So this is Claude’s 4.0. It’s a particularly brave move for chef and owner Chui Lee Luk – a chef mindful of preserving the integrity of a restaurant run by some serious food heavies over the years like Claude Corne, Damien and the late Josephine Pignolet and Tim Pak Poy while itching to move with the times.
We reckon she’s managed to do both. The Oxford Street restaurant has been gutted and re-positioned as a casual, drop-in venue downstairs and fine diner upstairs, designed by Melbourne architect Pascale Gomes-McNabb.
Head up the narrow staircase for a palette of soft greys and pinks with lightning-bolt mirrors streaking what we’re now only going to refer to as the Ziggy Stardust room. Staff wear the simple, clean and structured lines of star Sydney designer Gary Bigeni
– it’s all very dynamic.
Upstairs you have the choice of a five-or-eight-course menu of Chui Lee Luk’s intricate, technique-driven food. Soft, fresh folds of raw scallop, for instance, paired with sweet, creamy sea urchin and punctuated by thin rounds of pickled carrot. Or a soft-boiled hen’s egg gleaming like a Faberge trinket surrounded by shavings of raw chestnut and artichoke crisps, heightened by the tiniest suggestion of black sesame powder and a little oyster cream. What’s on the plate is delicious, delicate stuff.
A note on the music, which is a very prominent new fixture here: Grimes, Beach House and Björk have their place (coming down in the privacy of your own home in your Snuggy, say), but in a muted fine-dining atmosphere it’s a little weird. Come dessert though, you’ll forget that when presented with an avalanche of lemon granita and tiny, bittersweet cubes of Averna jelly all crunched up by little puffballs of meringue.
The more casual downstairs offering is still a bit up and down. Service is wobbly, unless you’re sitting at the bar being served by restaurant manager Louise Tamayo – she’s one of the best in the business. The bigger problem is that no one really has a strong idea of how the downstairs menu’s meant to work. Are we meant to order a snack, then entrée, main and dessert or can we share like the space and menu might suggest?
If there are only two of you dining, it’s smooth sailing – there’s enough variety that you’ll be able to try a few different things. But multiply your dining number and you’re running into double-up territory. Bypass larger dishes like the pricy lamb belly and go for a few Moonlight Flat oysters, the house-made pickles – including the sweet spongy pickled jackfruit – and maybe a round of pig’s face sandwiches on soft rolls instead.
‘Pearl’s lemon chicken’ translates as hunks of crisp fried chicken served with cubes of pickled daikon and a confusing lemon gel. It’s just a shame it’s let down by being under-seasoned. But hot and sour mussels are just that – the briny and piquant shellfish work as an excellent share food, if you’re all happy to just hook in.
Or just rock up alone and order a glass of chablis and the soufflé a la suissesse – a fluffy, cheesy twice-cooked soufflé that’s been a mainstay at the restaurant for, well, forever. You’ll definitely want to go for the ice of the day – ours is a perfect quenelle of cornflake, whiskey and vanilla ice cream (an ode, we’re guessing, to San Francisco ice creamery Humphry Slocombe and their popular flavour, Secret Breakfast). Sweet, boozy, creamy, dessert bliss.
It’s early days yet for this brand new interpretation of a classic, but we’re sure with time and patience, it’ll be around for years more to come.