Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Lumi Dining, Pyrmont

It was my first night in Sydney.  I was jet lagged.  I needed dinner.  I knew from past experience in Sydney that fine dining is not where Sydney's strengths lie (the Thai food, the neighborhood cafes, the gelato shops those are all amazing, but fine dining?  Not so much, particularly compared to San Francisco).

Yet I wound up at Lumi for dinner.  This was a very, very odd choice, for so many reasons.

First, Lumi had only been open for less than 4 months.  Even in SF it takes months for a restaurant to hit its stride.  Second, the kitchen is young - I read somewhere that the chefs are all in their early 20s.  They had industry experience, but, not much.  Third, Lumi serves fancy food, which I'd already sworn off in Sydney.  Dinner is an 8 course degustation only, for $95 AUD.  There is no a la carte menu for dinner, only for lunch Thurs -  Sat.

So why did I land there?  Well, I had read good reviews, but mostly, I was lazy.  Remember that jet lag?  It zapped my ability to exert any effort, and Lumi is conveniently located right next to my office.  I needed food, and it was within easy stumbling distance.  It also looked like it was about to rain, and I was totally unprepared for rain, no umbrella in tow.  So I took the path of least resistance.

I also knew that they had a small bar area, with a "bar bites" menu.  Even though the bar bites menu was lacking some of the dishes I really wanted to try, there was no way I had it in me to sit down to a  full 8+ course degustation, so Ojan and I were intending to sit at the bar.  Plus, I hadn't made a booking, which I knew would be essential for a Friday night.

But ... the bar area was reserved for a private party.  Doh.  Since we were still on US time, we arrived right at opening at 6pm, and they had one table that wasn't booked until 8:30pm.  We were told that if we promised to be gone before then, we could have the table.  Great!  Except ... I didn't want a huge degustation menu!  We were in luck, as they offered to let us order off the a la carte menu instead, to speed things up.  This was even better, I could get the dishes I'd been eying, and get a regular table.  Perfect!

Overall, it was a nice experience.  The service was friendly and relaxed, not stuffy fine dining, even though they do serve upscale cuisine.  A different staff member seemed to bring out each dish, including some of the cooks, so we got to interact with many different people.  The space was the most impressive part, located on a wharf, and designed to take in all the light possible, really an incredible ambiance.  The food was all innovative and good, uniquely plated, but not particularly memorable.

For the Sydney area however, it is a very unique experience, and the kitchen is obviously talented.  I will likely return next time I'm in Sydney to see what they do as they mature, and in particular, I would consider the degustation, as it seems to be where their strengths lie, and is really quite reasonably priced, particularly compared to the rest of Sydney!
Open Wall to the Harbor.
The space was the most impressive part.  The wall completely opened up to the harbor.  It was actually a tiny bit chilly at our table with the breeze blowing through since it was unseasonably cool, but the open air setting was really a wonderful ambiance.

The openness gave all the good sides of both being inside and outside all in one, and it created a more casual feel as well.
Looking the other direction, through the windows along the front side, were the boats.  There is something to be said for being located out on a pier, with boats right outside the window!  So peaceful.

The harbor location may be a few steps off the beaten path, and it isn't somewhere you'd just find if you weren't looking for it, but the location is lovely, even on a colder, windy, almost raining day.  I can only imagine how dramatic it is on a nice day, or during sunset.
Open Kitchen.
I'm always a sucker for open kitchens, so I appreciated the open kitchen.  Not only was it fun to watch the chefs meticulously plating the dishes, it also just added to the overall open feel.

Since we were one of the first parties seated that evening, the kitchen wasn't very busy when we arrived, but you could tell it was the calm before the storm.  I enjoyed watching the staff kick into action, the pace of the kitchen picking up as more tables started to fill.
Parmesan Churros with Roasted Eggplant Dip.  $12.
We started with a really creative sounding appetizer: savory churros!  With ... eggplant dip?  Craziness.  I had no idea what to expect.

The presentation was creative, served in a little paper sack.  Like the ambiance, it mirrored the casual feel, although clearly a very interesting dish, not just a basic bar snack.  Available at the bar, or during lunch as an a la carte offering, but not part of the degustation or dinner menu.

The churros were piping hot, clearly delivered fresh out of the fryer.  They had been properly drained, and were not oily.  As expected, they were savory, no real sweetness to the batter, and had a slight parmesan flavor.  They were nicely crunchy.

On the side was the creamy eggplant dip, super smooth, no bits of anything in it.

