Our team goes undercover to suss out the latest and most talked about restaurants in town
We’ve all had our food epiphanies. If I could think back on some of mine, a couple of them happened at Lolla. Needless to say, the sea urchin squid ink pudding was one of them. The other was the smoked chocolate ice cream by Creamier. It was unapologetic in its smokiness, dark, rich and sinfully good. I went into Lollapalooza, the new big sister of Lolla, ready to be blown away again. But moments of greatness were few and far between.
Unlike at Lolla, where smokiness crescendoed after a series of flavours that waxed and waned so beautifully, smokiness was about the dominant trait in many dishes. This should come as no surprise, considering that Lollapalooza’s key centrepiece is a customised brick oven that burns applewood with temperatures reaching up to 500°C. Almost everything on the menu is cooked in here. While it takes tremendous skill to subject prime produce to such incendiary heat and have them emerge for the better, this preferred method of cooking doesn’t provide much for a full spectrum of flavours, just tender meats and vegetables painted with the finest crackle of char. I was also surprised that the sole carb offering (aside from oven-baked flatbreads) of this “borderless, freestyle restaurant” was a very safe gnocchi with Parmesan cream ($18).
Breaking the culinary monotony were two outstanding dishes: dog cockle tartare ($30), a dish of raw cockles which bear a similar crunch to akagai or ark shell clams. Tossed with plenty of bright flavours, they were immaculately cleaned of grit and cleverly served in a glass that had the tartare on top and the raw clams nestled separately at the bottom. The pig’s ears with radicchio was another stellar offering, combining deep-fried crispy cartilage with bitter tones from the purple leaves. On our first visit, a scent of intense fishiness filled the entire restaurant – a disadvantage with any open kitchen. At first, we couldn’t determine its source but a return visit quickly provided an answer.
There it was, in front of us, was a braised tuna eye ($44) in all its ocular glory. An attempt to balance out the flavours with salsa verde seemed almost futile. We looked to our server for validation, but found little solace when he told us confidently we could eat the inedible rock-hard piece on our plate. When we pressed harder for confirmation, he merely shrugged his shoulders and looked to head chef Isaac Lee for a lifeline. Elsewhere, a young tertiary graduate struggled with a wine bottle – a shame, for some of the restaurant owners’ selections are some very sophisticated picks indeed.
Offal like corned veal tongue ($45) and roasted lamb hearts ($18) will always have a place in Lollapalooza, but there are other fascinating produce that titillate without the shock factor. Pickled sunchoke, dandelion greens and cicorino grumolo (Italian chicory greens), are all executed beautifully. The dark chocolate ice cream is made in-house, and although it’s not Lolla’s knee-buckling smoked version, the rosewater and vanilla pudding, and Tasmanian leatherwood honey flavours (all $9) keep things interesting.
Desserts were where a much-needed inventiveness became more apparent. The rhubarb and red plum pairing in a tarte tatin ($16) was simple but effective and the oven displayed its true potential when it mellowed grapes for platters of Wigmore and Tunworth cheese ($18). I genuinely applaud the efforts behind the daily-changing menu. It can’t be easy for a kitchen team to run with curveballs thrown their way on a regular basis. But if that skill can be combined with inspired pairings and a tad more flair, Lollapalooza could become a much bigger force to be reckoned with. 1A Keong Saik Road. Tel: 6221 3538
Average dinner bill for two, with drinks: $160
Must-tries: Dog cockle tartare with the crunch of akagai; crispy pig’s ears with bitter radicchio; and rhubarb and red plum tarte tatin with mascarpone cream.