THEME: MODERN BISTRO
1 BOURKE STREET, MELBOURNE, (03) 9633 6065
LICENSED AE MC V EFTPOS
WEDNESDAY, THURSDAY AND SATURDAY 5.30PM-LATE, FRIDAY NOON-LATE
SNACKS: $6-$15; SET MENU: $85
Do you think food can taste happy? I reckon it does at Lekker, the nimble and spirited new temporary restaurant by chef Rob Kabboord, tucked around the side of the Hotel Windsor for a few short months.
There’s joy and wit in “Which came first?”, a chicken and egg dish that ponders the age-old conundrum. A pademelon (a small wallaby) tartare is an exuberant, sensitive exploration of Australian protein. Smoked salmon cigars are as fresh as sashimi, as luxurious as a Rolls and as fun as a waterslide. It’s all highly accomplished, with an unusual jauntiness.
Kabboord is no celeb but he’s one of our best chefs. He returned to Melbourne from Sydney mid-2019 after a month-long helper stint turned into four years as chef de cuisine at three-hat Quay, where boss and mate Peter Gilmore just didn’t want to let him go. Along the way, Kabboord and his fort-holding wife Bron closed Merricote, their much-loved Westgarth bistro. Bron is now in the country, at Trentham’s du Fermier. A few months ago – when her funemployed husband started presenting her with multi-course weeknight banquets, pre-desserts included – Bron encouraged him to find a new gig. That’s how Lekker came about.
It’s in a Hotel Windsor function space and is a suck-it-and-see venture with the Halim Group, which owns the hotel. Part of the happiness in the food is because Kabboord isn’t the owner: the headaches of proprietorship are off his plate. The other wellspring of joy is the freedom. Quay is many good things but nimble is not one of them; here, Kabboord can have a brainwave in the shower and get his lightbulb moment on the table that night. You can taste the immediacy.
There are two modes of dining: snacks in the bar (city theatres are nearby) or a five-course prix fixe menu. The pademelon is sustainably sourced from Flinders Island; cubed backstrap is arranged with beetroot (slow-cooked, raw and pureed) plus the acidic pop of raspberries. Smoked oyster cream and oil made with kombu (a seaweed) tie the dish together in slick, savoury symphony.
The chicken and egg dish is sublime: poached breast and confit leg are bathed in consomme and nestled with an egg yolk slow-poached in oil. They’re hidden by potato foam which is overlaid with puffed chicken skin crisps. It’s a supremely balanced conversation stopper.
Born in the Netherlands, Kabboord’s neo bistro is also a nostalgic and sometimes wry look at Dutch food culture. The name “Lekker” is a cover-all word for tasty, yummy, cosy and nice. An apricot dessert plays with Jenever, the Dutch antecedent to gin. The unmissable cheese course is called “dat is kaas voor ieder”, a northern Dutch expression which translates as “that’s cheese for everyone” but means, more or less, “everyone will like it”. They really will. Stinky Livarot is whisked with cream and plated with Madeira gel and apple. Scattered atop are housemade potato crispies that apply Quay-style ultra fine dining magic to a $15 dish available on the tasting menu and as a snack.
Even though it’s a pop-up, Lekker’s food identity is confident. The space is functional and there are nice Nederlander touches, but it’s less lekker than the menu. The waiting team, led by German-born Amsterdammer Carl Schroeder is warm and professional but understandably green, and it feels a bit like you’re all on the adventure together. The restaurant may only be here until March. Leap on it.
Flavour that lasts
Capitol Grand, corner Toorak Road & Chapel Street, South Yarra, (03) 8080 8080.
Daily lunch and dinner.
After a nearby pop-up, Omnia has moved to glamorous permanent premises. A soaring lobby-style atrium gives way to a cellar-like dining room. The food is flat-out delicious – I’m still thinking about the tartare with roasted capsicum and chilli a month after eating it.
Level 1, 122 Russell Street, Melbourne, (03) 9935 9838.
Thurs-Fri lunch, Wed-Sat dinner.
Reopening this week after a break, Lesa does composed, produce-focused dishes as part of prix fixe menus. The two-course pre-theatre option from 5.30pm ($55) offers a tasty intro to chef Dave Verheul’s food.
CUTLER & CO BAR
55-57 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, (03) 9419 4888.
Sun lunch, daily dinner.
I am such a fan of sitting at the bar in great restaurants. Cutler’s bar is in the same area as the open kitchen, making for great theatre. If you want even more performance, order the tableside steak tartare service, or call for the cheese trolley.
359 Napier Street, Fitzroy, (03) 9416 0666.
Daily breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Everyone who goes to Napier Quarter wishes they lived around the corner. The watchwords quality, community and artisan are expressed in simple, careful, classic food such as toast with boiled egg and anchovies, roast chicken and housemade pasta.