Shaun Quade of Lume Restaurant on the success of omakase menus, “the more control you can have over the diner’s experience, the better”

By Lin Weiwen 4 May, 2017
Pearl on the Ocena Floor, Lume restaurant

Making His Own Rules

Cow’s udders as offal toe the line between delish and squeamish. Chef Shaun Quade, owner of Lume, restaurant, thinks it’s like a substitute for aged cheese because of its milk content. He obtains the glands from a farm in South Australia and turns them into “a creamy, delicious food”. “In Israel, eating cow’s udders is as normal as us having chicken. But it is the weirdest thing we have on the menu,” he says.

That said, you won’t find udders mentioned on the menu in the modern 50-seat eatery in South Melbourne. Your menu isn’t presented to you, too, until your meal is over; a nod to omakase dining, where you leave your dinner in the hands of the chef. “If you tell people what you’ll serve, you may trigger their preconceived notions or fears about certain ingredients,” remarks the 34-year-old chef, whose bespectacled, bearded mien puts him in the category of today’s breed of hipster toques. “So the more control you can have over the diner’s experience, the better.”

Quade’s approach has paid off. Since it opened two years ago, Lume restaurant has become one of Melbourne’s top dining destinations.

Quade, who grew up in Queensland, has come a long way. His first taste of the commercial kitchen was in a fish and chips shop. In 2005, he spent two years at Sydney’s Quay restaurant, before moving to the feted Royal Mail restaurant, then becoming head chef of Biota in New South Wales. Going from pastry chef to the kitchen’s leader gave him a taste of managing his own team. He felt the time was right to open a restaurant, so he found partners and some investment for his project.

Lume restaurant
Saltgrass lamb smoked over cherry wood, rhubarb, hibiscus and rose

“We wanted Lume to be away from the city centre, like a destination-dining kind of location,” says Quade. He came across a venue vacated by a burlesque club, and although the conditions were “horrible”, he liked its layout, which allowed for an open kitchen. “The chefs and diners should be able to see and interact with each other. I wanted a place where you can feel relaxed to enjoy our food.”

He was a little overenthusiastic with his culinary offering, though: he had introduced an 18-course degustation menu, which would take a diner about four hours to sit through. He then streamlined the menu to its current 15-course offering. Less than a year after opening of Lume restaurant, Quade’s partners — chef John-Paul Fiechtner and sommelier Sally Humble — decided to part ways with the team because of “a difference of opinion”, according to Quade.

Lume restaurant
Abalone with barbecue flavours, fresh pistachio and powdered liver

I sit through the 15-course menu complemented by a tipple marriage that includes pours of a fruity Junmai Genshu sake from Kyoto’s Mukai Shuzo, and a South Australian Semillon from Dormilona. In between, Quade and his team pull out every culinary trick from their sleeves: a savoury emu dashi — brewed with the bird’s bones — is served with gamey slices of emu ham, while a basket of ‘cheese’ turns out to be a rich cauliflower puree.

I wonder if I am spared the cow’s udder. But Quade tells me I ate it. “It was in the first course, the Sea Corn Taco,” he tells me with a little grin. For the dish, crabmeat is turned into a custard and placed in a baby corn- shaped mould, before it is paired with a morsel of cow’s udder shaped to resemble crabmeat, and presented with grilled corn silk. The udder was creamy and delicious.