Informed dining choices are usually made with some underlying context. Special occasions and food voyeurism usually ends up the domain of two and three hat restaurants, the humble neighbourhood Bistro often consigned to picking up more casual trade. The touchstone of well priced, executed and portioned classics, it has always over time survived the prevailing food trends of the day, with the bonus of La Luna being totally provenance based. Owner and Chef Adrian Richardson obsessively controls the supply chain of the beef, and that unwavering commitment translates into the optimal delivery of your chosen cut to the plate.
The prime corner placement with large windows and courtyard invites the quirky village feel of Carlton North, is thoughtful as the farm-wire light shades and locally interpreted Bistro feel that provides a welcome point of difference. The eye catching sight of a rather large hacksaw next to the pass may scare some, but La Luna is a genuinely in-house ‘head to toe’ operation, so if they’re not squeamish, why should we be? Service is unpretentious, but never rests on its laurels, even during the peak rush, with a noticeably vibrant room always a preferred substitute for music. In keeping with the value of the menu, both the varietals and the pricing of the wine list is kept on the conservative side. The marking of the decanters is an intelligent solution to the possibility of ‘mistaken identity’ during a bustling service with decent sized stemware further sealing the deal.
House made Wessex Saddleback prosciutto, drizzled with oil and served on a garlic croute, carries the rich depth of flavour that fundamentally underpins La Luna’s philosophy. If that is not obvious enough, then surely the large detailed blackboard dissection of the various cuts on beef is! Taking it a step further is the hand cured salami platter, a mosaic of technique, texture and contrasting depth of flavours, served with pickles, olives, cloved apple, EVOO & organic bread to cut across the richness. A few more slices would have been welcome, but in the context of a degustation (six courses for $85/with matched wines $120), it’s probably on the mark.
The skilled art of smoking produce is clearly an in-house speciality with the salmon spot on the desired level, topped with cucumber and apple salad, very punchy capers, with a slightly tame horseradish cream serving as the base. Probably apart from fondue, what could possibly be more retro than garlic prawns (maybe a prawn cocktail), so for it to be listed on the specials was a tad surprising, but what a cracking reprisal! The unapologetic aromatics could have wafted all the way to St Kilda, and the permeated unctuous oil could have serviced a Nissan Patrol. The simple joy within that cast iron pot was a salient reminder that at the end of the day eating is all about flavour and satisfaction. Nothing more, nothing less.
Along those lines, the spicy Merguez sausage is a fusion of African and Middle Eastern influences. Whilst the babaganoush, and labne, assist in balancing the complexity, the reduction it is served with is surprisingly harmonious, given both its depth and consistency. Similarly, the smokey intensity of the cured pork belly is unapologetic in both aromatics and taste, with the white beans giving a slightly cassoulet feel, although the basil and shallot cream lighten things up a fraction against the texture and flavour.
The in-house dry-aged char grilled eye fillet cooked evenly throughout is a refreshing digression from Chef’s being over reliant on sous-vide to assure a similar result. Often at the expense of old school favour which sadly that technique cannot seem to replicate in my opinion. Served with an intensely dark jus, garlicky green beans and simple range of condiments, including a memorable tomato relish, it has that distinctive ‘Darwinian’ charm that only heat induced by flame can conjure.
Perhaps a slightly heavy note to end on, but in sync with the weight of the overall journey, the chocolate pudding playfully presented in a Vegemite jar has a lovely crust and oozy centre, and is served with a burnt fig ice cream topped with honeycomb. The thoughtful progression overall leaves one decidedly well fed and watered without feeling overwhelmed. Chef Adrian Richardson is both ‘talking and walking’ the meticulous sourcing of all the protein at La Luna, and clearly that duty of care is showcased on the plate. In not overcomplicating the delivery, it is pure flavour and refreshingly “not ego” that clearly resonates with the diner.
320 Rathdowne Street, Carlton North
Tues-Fri 12-3pm, 6-10pm, Sat-Sun 12-4pm, 6-10pm
Licensed / BYO (corkage $17.50)