Address 273-279 Cecil Street, South Melbourne, 03 9690 3737, lamaroshotel.com.au,
Open Daily noon-midnight
Cost Entrees $18-$32; mains $30-$42; desserts $14-$15
Drinks Simple cocktails, local craft beers and a mid-range wine list starring Victoria, Italy and France
You’re not crazy. The deja vu is real. Paul Wilson is cooking his truffled polenta and egg in South Yarra. Donovan Cooke is opening in Fitzroy North. Michael Lambie has just opened the Smith – again. And here in South Melbourne at Lamaro’s – the pub that changes dining themes faster than lands at the top of The Faraway Tree – Geoff Lindsay is resuscitating his duck curry from Pearl (RIP).
Was there a meeting where someone planned the top chefs of the noughties comeback tour for 2017? More importantly, is Lindsay at Lamaro’s a slaying retrospective or a Rochford winery afternoon only a nostalgic loyalist can love?
First: Cliffs Notes on Lamaro’s. The South Melbourne was last in the hands of Colonial Leisure Group, which ran it as a fire-fuelled Spanish bodega. Once upon a time, Michael Lambie electrified the tables with his Sichuan duck. Almost always, there has been the double act of public bar (an impressive curve hemmed in with stained glass windows where South Melbourne suits and lush locals have crushed craft beers and Carlton Draught side by side) and a dining room pushing serious wines and serious chefs.
For this takeover by Lindsay and business partner Paul Dimattina not a huge amount of sprucing is evident. The red tartan carpets, tan chairs and olive-brown banquettes from the 2015 Techne fitout remain, as does the now de-luminated neon pig over the door. To be fair, they took the space as was, but the same-same look, now a little tired and not relating to the Pearl hits-meets-pub food theme, seems an opportunity lost.
Then again, how to decorate for a wild adventure with few geographical or time restraints? First there is warm, light sourdough and whipped unsalted butter. Then scallops arrive in deep shells taking you by wormhole back a decade. They’re tasty in the way of devils on horseback – sweet, salty and slutty, the slice of pork belly crisp around the edges and fresh chilli and caramelised tamarind giving the soft scallops some pep.
The raw kingfish, by contrast, is fresh but surprisingly flat. There’s coconut cream, finger lime and pomegranate seeds but they’ve not mingled enough to work as a team.
The same could be said for sticky nodes of pan-fried potato gnocchi with brussels sprouts leaves, broad beans, hazelnuts and globs of gorgonzola. It’s pub food. Nutmeg-y, rib-sticking, fine if not altogether harmonious.
Far better is the intensely mustard-and-caper-tinged steak tartare that’s so fine when worked in with its quail egg yolk it loads onto buttered soldiers almost like a dip.
Chances are, you’re curious about the new Lamaro’s based on Lindsay’s (well established) reputation. And they are playing the hits. You can order Pearl’s whole snapper, and ruby tuna fillet seared on one side with fragrant salad.
The elements are there for the red duck curry – the coconut rice, the crisp frill of fresh wombok, that tart tamarind that mixes with the poached egg on the side (it’s billed as fried, son-in-law style, which would have been better). The roasted duck itself is tender, the lemongrass-lifted red curry gentle enough for anyone.
But if you’ve had the original in the past, the execution from the kitchen team, led by head chef Jay Sinclair, feels a little like a tribute band charging the original price of $42.
What there is, is a very serviceable wine list you can happily pick the eyes out of: William Fevre chablis, Dr Loosens and Ocean Eight pinot gris. See also friendly and proficient service from a team led by Nick Brown. There is always that pretty outdoor area on the wide-hipped street ‘neath a light-festooned tree. There are the sleek, private dining rooms left over from the last fitout, and an excellent dessert of a saffron-stained pear with rich scoop of chocolate mousse and biscuit crumb.
Lindsay at Lamaro’s may not sparkle like peak era Pearl in a pub, but you can still find some jewels in the mix.
Pro-tip: The function rooms are some of the nicest in South Melbourne.
Go-to dish: The red duck curry ($42).