Although there has been a fair amount of cross-pollination of French and Japanese cuisines in a fine dining context, the crossover potential of Japanese and Italian cooking is relatively underexplored. Inherent conservatism and striving for authenticity may have kept playing around with Italian food off limits for a long time, however the strong focus on umami in both cooking traditions make many Italian and Japanese culinary ideas strongly compatible.
With Modernists like Massimo Bottura having shown that one can be at once progressive while deeply respectful of cultural heritage from within Italy, its been interesting reading about a similarly progressive and open style of Italian cuisine developing here in Australia. Only having been open since September last year, LuMi and its head chef Federico Zanellato have already become critical darlings for the restaurant's innovative Japanese influenced take on Modern Italian. With Zanellato's resume including stints at such culinary meccas as La Pergola, Ryugin, Noma and Attica, LuMi was high on our list of places to check out while on a culinary tour of Sydney - so much so, that it ended up being our dinner on the Sunday of our arrival.
Although an a la carte menu is available Tuesday to Saturday nights, the 8 course degustation is the way to go. At $95, its priced very competitively and as a result we decided to partake in the wine pairing for an additional $80. This pairing is well worth it, as their selections were interesting and discerning. Our meal began with an Amuse Bouche of Short Crust Pastry with Porcini served as frozen discs. With flavours of burnt butter, sweetness, saltiness and the intensely umami flavour of Porcini, these frozen single bites of buttery, fudgy goodness whet our appetites as a good Amuse should.
Further snacks continued on a second plate. The Baby Cos with Pistachio and Parmesan was a really interesting way to treat lettuce. It was not dissimilar in flavour to a Caesar Salad, except it was all the more buttery thanks to the Pistachio's inherent richness. Salt and Vinegar Rice Crisps were nice and light with a flavour not far removed from Samboy chips, but with a light elegance of texture that was more suited to the restaurant environs. Best of all were the Caramelised Onion Macarons with Chicken Liver Parfait. The well made Macarons tasted like a crunchy and roasty French Onion Dip, with the smooth and flavoursome Chicken Liver Parfait within making for a very decadent savoury Macaron. These were superb.
The final of our introductory dishes was Chawanmushi, topped with a consomme of Dashi. A traditional Japanese Egg Custard, Chawanmushi is usually made with Dashi, however LuMi's twist on the dish find the Dashi replaced with Parmesan instead. This was an astute and very clever ingredient substitution, with the final result being a warm, savoury custard with a soft, smooth texture and a veritable wealth of umami. It read as both Italian and Japanese at the same time - a very successful fusion.
A serve of bread was brought out next, consisting of Ciabatta and Grissini. The Ciabatta had all the hallmarks of a good bread for fine dining accompaniment, with a nice and crusty exterior while being fluffy inside, and the whipped butter had the perfect level of saltiness and a light, airy texture. The Grissini were also very good, having a nice crunch without the dryness that is common to the dehydrated, off the shelf versions seen in supermarkets.
Spanner Crab, Kolhrabi, Yukari was the first true course of the meal, and consisted of Pickled Kohlrabi, Kohlrabi Juice, Spanner Crab and Yukari (a Japanese sprinkled Furikake or condiment). The elegant ribbons of Pickled Kohlrabi had a pleasing, mild bitterness accompanied by sweetnesss that complemented the sweetness of the tender Spanner Crab meat. A mayo-like sauce gave the dish some creaminess, with the dill providing a nice hit of herbaceous flavour that went nicely with the seafood. The wine pairing for this dish was absolutely spot on as well; the Italian Verdicchio selected had great savoury as well as clean stonefruit flavours that worked to enhance our enjoyment of the dish.
Even better was Beetroot, Black Sesame, Cream – Salt baked Beetroot topped with a Beetroot Glaze, Goat's Curd Cream, Black Sesame Foam and topped with fresh chives. This was a masterpiece of vegetarian cooking, and quite possibly the finest Beetroot dish Alissa and I have ever eaten. The Salt baking had left the Beetroot with a good semi-firm texture that had a certain amount of give back. Already intensely flavoursome, the Beetroot Glaze gave the dish even more of the sweet earthiness that is a hallmark of this root vegetable, while the Goat's Curd Cream gave the dish a nice sour note. The Black Sesame was the genius touch however, as it gifted the dish with a rich, roasty hit of umami ballsiness and funkiness. This dish was so good that a large table near us stood up and literally applauded the kitchen for this amazing dish. The people applauding? No less than the staff of Momofuku Seiobo. High praise indeed.
