Unsurprisingly, COVID-19's stage-four lockdown has failed to fill Melburnians with the same creative, kooky vigour as those initial snow days in March. If you take to social media brandishing a recipe with more than three ingredients you are asking to be blocked.
If we're this over it, spare a thought for chefs charged with trying to keep creating edible beauty when there's no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Nevertheless, they're persisting, and it makes what you can currently get delivered to your house nothing short of a miracle.
This week I'm zeroing in on one chef, Elijah Holland, who is pushing himself and his team to creative places that would be impressive in peacetime.
Holland took over Lume's kitchen from John Rivera in January, replacing the outgoing chef's contemporary Filipino dishes and ushering in his own ambitious agenda built around wild and foraged foods. Unfortunately for Holland, the summer bushfires, chased by COVID, has commandeered Melbourne's attention from day one.
Perhaps this is why, when many restaurateurs have opted to battle through by streamlining their menus, Lume is going hell for leather with an eye-popping menu, no punches pulled. They're pulling off a tasting menu of six courses, with pescatarian or vegan options plus offering a boatload of a la carte dishes, matched cocktails and wines, and their own line of wild food charcuterie and condiments.
To up the ante further, Holland has decided to maintain and cede some control by cooking dishes completely, ready for you to plate and eat at once when you get home. By contrast, most chefs are having diners do a few steps rather than risk their dishes going cold or suffering other brutalities in transit.
Is Holland mad? In some ways. Nobody is making money from their dine-at-home options right now, which makes the effort he and his team are putting in as inspiring as it is insane. Then again, the team is pulling off a great diner experience that people will remember when this is done. To see someone believing in the long game is exciting in These Unprecedented Times.
Foraging defines the menu, and Holland's career. After stints at Sydney heavyweights including Aria and Quay he started Nature's Pick, a foraging racket that landed him a role in Rene Redzepi's Australian instalment of Noma. Few of the 20 or so dishes on the Lume menu has escaped a brush with Victoria's woods or waterways.
You start with hunks of excellent malty bread with either a vegan "butter", all mountain fresh with pine, or their whimsical candle of mellow, rendered beef fat that is enhanced with house-made soy using wild bull kelp. More of the roasted and pulverised kelp dusts the candle, which slowly melts over dinner, allowing you to dunk as you go.
It is chased by what you could call Melbourne's best-dressed pizza – a thin flatbread smothered in a paste of wild garlic, big lobes of smoky barbecued lobster and a fresh, tangy and peppery mix of wild cabbage, bower spinach and rocket. Full marks.
The same goes for a crumpet garnished with sucuk salami, singing with black garlic and fruity mountain pepper, with the zingy tang of sorrel and a nasturtium sour cream to bring it home.
Thankfully, Holland says the pantry is flush with balm mint bush and mountain pepper, items from Toolangi they can no longer access since stage four lockdown. Staff live close to some of their key collecting spots. This means the supply of smoky grilled spring chicken, which rests over a herbal bed of lentils cooked with the balm and wild cardoons (a bitter thistle stem), is secure.
Lume, founded by chefs Shaun Quade and John-Paul Fiechtner in 2014, pushed buttons from day one with its bold experimentation and theatrics. Fiechtner left early on. Quade has now sold out, too. But the restaurant has retained its desire to let ambition rip.
This has resulted in some extraordinary dishes (founder Shaun Quade's miracle cauliflower camembert; Rivera's lechon with banana ketchup) and some experiments I'd like to forget (cow's udder aged like blue cheese).
Holland is keeping the tradition alive with his drive, pushing far beyond survival mode to create a whole new product range of fish and meat charcuterie and hoppy beer mustards for the restaurant.
You are racing the clock a little with the dishes leaving the restaurant hot, but the middle dishes – a comfortingly familiar beef cheek with sweet potato and saltbush and chicken aren't harmed by a wait in a warm oven.
Dessert is a smartly executed idea of a Magnum ice-cream with a bunya nut heart, an intense savoury-sweet caramel featuring more of that bull kelp and a Daintree chocolate shell. Chuck it in the freezer and retire to the couch to close.
Do the drinks match, too. It's $100 for two, and scores you a very figgy negroni, a saline martini and two wines to roll you over your feast.
This isn't just good food, it's hopeful. It says that Holland and his team have big ideas for a future they intend to see. You'll believe in it, too, with every bite.
Address 226 Coventry Street, South Melbourne
Order via restaurantlume.com.au for pick-up (within 5km), or delivery (within 10km).
Cost Degustation $220 (for two); drinks match $100 (for two).
Pro tip Don't be late for pick up and order some extras like the beer mustard and pickled herrings for later.
Go-to dish Lobster flatbread with wild garlic paste ($35 or part of the menu).