One cool evening in late September, three ladies went for dinner at one of Melbourne's hot new venues: Lucy Liu Kitchen and Bar (23 Oliver Lane, Melbourne) (also known as "Lucy Liu's" around town).
They trotted up the cobblestone laneway and found a red neon sign proclaiming the way. Excited with anticipation, they squished through a narrow entrance and alighted upon the buzzing, angular restaurant.
Unsure of which direction to take, the girls felt momentarily lost, but after a while someone led them to their table near the open kitchen, took their coats and the fun commenced.
The single-sheet menus were an immediate source of amusement with metallic, holographic images on one side, mainly of animals - a hit with one of the girls in particular, who was an animal lover.
The impressive restaurant interior was also an attraction. Slimline lengths of pale Tasmanian oak, spaced out at intervals, gave the impression of a flat wall, but provided an enticing visual effect.
Apparently this was intended to be reminiscent of bamboo structures in China, but it seemed more graphical than organic.
Red, orange and yellow-hued lighting gave the venue a warm neon glow. The dizzy excitement of a Friday night was fitting in the warm, hectic space.
Unsmiling staff were (probably not coincidentally) all rather good-looking. They were apparently run off their feet and it was hard to get their attention - but it was Friday night, after all. Eventually drinks were ordered from a pleasing wine list, and the dining ladies opted for the seven-course set menu, at $65 apiece plus drinks. It was so nice not to have to think, but just be served (hopefully) delicious things.
Oysters were a pleasant starter, but nothing out of the ordinary.
Kingfish sashimi was served with dollops of coconut cream and toasted shredded coconut - delightfully textured sweet elements to counteract the tart citrus, chilli and mint dressing over the fish.
Individual ribs were beautifully flavoured, if a little bare on meat.
The dumplings were delicious - light and fresh; the mushroom and tofu soup likewise.
A wagyu beef main was beautifully cooked - as close to rare as is probably possible to send out from a restaurant kitchen without it being requested that way, and it absolutely did the meat justice. (See - we should trust proper chefs with their meat cooking choices!) The accompanying apple coleslaw salad was suitably refreshing, but again, nothing the girls hadn't seen before.
By the time the roast barramundi fillets were served, the ladies were losing appetite and didn't quite manage to finish.
They had definitely enjoyed the food and were impressed by both the quality of cooking and how much food was provided for such a reasonable price. The set menu was something they felt they'd happily do again.
Lucy Liu's was opened in the old PM24 site by Michael Lambie and Scott Borg of Circa, Taxi and The Smith. Veering away from fine dining and gastro pub food, Lucy was always intended to be more about the atmosphere than their other venues. The food was intentionally pan-Asian - but rather than the bog standard dishes from takeaway joints which give pan-Asian a bad name, Lucy Liu's was to pick the best from each cuisine and present it in a modern setting. It seemed they achieved this quite seamlessly. Dishes could be Thai, Chinese, Korean or Japanese in style, to name a few.
Somewhat refreshingly for a CBD restaurant, Lucy Liu's takes bookings and is open seven days for lunch and dinner. The girls will be going back.