Lagoon Dining: an ode to Melbourne
On Lygon Street historically dominated by Italian cafes and restaurants, coffee and pastries, a quietly elegant SE Asian dining experience awaits.
Black, white and neon yellow, with softening floor to ceiling sheer drapes and punctuated with warm brass highlights, this chic space looks welcoming, but when aromas from the open kitchen start to waft past, you know it's going to be an exciting culinary experience.
On a heavily overcast day with fierce bits of icy rain spattering the sidewalks, we are tucked inside, sitting at a window table. The grey street scenes enhance a wickedly indulgent contrast of warm and spicy tastes we encounter inside.
As the city finds itself incarcerated yet again this week, here's an ode to Melbourne conveyed through a singular dining experience at Lagoon, which to me so perfectly captures what Melbourne is about.
Part of the bold brigade of non-Western dining experiences outside of the Cheap Eats category (what is that anyway? Hole in the wall, un-posh migrant spaces in the outer suburbs, serving authentic foreign food that's affordable?), and proudly plonking itself right in the middle of very Italian Lygon Street, Lagoon is like the name conjures: cool and alluring.
Gemma, front of house, is bustling and cheery. She knows her wines like good mates, and the food menu is as familiar to her. We order with her expert help, and sit back with a selection of wines, tea and a sherry aperitif.
The menu is made of numerous snacks, a couple raw dishes, protein, sides and sweets.
Front of house and chef owners Keat, Ned and Chris, have sterling Melbourne restauranteur pedigree. The food can be generally called Chinese, but by chefs who have cooking backgrounds in Thai and Malaysian.
Our snacks arrive: smashed cucumber and black fungus with sesame oil and garlic-the textures are wonderful; creamy broken up cucumber chunks and crunchy fungus making for a memorable combination. The XO clams tossed with smokey bacon and thai basil are aromatic and equally delicious, while the humble yuchiao fried donut for sopping up the tasty rich sauce never came into such good use.
Lagoon's famed shredded sweet and sour potato with Chinkiang vinegar and pickled enoki is another mind exploding taste sensation- the fine potato straws are soft, but also crunchy, and I had to ask but yes, they were cooked, but only just. The Chinkiang marinade is that and so much more, a tangy, gutsy afterglow.
Skipping the raw dishes and concentrating on all that is warming on this wintery afternoon, the mapo tofu seems like a good idea. Far from the classic, Lagoon's version comes cooked with fatty pork, charred leeks and crispy chicken skin. For me, every mapo tofu from here on is going to be second best.....
Also on the table is the steamed eggplant with a sesame chilli bean sauce. The eggplant pieces are cooked to a beautiful light texture, and the bean paste packs a punch to remember.
Char siew is Lagoon's riff on the Sunday roast. For all the undercooked roasts I've eaten in my time, here's saluting the priceless slab of Lagoon cooked char siew pork. Deep and rich in flavour, true to its origin but also elevated to a point I could have stood on my chair and sung, the tender slices of pork matched perfectly with our sides of kai lan with young ginger dressing and garlic oil, and a some palate cleansing Japanese steamed rice.
We couldn't resist, so ordered both desserts, jackfruit pudding and tonka bean parfait.
Fresh jackfruit can be cloyingly sweet, and have a somewhat rubbery texture, but the pudding at Lagoon was a soft and subtle cloud, contrasting cleverly with tiny shreds of sharp grapefruit, a lime syrup, and salted coconut.
The parfait topped with black sesame looked stunning, and was equally blissful to eat.
Eating in Melbourne is always a pleasure because the variety is endless and challenging. I really do love how cultural appropriation is an unknown phrase, and the good chefs are cooking what they love to eat. We are but happy beneficiaries.
by David Brand.
-Our vegan diner had plenty to chose from the menu.
263 Lygon Street