The first thing was the smell – I wasn’t on King Street anymore. The sea; not fresh-pounding-waves sea, but briney-lapping-seaweed sea.
This is Strop, going off the map to the smart new Luxembourg Bar and Bistro at the suave end of St Kilda, up near Albert Park.
It is a special ladies-only treat at one of the other ladies’ favourite haunts. Favourite because of the flavours, as will become obvious, but also because her favourite (and only) sibling is Head Chef.
I have seen so many succulent Instagram pix of the food here, my mouth is watering before I’ve even sat down. I creep up on Flick who is sitting at the business end of the counter, consorting with the staff. Hugs, kisses and exclamations ensue.
We settle and get on with catching-up. We used to work very closely together, but in the last few years we have only seen each other once in a blue moon. There is lots of interesting news to share, but I can’t help noticing the activity in the kitchen – there is unexpected busy-ness with extreme tweezers. The best kind of micro-management.
Looking back on the copy of the menu (liberated for research purposes) I realise I missed an entire section of the menu entitled Raw. Ahh well, next time.
Some delicious interestingly-presented homemade bread and butter came first, ‘Mum made the hessian sacks’ says Flick – that is dedication. They were swiftly followed by Potato skins, whipped cod roe and avruga (caviar). Very good; crunchy, soft, light and creamy all at the same time.
Our other choices to share came from the Plates – Small area of the menu. Fried broccoli with caper & raisin dressing, and salted ricotta, I love a brassica and this was so very tasty. Radicchio, smoked duck breast, grape and walnut – was delicious too – it was one of the dishes requiring extreme micro-management (tweezers used to arrange the grape slivers, amongst other things), and it paid off. Finally, a dark, fragrant bake was delivered in its cast iron pan, it was the Tripe and cuttlefish braise with brioche crumbs. A more unlikely-sounding combo is hard to imagine, but it too was scrumptious.
The stylings here are nice, all the staff have an old-fashioned green and white tea towel usefully attached to their simple uniforms. There are two very groovy wall-light fittings – the best I’ve seen.
All the flavours are delectable, one after the other, interesting and unlikely combos to delight.
Being so close to the kitchen action can be very distracting. I admire the deft slicing of vegetables on the super sharp mandolin. I’d have bandaids on every finger …
The waitstaff are charmingly helpful, especially because Flick is ‘family’, but I suspect they’d be friendly to all.
Our conversation meanders around our respective jobs, Flick’s is expanding in wonderful ways and she’s excited. My work life has changed minute by minute these last couple of weeks and the phrase ‘HR people are so shit’ is uttered – even though some of my favourite people work in HR – but in this one particular instance…
In order to take our minds off the HR crisis we decide to order dessert. There are wonderful fruity options, and we decide on Buttermilk panna cotta, blood orange, fennel granita & meringue as well as Mille-feuille, spiced quince & brown sugar cream.
While we’re waiting, I decide to seek some kitchen interpretation. I wanted to understand the roles of the people I had seen working so hard. Jess, a delightful waitress (do we say that still?) and aficionado, as it turns out, of the Garden History Society, explained some of the intricacies of the kitchen.
We’d been watching at close-hand the Cold Larder blokes, putting together the cool elements of the dishes with their tweezers. The Pastry Chef also got in on the assembling action – but mostly with the sweet things.
Slightly further away was the Sous Chef, the Head Chef’s right hand – presumably able to step into the breech when the Head Chef’s partner goes into labour – not imminent, but soon. The two of them worked closely together to get the timing right and also with tweezers, to get the dishes just-so as they left the kitchen. Both unexpectedly relaxed and happy, on the outside at least.
Further still are the people on ‘meat’ and ‘fish’ – literally slaving over a hot stove and various proteins.
Waaaay at the back is the washer-upper working hard. I didn’t get their proper name.
The very beautiful desserts arrived. So many flavours, and all of them delicious, together and separately. Who knew fennel could be granita-ed? Head Chef, Chris Watson did.
We shared the desserts like ladies, not fighting over the crumbs at all.
All-in-all it was a wonderful experience – I would recommend our kitchen-view seats for entertainment and learning, and Luxembourg for the flavours and the textures.
As we watched the rapid and continuous delivery of beautiful food, Flick said ‘I just can’t believe my brother’s a boss’, but Boss he is, of a great bar and bistro – go there when you can.