This man is a brand. From the olive oil and dukkah that adorns each table, to the beer and wine choices… oh and I’ll just grab a copy of his latest cookbook on the way out. And an $89.95 oil, vinegar and spice pack. I also upturned my side plate to check that we weren’t eating off Luke Mangan crockery. We weren’t. Anyway, good luck to him. Let’s talk about the food.
Unfortunately, the one thing that was not Mangan-branded was the bread. This was more Brumby’s French Stick; a little disappointing. I would have also preferred some Luke Mangan French butter rather than the aforementioned olive oil and dukkah, but I don’t think Luke’s extended his range to incorporate dairy products. Yet.
The menu is extensive and I could have gone for many of the listed starters, but as soon as our lovely server (the service was consistently great) for the day uttered the words “steak tartare”, the decision was over. She had me at “tartare”. You know when sometimes you look at what other people ordered and you feel like you’ve made the wrong choice. I also have really bad luck when it comes to alternating selections at weddings, etc. I always end up with the overcooked salmon when I really wanted the perfectly pink lamb rack. Loser! But I digress… today I won. The tartare was to die for; hand-chopped to perfection and great quality steak, topped with a wee quail’s yolk and served with some A++ condiments. Perfect quenelles of Dijon mustard and white anchovies, capers, shallot and cornichons… all of the finest of ‘fine brunoise’ (demonstrating some damn good knife skills to make very perfect tiny cubes – I knew it had a name). A separate plate contained (enough) toast points, a bottle of Tabasco and a small serving jug of lemon-infused olive oil (probably from the Luke Mangan range).
A friend had the chicken liver parfait with toasted brioche and pear chutney, which would have been my other choice, had the tartare not been available… But I would have won with that choice too.
For mains, we all opted for steaks which were sadly a bit of a let down. This was largely due to inconsistencies in cooking to order. Make no mistake, the quality of the beef was up there, but for what is meant to be a high-end gastropub with the name ‘Luke Mangan’ attached to it; you’ve got to get the requested doneness right. I requested for my 300g 150 day grain fed black angus scotch fillet ($39 with choice of sauce and green beans) to be cooked to a rare doneness; it was medium to medium-rare at best. A Friend requested the same cut as medium-rare. It was clearly medium. The sides ordered (fries, rocket and parmesan salad) and accompanying sauces were bang on expectation, my Madeira jus was unctuous and addictive. Another slight digression, I liked the way the plates had an ever so slight concave, gravitating to the middle of the plate. That meant that the juices pooled in the centre. Perfect for dipping chunks of meat and fries into.
OK, back to the positives. Desserts were amazing. The shared platter ($39) covered all of our wants and was perfect for three people. An incredibly warm and oozing chocolate fondant, offset with a house made cookies and cream ice cream; an exemplary crème brûlée and the highlight, Eton Mess – a great big arty, deliberate blob of strawberries (in syrup form and pieces), bits of meringue and cream. It was light. It wasn’t too rich as you might expect and to quote my sister’s comment to our server “I’m not a dessert person, but that was amazing”. It’s true. She is definitely not a dessert person.
The cheese plate was a little underwhelming against cost ($25 for three 40g slivers, house made lavosh and muscatels… a little scant was our collective opinion). We tend to judge a restaurant on the quality (and generosity) of its cheese plate. It can be a point of differentiation on whether we’d make a decision to go back.
The wine list is large and covers a great range of low end, mid range and higher priced wines, although the mark-ups are skewed towards the steeper end of town. In my opinion, the Coriole ‘The Soloist’ Shiraz ($82) was a little over the mark, but we drank it anyway.
Melbourne is spoilt for choice when it comes to gastropubs… or restaurants that used to be pubs… or restaurants that have beer on tap, particularly in and around the Port Melbourne and South Melbourne environs. For mine, The Graham is still the benchmark and Lamaro’s is a close second. The Palace is in the mix somewhere, but somewhere in the middle. If the steaks were right, it would be a close third.
The Palace by Luke Mangan
505 City Road, South Melbourne 3205
(03) 9699 6410
Good for: picking up a few groceries if you’re running short at home; olive oil, dukkah, balsamic, Luke Mangan Biography… oh, the food’s OK too
Not good for: people that dislike chefs with big egos, people that are allergic to Luke Mangan