Search This Blog

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Lucy Liu Kitchen and Bar

One cool evening in late September, three ladies went for dinner at one of Melbourne's hot new venues: Lucy Liu Kitchen and Bar (23 Oliver Lane, Melbourne) (also known as "Lucy Liu's" around town).

They trotted up the cobblestone laneway and found a red neon sign proclaiming the way. Excited with anticipation, they squished through a narrow entrance and alighted upon the buzzing, angular restaurant.

Unsure of which direction to take, the girls felt momentarily lost, but after a while someone led them to their table near the open kitchen, took their coats and the fun commenced.

The single-sheet menus were an immediate source of amusement with metallic, holographic images on one side, mainly of animals - a hit with one of the girls in particular, who was an animal lover.

The impressive restaurant interior was also an attraction. Slimline lengths of pale Tasmanian oak, spaced out at intervals, gave the impression of a flat wall, but provided an enticing visual effect.

Apparently this was intended to be reminiscent of bamboo structures in China, but it seemed more graphical than organic.

Red, orange and yellow-hued lighting gave the venue a warm neon glow. The dizzy excitement of a Friday night was fitting in the warm, hectic space.

Unsmiling staff were (probably not coincidentally) all rather good-looking. They were apparently run off their feet and it was hard to get their attention - but it was Friday night, after all. Eventually drinks were ordered from a pleasing wine list, and the dining ladies opted for the seven-course set menu, at $65 apiece plus drinks. It was so nice not to have to think, but just be served (hopefully) delicious things.

Oysters were a pleasant starter, but nothing out of the ordinary.


Kingfish sashimi was served with dollops of coconut cream and toasted shredded coconut - delightfully textured sweet elements to counteract the tart citrus, chilli and mint dressing over the fish.

Kingfish sashimi

Individual ribs were beautifully flavoured, if a little bare on meat.


The dumplings were delicious - light and fresh; the mushroom and tofu soup likewise.


Mushroom soup

A wagyu beef main was beautifully cooked - as close to rare as is probably possible to send out from a restaurant kitchen without it being requested that way, and it absolutely did the meat justice. (See - we should trust proper chefs with their meat cooking choices!) The accompanying apple coleslaw salad was suitably refreshing, but again, nothing the girls hadn't seen before.

Wagyu beef


By the time the roast barramundi fillets were served, the ladies were losing appetite and didn't quite manage to finish.

Roast barramundi

They had definitely enjoyed the food and were impressed by both the quality of cooking and how much food was provided for such a reasonable price. The set menu was something they felt they'd happily do again.

Lucy Liu's was opened in the old PM24 site by Michael Lambie and Scott Borg of Circa, Taxi and The Smith. Veering away from fine dining and gastro pub food, Lucy was always intended to be more about the atmosphere than their other venues. The food was intentionally pan-Asian - but rather than the bog standard dishes from takeaway joints which give pan-Asian a bad name, Lucy Liu's was to pick the best from each cuisine and present it in a modern setting. It seemed they achieved this quite seamlessly. Dishes could be Thai, Chinese, Korean or Japanese in style, to name a few.

Somewhat refreshingly for a CBD restaurant, Lucy Liu's takes bookings and is open seven days for lunch and dinner. The girls will be going back.

Lucy Liu Kitchen and Bar on Urbanspoon

Friday, 20 February 2015

Fifty Acres

On my walk to work each morning, I often used to pop into Fifty Acres (65 Bridge Road, Richmond). Not only was it in a prime position for a coffee pit-stop en route to my work, but the coffee was actually good. If I sound surprised, it's because I'd never had good coffee anywhere along Bridge Road prior to finding this place.

Bircher muesli

Bridge Road is long, but seems to be a cup-half-empty sort of place: several abandoned shop sites, some big names sticking it out with determination, a sprinkling of not-very-impressive pubs/bars, and the occasional restaurant. Recently, it has picked up a bit with the addition of restaurants like Ladyboy Thai and Mister Jennings, and my personal favourites: a Gorman store and the Mt View rooftop (not new, but worth a mention!). But a decent cafe was certainly missing from the area, and Fifty Acres has stepped up to the mark, neatly positioned near the Punt Road end of Bridge so you can fuel up before your shopping spree.

Raisin toast

The name is a reference to the area's history, which I thought was a nice touch. The cafe itself is not huge, despite its spacious feel. Along most of one side of the interior runs the counter, which houses a pastry display, the till, and an impressive custom-branded La Marzocco coffee machine, and also offers seating along the bar. There are several tables down the other length of the venue and a couple more by the front window, bathed in pleasant natural light. At the back you'll find the always-gleaming kitchen, framed by a lovely pastel mint wall with rectangular patterning. Different types of wood feature in the venue's flooring, furniture and other fittings, while red brick on one wall provides visual warmth, and metal sheeting and lighting add a touch of industrial cool. The combined effect is something like "schmick country house meets art nouveau-industrial" (how's that for a descriptor?!).