This wasn't a combination I would have ever come up with, but it was definitely an interesting one, and it did work.

Overall, it was definitely fascinating, hot and fresh, but I wouldn't get these again.  I think a different dipping sauce, one with some zing to it, would be more successful.

$12 for 4 was fine for a bar snack.
Squid Ink Chitarra, Orange Buerre Blanc, Bottarga, Sea Urchin Scamp. $22.
Next up, the dish I had been eyeing since I discovered Lumi: Squid Ink Chitarra, part of the degustation, but not available as a bar snack, so we weren't originally going to be able to order it.

This dish had me written all over it.

I love squid ink pasta.  I love cream sauces.  I obviously love uni enough to have a label on my blog for it.  So this was a must order, and I was absolutely thrilled that we were able to order off the full a la carte menu rather than just the bar menu, so we could select this dish.

All my excitement faded away when the dish was presented however.  Where was the urchin?  In its place was ... scampi.  What!!!   I do wish that when I ordered the uni dish, I had been informed that the uni was not available, and that scampi would be substituted.  Although, perhaps I would have changed my order, and then I would have missed this great dish.

It turns out, I had no reason to be upset.  Sure, I didn't have my precious uni, but the scampi was very, very tasty.  I don't think I've ever enjoyed shrimp, or any shrimp-like creature, so much.  It was fresh, delicate, slightly sweet ... just far more interesting than I ever imagined possible.  I believe it was just lightly cured, or perhaps even raw?  It inspired me to order more scampi, and other sea bugs, during my time in Sydney.

The pasta was a perfectly cooked al dente.  The buerre blanc was creamy, and coated the pasta well.

It was a bit hard to eat given the way it was served as a perfect stack, but I did love the presentation.

Overall, this was very good, but I didn't love it quite as much as I hoped to.  I think my expectations were probably just set unrealistically high.  This dish seems to be one Lumi is evolving, as earlier reviews I read featured a stinging nettle pasta rather than squid ink, with a mussel cream sauce instead of orange buerre blanc.  Any version of unique housemade pasta, with cream sauce, and seafood sounds good to me though!
Lamb Cutlet Milanese Style, Smoked Cocktail Sauce. $15.
Finally, another bar bite, lamb cutlet.  Again, since it was a bar bite, the plating was a bit more rustic than the previous dish from the degustation.

You may recall that I don't like lamb, but Ojan was hungrier than I was, so he selected this as another bite for himself.

Of course, even though I don't like lamb, I had to try a bite.

It was ... well, lamb.  But if I was ever going to like lamb, coating it in crispy stuff and serving it with a smokey aioli was a good way to do it.  I still didn't like it, but it was really nicely fried, and the creamy cocktail sauce was tasty.

$15 might have been a little high for a rather small piece of meat however.
Evergreen: Sorrel, Lemon Basil, Mint Shiso, Parsley.  $15.
We wanted to end the meal with something sweet, because, well it is me, and I kinda live for dessert.
The one dessert on the a la carte menu (yougurt ice cream with cherries) wasn't really calling out to me.  Luckily, when I asked about dessert, our server told us that she could probably get the kitchen to offer up the palette cleanser from the degustation menu, served before the heavier regular dessert.  She highly recommended it, and it sounded crazy and unique, so we went for it, even though I admit that it wasn't really what I'd normally pick either, particularly as it was a frozen dish, and I was already a bit chilly.

The presentation of the "Evergreen" was absolutely stunning.  And this was just the palette cleanser!  Given the other dishes I saw coming out of the kitchen the regular degustation menu is more in this style, and it was just our ordering of bar bites that yielded the more rustic dishes you saw above.

So, where to start.  There was a green sorrel sorbet.  Green shiso leaf jelly.  Green lemon basil granita.  Tons of fresh microgreens.  Little green mint meringues.  The dish name, "Evergreen", suddenly made sense.

This was crazy unique, certainly one of the most interesting desserts I've ever had.  There was something in the mix of herbs that made my tongue tingle just like when eating fresh tarragon.  It was light, it was refreshing, and I'm sure it served its place as a palette cleanser well.  But ... it wasn't really my thing, at all.  Interestingly, Ojan, who generally just eats a bite or two of dessert and never loves it, really did like this.

Since this didn't really satisfy my need for decadent dessert, I may or may not have stopped at Chat Thai on the way back to the hotel for a second dessert.

$15 is a bit pricy for a palette cleanser, but it was a complex, intricately plated dish and certainly the most memorable dish of the meal.
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