35 Mountjoy Parade Lorne, VIC 3232
|Opening hours||Fri-Sun 5pm-late (extended hours in summer)|
|Features||Licensed, Accepts bookings, Outdoor seating|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 5289 1462|
Some people have the knack of making a space feel great, gathering colour and texture to create beauty and joy. Some people are intuitive and engaged cooks, serving food that feeds the soul over and over again. When you put those people together, it's entirely captivating. That's what's happened at Lorne Bowls Club.
Chef Simon Holloway and front-of-house creative Anna McIldowie moved from Melbourne to Lorne (Anna's home town), had a baby and bit by bit took over the restaurant at the lawn bowls club. It's a low-key feel-good place with simple, winsome Italian food.
Everyone is welcome but club rules apply: non-members must sign in. Once you're official, you can get on with eating or (space permitting, bookings welcome) head out back and de-shoe for bowls. If there's anything better than standing barefoot in the sunshine, sipping a beer between bad bowls, then I'm not quite sure what it could be. Actually, I just realised. It's when there are pumpkin and sage arancini on the way, glinting so golden they compete with the sunset.
Inside, the aesthetic is op-shoppy and retro, with vintage tablecloths and lamps, collectible teaspoons, arty floral arrangements, kitsch and cool paintings interspersed with bowling honour boards, and a lounge nook with a record player and a crate of classic vinyl. It is just about the most cheerful room I've ever been in.
Simon Holloway never knew his Italian grandfather but he's fallen hard for the cuisine. During a five-year stint at Abbotsford's homely Rita's he dove deep into dough, relishing hand-stretched pizza and obsessing about gnocchi.
He's brought his passions to Lorne and unspooled them in a menu that's built around pasta but also has a couple of meat dishes, maybe pan-fried fish with potato salad or – now that crazy summer crowds have ebbed – a more labour-intensive porterhouse with cauliflower puree, twice-cooked kipfler potatoes and confit garlic.
The best pasta is simple but that doesn't mean it's easy. To make the linguine vongole, Holloway sautes garlic and anchovies, waiting for just the right shade of sizzling golden before adding pippies and white wine, then bringing the flame up to burn off the alcohol in a hot flash.
Once the shellfish are cooked, he adds the pasta, cooked under al dente, so it slurps up the sauce in the pan to finish, tying together the flavours. The dish is dressed with lemon, herbs and good olive oil. Simple? Yes. Easy? No. Excellent? Absolutely.
Ricotta gnocchi also sit in the straightforwardly tricky space. The addition of flour and salt (enough but not too much) and the shaping (firm but not vicious) are done with practised hand and eye, leading to tight but springy dumplings that can be simmered, cooled, then coloured in a pan.
Mine were tossed with charred zucchini and squash, but you might also find them plated with roasted red pepper, almond and basil, or in a creamy sauce with silverbeet and confit garlic.
There are only a couple of desserts. A classic tiramisu is appropriately fluffy and boozy. The Lorne-loved lemon tart recipe comes from previous chef Luke Morgan, a town legend who handed over the kitchen like an heirloom.
Lorne Bowls is an order-at-the-counter place – in fact, you need to visit two counters because the bar is run separately. At some restaurants, that would seem like a hassle, but this is such a cruisy, friendly hangout that it's no hardship to wander, chat and soak up the good vibes.
Rating: Four stars (out of five)