“If the Indians can eat masala and spicy curries with yoghurt,
why can’t Italians eat this lamb rib with remnants of soybean?”
On our first visit to this restaurant on a balmy summer evening for Theolonious‘ birthday, Chopinand and I were pleasantly impressed by a modern Italian menu with twists of Japanese and a penchant for fresh seasonal produce.
Seven months later on Theolonious‘ suggestion when his brother, baby Theo is in town from Perth, the six of us are back again to sample the tantalizing creations of Executive chef Frederico Zanellato. We now find him wooing diners with beetroot and mandarin, simple ingredients so abundantly delicious in the thick of winter.
LuMi Bar & Dining, Pyrmont
At $95 for an 8-course degustation (extra $80 for matching wines), this restaurant offers great value for money by any standard.
The food is inventive, the wine list interesting yet reasonably priced, and house-made sparkling water free and constantly flowing. Service is knowledgeable and attentive.
Our Arne Jacobsen-inspired wooden table next to the open kitchen offers full view of the kitchen theatrics.
LuMi‘s degustation menu kicks off with a smorgasboard of snacks, followed by seafood, pasta, meat and a couple of desserts. What excites is the innovative use of ingredients and ever-changing combinations.
There is a lot of imaginative play with powders and foams but Zanellato’s insight into taste, flavour, texture and how these three combine is really the crux of his innovative menu.
Snacks ~ rice crackers, macarons, baby cos lettuce hearts
Feather light rice crackers come with a dusting of tart vinegar powder, a great way to perk up your appetite.
Porcini brisee are discs of buttery pastry sprinkled with intense earthiness of mushroom powder.
“This is a smoky, mushroomy …… digestive biscuit!” the Monk jokes.
The appearance of macarons as snacks is precisely the creative free flow of Frederico – turning a sweet treat into a savoury surprise.
What appears to be salted caramel macarons is in fact onion and chicken liver ~ all creamy, rich and savoury in one bite.
Baby cos lettuce hearts are chilled, smeared with miso paste and sprinkled with freshly grated parmesan.
It’s a crisp and refreshing mouthful with the lingering umami of miso on the palate.
Chawanmushi was previously laced with tomato water for a gently tart finish. Tonight, porcini water offers an earthy flavour instead.
Thinly sliced scallops waddle in a pool of creamy milk curd hidden under ribbons of crunchy kolhrabi sprinkled with beet root powder and yukari.
We are divided on whether creamy milk and sashimi style scallops is a good combination. Theolonius likes it but Monk doesn’t and a debate begins to brew.
“What makes a good marriage anyway? I quite like it..” Chopinand interjects though I am pleasantly surprised he likes this dish as I’ve generally known him to be a creature of habit … rather boring and predictable.
“Scallops and dairy just don’t mix” someone else declares.
“Well, how do you explain a creamy seafood chowder then?” Chopinand asks.
“A good marriage can be equally fueled by the comforts of familiarity or the excitement of the unexpected” he boldly adds.
Realizing the stark truth in his statement, we retreat and silently finish this course.
The combination of beetroot, black sesame and cream is an explosion of flavours.
Floating in a pool of tart cherry jus, a thin slice of beetroot is heightened by the intense nuttiness of black sesame foam. This dish is daringly simple with ingredients, inventive in its combination and ingenious in its execution.
Later, Frederico tells us this sweet and most tender of beetroot slices have been slow-cooked in an oven for many hours at sixty degrees Celsius.
Flavours become richer and more intense with gruyere ravioli.
Blobs of creamy liquid cheese are encased in impossibly thin pasta pillow-coated with rich porcini butter, then ring-fenced by sliced Swiss brown mushrooms so thin, they resemble flower petals. Parsley powder provides a subtle and elegant herb dimension.
Burnt semolina spaghetti
A small huddle of burnt semolina spaghetti reeks gamey poultry and marjoram.
On our last visit, squid ink spag was coated with sea urchin butter, orange and bottarga. This time, deboned quail is cooked in a rich sauce of cime di rape or turnip tops, with a slightly bitter sweet finish. The pasta is al dente and laced with a numbing spice redolent of Sichuan pepper though some slivers of quail breast are a little dry.
“Why quail though?” baby Theo asks.
“Because the poultry denominators that can rightfully justify the creativity of this restaurant are quail, pigeon, partridge, wild goose, falcon, eagle and perhaps boring old spatchcock” Chopinand offers.
“Would you be as enthusiastic if you encounter the word ‘chicken’ on this menu?”
Lamb rib gives LuMi‘s degustation its robust edge.
Marinated for seven days in red miso, the ribs are slow-braised to soften the meat, then finished on hibachi charcoal grill to impart a crisp and smoky crust. Served with a melting soft log of slow-roasted leek, the meat is so tender, it comes off the rib like a pistol from its holster.
Everyone nods their approval and there appears to be unanimous agreement to a beautiful dish.
“Why are you guys so easily impressed?” Chopinand suddenly asks.
“There may be flavour complexity but grated lime with gamey lamb soaked in miso for seven days hello … could that be complicating it too much?” he adds.
“What would you propose then, mister fuss pot?” Drama Queen asks, clearly a little agitated.
“Perhaps something more subtle … like a tofu puree laced with cucumber” he replies.
“If the Indians can eat masala and spicy curries with yoghurt, why can’t Italians eat this lamb with remnants of soybean?”
Previously, a palate cleanser called Evergreen was a revelation with sorrel sorbet, lemon and basil granita and mint meringue making up a herbaceous and sexy threesome. We are a little disappointed this dish has been taken off the menu and understandably so since it’s produce-driven.
Instead we now have yuzu and mandarin curd with crisp liquorice meringue and wakame powder, just as refreshingly but short of a show stopper like the Evergreen.
Ginger ice cream
The subtle yuzu palate cleanser is complemented by a punchy ginger ice cream.
Sweet with white chocolate and passionfruit, this dessert offers exciting textural contrast with shaved curls of frozen shortbread.
At LuMi, inventive and deft technique transform fresh produce into exciting creations with the passing of each season – all for a princely sum $95.
I don’t see why we wouldn’t be back come spring.
So dear readers, do you have a favourite restaurant that is driven by fresh seasonal produce?
LuMi Bar & Dining
56 Pirrama road
Pyrmont, New South Wales
Tel: +61 2 9571 1999
Opening hours: Dinner Wednesday – Sunday 6pm – 10pm, Lunch Thursday – Sunday 12pm – 2.30pm. Monday – Tuesdays closed.