Lulo Tapas & Wine Bar Hawthorn is a South American-themed eatery that The City Lane was invited to visit. Inside, the restaurant is clean and minimalist with just a few dressings adorning the walls, but the venue is quick to acknowledge its roots, with a very clear Spanish influence in what is featured.
This tapas and wine bar is the vision of chef Matt Waldron, who in addition to crafting the dishes has recently been spending time on the floor to offer a stronger dialogue with patrons. This is a step he has also encouraged his other kitchen staff to do and his very-knowledgeable sous chef, who was also on the floor this evening, quite often served me.
But before I get onto the menu, I should note that the food at Lulo is in most cases meant to be shared between two or more people, so if some of the portions in the photos below seem a little overwhelming, don’t worry, you won’t be expected to tackle them on your own. Now, let’s get started.
A creation of the chef’s, this is dedicated to his South American wife and is at once sweet and fiery. I’m told this is not only dedicated to his wife but an apt description. Despite containing a laundry list of spirits, they were surprisingly well hidden from the overall taste.
Fresh Oysters With Lemon & Coriander Aji
In hindsight, this was actually quite a risky dish, with oysters not always to everyone’s taste, and coriander often not on people’s wish list of ingredients, but when combined the pairing works, with the aji adeptly dampening the saltiness of the oyster. Further, the aji was actually strangely addictive and I personally could have easily had a bowl of it without the oysters. It might even convert those against coriander.
House-made Pork Crackers (Chicharron)
I’ll admit, when these first appeared, I wasn’t sure what to think. But while they adopt a similar form to the popular prawn crackers, I assure you, this is the only similarity. The journey to making them was explained to me in detail, but I’ll keep to the basics and say that they are not only made from real pork, but that the process of their preparation takes over 24 hours. Beyond all this, they’re also very very moreish.
Tiraditos of sashimi grade yellow fin, tuna, lime, rocoto chilli and cucumber
This is a combination of sour and spice, and as can sometimes be the case with sashimi, it was difficult to know what to expect. Surrounding this combination are small amounts of chilli sauce, made from the rocoto capsicum, primarily found in Central and South America. You can have the sashimi on it’s own, and I tried it with and without, but I highly recommend taking advantage of the combination.
Grilled Octopus With Pomelo, Plantain & Spring Onion
At any restaurant, grilled octopus probably wouldn’t be the first thing I would order, but I do suggest you give this a try. There are no tentacles, obviously, and if you were told you were having something else from the sea, you would not likely realise the thing you were eating once had 8 arms. But I digress, this dish combines the octopus with pomelo, a citrus fruit, and plantain, a type of banana, which if anything, should ignite your curiosity. I suggest you try this if you get the chance.
Twice-cooked Pork Belly With Spiced Pumpkin & Achiote Aioli
There’s no denying that pork belly has become a dominant force in Melbourne cuisine in the past few years, and thankfully this doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. But while it is certainly a simple formula, the dish augments it nicely with the achiote aioli (those dollops of red around the pork), which kind of binds the meal into being more than just pork belly.
Chorizo sausage (house made) served with Colombian chimmi churri
I’m going to focus on the chorizo sausage here, mostly because I think it achieves something a little different to its peers. In short, it doesn’t taste fatty or indeed like anything that would resemble processed meat. Being someone who has in the past avoided processed meat for these reasons, I was more than a little surprised this sausage to have none of these traits. Very well done.
Patacones (Fried Plantain) With Guasacac (Avocado)
Sometimes called tostones, these are also made of the plantain used earlier with the octopus and make a chip-like snack that for us served as a kind of break between the courses. They’re quite simple, and I’m told quite popular in Latin American countries and when combined with an avocado-based dip, make for a surprisingly refreshing snack.
Ox tongue With Spinach Puree & Llajua; Palm Heart & Green Tomato Salad
I often joke that if ox tongue failed to use the words ‘ox’ or ‘tongue’, the meat would likely be in every sandwich in the country. This dish is no exception to that rule. It’s tender, and if I’m honest, highly addictive. It also benefits from the spinach puree, but really, the ox tongue could hold this dish quite comfortably on its own. I highly recommend it, but if you are eating it with someone who hasn’t quite come to terms with the idea of this cut of meat, perhaps it would be best to tell them it’s something else, at least for the first few bites.
To accompany the aforementioned (unless you don’t want to mention it specifically) ox tongue, we were served a green tomato salad. Similar to the avocado-based dip from earlier, this offered a refreshing and purposeful balance to the saltiness that comes with an ox tongue. It’s a very worthy combination.
May I introduce you to the cocktail that book-ended our evening, The Waldo. Also designed by the chef, the could be called the complete opposite to the spicy opening number, the Bolivar. It’s refreshing and considered, and worth your attention.
Tres Leche Flan
This is billed on the menu as being ‘South America’s answer to cream caramel and on first taste, that was exactly my thoughts, but please don’t think of this as a bad thing. It’s quite simple of course, but when combined with the sorbet works as a nice balance of flavours.
Chocolate Granache With Hazelnut Cream, almond Praline & Coffee Oil
There is a lot going on with this desert, but I’m going to focus first on the thing I think you’ll notice the most: the coffee oil. Made from a recipe created by the restaurant, this addition is unexpected, but it’s innovative and it really works. When we asked about it we were given a spoonful each by the sous chef, and were quick to discover it really does taste like a rather dense and slippery liquid coffee. It’s a surprise, but when combined with the granache was also great, I’m pretty certain the desert is strong enough to keep you alert long after the meal is over.
But beyond the food, there’s something else about that struck me about Lulo. I had arrived to the restaurant a few minutes early, sat myself on a stool, and fell into a conversation with a man sipping a glass of wine at the opposite end of the bar. He had seen my camera on the bar and had quickly gathered I wasn’t just passing through, so he was eager to chat. Later on I casually mentioned the man to chef Matt Waldron. Apparently Matt had met the man at his local supermarket, mentioned the restaurant, and because of Matt and their conversation, this man had been coming in regularly ever since.
And this is the point I want to make about Lulo. It’s a classy, upper-tier, up-and-coming restaurant, and not one that should be considered lightly. But it also feels like a personal experience – a belief that seems built into its culture. The chef is accessible and open, the kitchen staff wait on the floor a few nights a week, and the dishes are designed with a personal touch. To me, this translates to an experience that is as important to the restaurant as it is to the diner.
I was once told that you didn’t need to be big to be big, you just had to act that way, and I think this is very true for Lulo. While its location outside of Melbourne’s CBD gives it a more local feel, its ambition and presentation, combined with the wealth of experience its chef brings, reflects a larger idea at its heart. It’s bold and at times experimental, and I think it’s worth taking a trip to Hawthorn for. With the new branch of Fonda up the road, it is difficult not to think this could be the next area to boom in Melbourne’s food scene.
Lulo Tapas & Wine Bar
798 Glenferrie Road
Telephone: (03) 9818 8321
Email: [email protected]
Tue – Sat: 11:30pm to 3:00pm; 4:30pm to 11:00pm