Ravioli, Gruyere, Porcini Butter was the first of two pasta courses, offered with a shaving of Manjimup Black Truffles for an extra $12. Let's just say as proud Western Australians and Truffle Fiends that Black Truffles are never optional, and we gratefully took up their offer. After the incredible Beetroot dish, LuMi again impressed with one of the best Ravioli dishes we've ever eaten. The pasta dough had been rolled out to a level of thin translucence and yet it maintained its structural integrity on the plate, only popping as we ate each in one single bite. Once bitten, these soft, plump and juicy parcels exploded with a pop of incredibly smooth, cheese filling. With slices of fresh Porcini and the shaving of Black Truffle, the dish had such an incredible depth of Mushroom flavour that I could easily have eaten bowls of this stuff. One only hopes that if and when the chef gets around to putting out a restaurant cookbook, we'll be lucky enough to have his recipe included so we can attempt to make it at home.
Our second pasta course was Burnt Semolina Spaghetti, Quail, Marjoram – Sourdough breadcrumbs, Burnt Semolina Spaghetti with a Quail Ragu and Marjoram. Breadcrumbs as a substitute for Parmesan are a classic hallmark of Cucina Povera cooking, and the nice, toasty crumbs gave the dish a nice crunch accompanied by Marjoram herb flavour. The Quail Ragu was surprisingly buttery and creamy compared to the usual tomato and/or red meat based style, but worked very well with the delicate nature of Quail meat. The Burnt Semolina of the very thin Spaghetti had a nutty coarseness to it that was unusual and texturally interesting, and made us think of Soba, with the Semolina standing in as an analogue for Buckwheat. Interesting as the dish was, for us it was less impressive than the Ravioli that preceded it, and it was a little bit too salty for our liking. Thankfully, the fruity Grenache that the dish was paired with saved the dish's balance, however if we did not have as good a wine for a pairing, it might have been a rather different experience.
After the slightly flawed seasoning of the previous dish, our main of Lamb Rib, Red Miso, Leek, Lime Kosho returned to the perfection of the previous two courses. The Lamb Rib had been marinaded in Red Miso for one week so that its flavour had been completely absorbed. It was then cooked superbly; the exterior featured a nice, well seared crust while the intensely flavoursome meat within was fall apart tender. The accompanying Leek was similarly impressive, being soft enough that it too almost fell apart without being a mushy mess. The Lime Kosho on the side worked like a Chimichurri, providing some acidity, herbaceousness and chilli heat. This was a great main, and a great argument for why we need to see more Lamb Ribs on tasting menus.
Our pre-dessert was Yuzu, Mandarin, Licorice, Wakame Powder, described to us as Dried Sea Lettuce and Licorice Meringue, Yuzu Ice Cream and Mandarin Curd. Talk about a palate cleanser - The Yuzu and Mandarin flavours working in tandem were deliciously acidic, with the light fluffiness of the meringue bringing a nice aniseed note, a very lightly seaweed flavour and crunch. This was a good bridging dish that lead to an even better dessert.
Ginger Ice Cream, White Chocolate, Passion Fruit served as a fitting finale to our meal, and was described by Alissa as being very close to her dream dessert without containing her usual favourites of Apple and Cinnamon. The spicy heat of the Ginger Ice Cream with its sharp and almost raw flavour was well paired with the bright acidity of Passionfruit Curd, with the White Chocolate providing some cocoa butter creaminess. The master-stroke however was the return of the frozen pastry idea with Short Crust shaved over the dish. The frozen pastry tasted like a cookie dough, and provided a very intriguing texture and delectable butteriness. This was a perfectly refreshing way to finish the meal, and was accompanied by a lovely Rolf Binder Late Harvest Riesling that seemed a perfect match as it was especially sympathetic to the ginger heat.
The Verdict: Ultimate
Alissa and I have had been fortunate enough to have had some incredible meals over the last year - degustations at Print Hall, Cape Lodge and Wills Domain come to mind - however, LuMi stood out as the best, most artistically satisfying and consistently impressive tasting menu we've had since dining at Attica last year. Where all three of those aforementioned degustations featured cooking skill of the highest calibre, there was an inventiveness and individuality on display at LuMi that positioned it as a cut above - a destination restaurant in the making. The Modernist ideas, flourishes and flavour combinations were never incorporated in unnecessarily showy and/or alienating ways, and were always in service of ensuring the food was first and foremost delicious. The fact that Federico Zanellato's is already putting out such realised and individualistic dishes as Beetroot, Black Sesame, Cream after less than a year since LuMi opened suggests that this is a restaurant and a chef with a very bright future.