at high-top tables and peacock green banquettes. There's a mezzanine floor and a private dining room for up to 30 guests, plus a second-floor balcony bar, accessible by an internal lift, in the works.
Open Wed-Sat noon-10pm.
Level 1, 160 Victoria Street, Carlton, 03 8797 2366, laurusmelbourne.com.au