1 Bourke St East Melbourne, VIC 3000
|Opening hours||Wed-Thu and Sat 5.30pm-late; Fri noon-late|
|Features||Licensed, Bar, Degustation, Accepts bookings|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9633 6065|
Do you think food can taste happy? I reckon it does at Lekker, the nimble and spirited new temporary restaurant by chef Rob Kabboord, tucked around the side of the Hotel Windsor for a few short months.
There's joy and wit in "Which came first?", a chicken and egg dish that ponders the age-old conundrum. A pademelon (a small wallaby) tartare is an exuberant, sensitive exploration of Australian protein. Smoked salmon cigars are as fresh as sashimi, as luxurious as a Rolls and as fun as a waterslide. It's all highly accomplished, with an unusual jauntiness.
Kabboord is no celeb but he's one of our best chefs. He returned to Melbourne from Sydney mid-2019 after a month-long helper stint turned into four years as chef de cuisine at three-hat Quay, where boss and mate Peter Gilmore just didn't want to let him go.
Along the way, Kabboord and his fort-holding wife Bron closed Merricote, their much-loved Westgarth bistro. Bron is now in the country, at Trentham's du Fermier. A few months ago – when her unemployed husband started presenting her with multi-course weeknight banquets, pre-desserts included – Bron encouraged him to find a new gig. That's how Lekker came about.
It's in a Hotel Windsor function space and is a suck-it-and-see venture with the Halim Group, which owns the hotel. Part of the happiness in the food is because Kabboord isn't the owner: the headaches of proprietorship are off his plate.
The other wellspring of joy is the freedom. Quay is many good things but nimble is not one of them; here, Kabboord can have a brainwave in the shower and get his lightbulb moment on the table that night. You can taste the immediacy.
There are two modes of dining: snacks in the bar (city theatres are nearby) or a five-course prix fixe menu. The pademelon is sustainably sourced from Flinders Island; cubed backstrap is arranged with beetroot (slow-cooked, raw and pureed) plus the acidic pop of raspberries. Smoked oyster cream and oil made with kombu (a seaweed) tie the dish together in slick, savoury symphony.
The chicken and egg dish is sublime: poached breast and confit leg are bathed in consomme and nestled with an egg yolk slow-poached in oil. They're hidden by potato foam which is overlaid with puffed chicken skin crisps. It's a supremely balanced conversation stopper.
Born in the Netherlands, Kabboord's neo bistro is also a nostalgic and sometimes wry look at Dutch food culture. The name "Lekker" is a cover-all word for tasty, yummy, cosy and nice. An apricot dessert plays with Jenever, the Dutch antecedent to gin.
The unmissable cheese course is called "dat is kaas voor ieder", a northern Dutch expression which translates as "that's cheese for everyone" but means, more or less, "everyone will like it". They really will. Stinky Livarot is whisked with cream and plated with Madeira gel and apple. Scattered atop are housemade potato crispies that apply Quay-style ultra fine dining magic to a $15 dish available on the tasting menu and as a snack.
Even though it's a pop-up, Lekker's food identity is confident. The space is functional and there are nice Nederlander touches, but it's less lekker than the menu. The waiting team, led by German-born Amsterdammer Carl Schroeder is warm and professional but understandably green, and it feels a bit like you're all on the adventure together. The restaurant may only be here until March. Leap on it.
Rating: Four stars (out of five).