Another year, another birthday degustation. After seeing Shaun Quade at Sweetfest and noting that he had worked at Royal Mail Hotel, I subtly suggested that Lûmé would be a good place for my mother’s birthday degustation. (I had also suggested Amaru, but she vetoed it on the basis of pictures of the “gloomy interior” - no, I don’t understand either; also Igni, but we weren’t in the mood for a drive to Geelong, which is a bit ridiculous and I know from eating at Loam that we would surely have had a worthwhile trip).
My interest was piqued by the promise of some more experimental food, but likely not too terrifying for my more conservative mother.
Lûmé is in a 19th century building on a quiet street in South Melbourne, and this being South Melbourne though the restaurant itself is very elegant and polished, it’s also located close to some seedy brothels. As I said, South Melbourne.
Service was provided by ridiculously good-looking young staff, who did at least have enough understanding of what they were presenting to answer the odd question.
It was also interesting to see that the front area of the restaurant is a “casual” dining area - though not that casual - where local, well-heeled baby boomers were enjoying dinner together as though this was their local Saturday night venue. Perhaps it was, fuelled by the riches of negatively geared investment properties. Such a life.
To the food! With a disclaimer that this is from many months ago. My mother had the usual omnivore menu, I requested my usual awkward vegan and gluten free combination, which they managed with remarkable aplomb. I will also preface this by saying that if you want a degustation with stand-out desserts (and there were many) this is a good option. I’m notoriously not a dessert person, but I was on this night (they were that good).
Place setting - limed-effect tables and rose gold/copper-toned cutlery, since it was 2016.
We had a good view of the bar and part of the kitchen which I always enjoy, since there is a definite pleasure in watching professional people at work.
First up, some small dishes.
Omni: Eel honey butter and crumpet (a crumpet like no other - apparently all sublime). This helped to appease my mother's inner Bread Monster (she is upset by restaurants that don't provide bread; the quantity she ate at the Fat Duck is legendary).
Vegan: shaved asparagus and coconut chips (light and crunchy, almost freeze-dried in texture). Obviously not as amazing as a crumpet with butter and honey, but fine in itself.
Omni: Emu macadamia tart (I think); taco corn crab (not pictured as similar to vegan version, see below).
Vegan: Jerusalem artichokes in quince broth (which was pleasingly sharp).
Vegan: taco, smoked baby corn (divine finger food).
Omni: last of summer's fruits.
Vegan: last of summer's fruits - can't remember what the missing thing was (present in the omni version) but possibly some sort of mousse or cream. Anyway, it was pretty good without that.
On to the main dishes!Omni: Sea urchin, abalone, native flavours (I don't seem to have a picture of this).
Vegan: shiitake, fingerlime, native flavours, fresh pistachios. A lot of my favourite things in one dish.
Vegan: sea flavours, daikon, succulents, rice sand (felt a bit like I was eating a hipster’s terrarium, but delicious. The sand was fascinating). Always glad, too, to have something that is comparable to the omni dish at that course. It means we can both exclaim about the same elements.
Omni: calamari noodles (i.e. noodles made from calamari, I believe).
Vegan: celeriac noodles, young coconut (a reprise from earlier though I didn’t mind).
Omni: sunflower seed porridge, mackerel (crispy skin).
Vegan: sunflower seed porridge with chestnuts and garlic (superb - I can never get enough chestnuts, which just aren't used enough, and I think sunflower seeds are very underrated).
Omni: happy duck fed on strawberries (my mother has qualms about eating duck because she likes them when they’re alive, but apparently this was regrettably delicious).
Vegan: carrots smoked (amazing, amazing texture and intensity).
Omni: cheese, croissant, pear (the cheese is made from cauliflower - amazingly - and the croissant was, I am told, stupendous. A very, very clever and successful dish).
Vegan: cheese and pear (so no sub for the croissant exactly, but a “fossilised” pear, similar technique to the “fallen fruit” I had at Royal Mail years ago, and so something I would happily eat every day forever and ever; the camembert was totally outstanding).
Omni: goat’s curd and berries (ice creamy goat’s curd - I was pretty wistful not to have tried this, and it took all my willpower, as I love goat's curd, or did anyway, as well as frozen desserts).
Vegan: fig granita and berries (a lovely and fresh palate cleanser; the granita was a great success).
Omni: I have no idea what this was. There looks to be a carrot.
Vegan: pear, sorbet (can’t really remember much more except that the sorbet was very, very good; I was on the verge of dessert fatigue by then, but I valiantly ploughed on).
Omni: Piece de resistance - the cacao pod. This is made entirely from chocolate, presented whole on the mat with the ice cream alongside. As it’s being presented, the waiter smashes it open to reveal even more goodies.
Vegan: cacao pod. Yes, they managed a vegan one with poached fruits and the best non-dairy ice cream I’ve had in my life.
We couldn’t eat all of the chocolate pod, so we took the rest home (kindly parcelled up for us). We were also given copies of the menu in stylish black envelopes sealed with bronze sealing wax and Lûmé's own seal. Smart.
I also got to talk to the pastry chef, a lovely young French woman and told her how thrilled I was that she had accomplished several outstanding vegan desserts and that it was probably the best experience I’d had as a vegan. She was very self-effacing but glad for the feedback, especially as it was her first time trying a lot of these dishes and she was rather nervous about how they would be received.
It’s a lesson to other restaurants, who typically might just manage the savoury courses for vegans (just), but fail spectacularly when it comes to dessert. The internet and specialty vegan places prove you can do amazing desserts without eggs or dairy, so it’s time for haute cuisine to catch up. Some fruit and sorbet is not good enough.
So in summary, top class food with an unusual intelligence, technical expertise and a laudable inclusive attitude. I would unhesitatingly recommend Lûmé for a special dinner.