Interior design was by Georgia Nowak and Dhiren Das of Abbotsford's Tone and Co, and graphic design by Sue Palmer of branding agency Liquid Creativity. It's not all interior though - Fifty Acres boasts some footpath seating - not the most comfortable furniture, however it is accompanied by thoughtful amenities such as umbrellas and heaters to cope with Melbourne's climatic fickleness.

Crumpets with preserves

Most of my impressions of Fifty Acres centre around the coffee, which is carefully prepared by owner and barista, Nick Gaoutsos. The business is his first solo cafe venture, although he had amassed years of experience working in multiple others. Originally it was to be an espresso-focused cafe with afternoon tea options available, but Gaoutsos decided to enlist Andrew Smith as chef and hence there are now quite fancy seasonal breakfast and lunch options on offer. While there is not an extensive menu, the food has flair and the presentation is sweet and clean. The house blend of coffee is by Dukes - always smooth and inoffensive, and nicely made - and additional guest roasts are regularly rotated.

Dad with his brekkie :)

When my family visited in late November, we stopped for a quick breakfast at Fifty Acres. It was a chilly morning and there were no free tables inside when we arrived. Despite the heaters outside, we requested to be moved in when one became available. Staff were as accommodating as possible, and before our food arrived, our request was granted (keeping my parents happy!). We didn't opt for a fancy or huge breakfast, but enjoyed our respective crumpets, raisin toast and Bircher muesli. So pretty!

Seasonal Bircher muesli

Fifty Acres is a welcome addition to Bridge Road. Open seven days.

Fifty Acres on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Exxopolis at SummerSalt Festival 2015

I'd never heard of SummerSalt Festival or Exxopolis until a friend suggested we go. I'm a sucker for anything to do with light and colour, so of course I said yes.

Turns out SummerSalt is an outdoor arts festival, held between 23 January and 21 February this year, comprising music, art, theatre, dance and art events, in and around the Arts Precinct. It is a collaboration between a number of arts bodies, including the ABC, Arts Centre, ACCA, Chunky Move, Malthouse Theatre, Recital Centre, MSO, MTC, NGV, Australian Ballet and Victorian College of the Arts. (Phew!)

Exxopolis is a luminarium (another thing I'd never heard of, but I sure as hell am going to research more on these things now) created by Architects of Air in Nottingham, UK. AoA is headed up by Alan Parkinson, who has been experimenting with 'luminaria' since the 1980s. Essentially, they are carefully designed, inflatable, tent-like structures, creating internal burrows and nooks of colour and light that one explores accompanied by a soundscape.

Ceiling of main dome

The first luminarium to be displayed outside Nottinghamshire was Eggopolis, constructed in the early 1990s. The structure we have been privy to at SummerSalt this year, Exxopolis, was made in 2012 and is the 20th luminarium by AoA (the 'xx' in its name also acknowledging the 20th anniversary of the company).

Organic wonderland

A natural stage

Centre of dome ceiling

Stained glass effect in main dome

Made of very thin PVC (custom made in France) in just four colours, each luminarium comprises individual pieces hand-glued together by 5-6 people over 4-6 months in a massive former textiles factory. Around 20 elements are then transported to the exhibition site, zipped together and inflated, ultimately taking up an area of approximately 1,000 square metres.

Exxopolis from the outside, in the ACCA Forecourt

The end result is a magical world of tunnels, pods and feature domes up to 10 metres high, illuminated from the outside by natural light. The design of Exxopolis, influenced by Islamic, Archimedean and Gothic architectural elements, causes the colours to mix and melt together inside in organic-feeling shapes, inspiring awe and wonder in its viewers.

Stained glass effect

The overall effect is quite surreal, and has been said to invoke a feeling of peace and calmness. Our our visit, we were fuelled slightly by champagne and somewhat more by excitement, so we felt more like kids in candy land. You take your shoes off before entering, adding to the childlike feeling, and are asked to 'respect the space' by not bouncing around too much, or running inside.

Once inside, gentle music is playing, and you wander around the structure at your own pace, taking in each new sight and section.

Snap happy

Party in a pod

Unicorn light

A giggle fit

Being the dome

Whilst not too overcrowded, you come across other bodies at almost every turn, chilling in a quiet corner pod, gazing up at a dome ceiling, or taking pictures of their friends in the cool weird light (guilty!). It's like a playground of colour, both relaxing and invigorating.

Green faces

Pink happies

Access to Exxopolis was via tickets booked for a specific timeslot, however all allocations have now been exhausted as today is the last day of Exxopolis at SummerSalt for this year.