Melbourne diners who still get misty-eyed thinking about Geoff Lindsay's red duck curry at his late, lamented restaurant Pearl, listen up. The chef who these days is more synonymous with Vietnamese cuisine, thanks to his Elwood restaurant Dandelion, has taken over South Melbourne institution Lamaro's, and the introductory menu will be a career-spanning greatest hits of Lindsay's most memorable dishes.
So get there for the red duck curry. Get there for the tuna seared on one side, also from Pearl. Heading further back into the mists of time there will be the whole deep-fried snapper from Stella, and dishes from his days as head chef for food luminaries such as Stephanie Alexander (her esqueixada of salmon and salt cod will feature on the début menu, as will the schnitzel with mustard fruits) and Andrew Blake (see: pumpkin tortellini).
"They're all lusty, comforting dishes, with some pub classics but aiming at a more food-interested clientele. The food style will find its feet - modern Australian, all grounded in good techniques and good produce. I won't be making gelled spheres of mush," says Lindsay.
In what is possibly the quickest business handover in living memory, Lindsay and his business partner, serial restaurateur Paul Dimattina, quietly took over the landmark pub at the start of July. They've already introduced a global bar menu of banh mi, Reuben sandwiches, black-pepper crab, mussels with frites, and fish-head curry. The menu in the restaurant proper will be introduced in around a month, after some minor design tweaks.
The grand backstreet hotel dates from 1850 but enjoyed its heyday last decade when Michael Lambie was on the pans. More recently it was operated by the Colonial Leisure Group, which gave it a Spanish spin and renamed it Lamaro's Bodega.
There's no intention among the new crew to change the name - Pam Lamaro still owns the building, after all - and Lindsay says there's no real need to change the bones of a pub that was given a thorough makeover by Technè architects only two years ago. "It's very well loved but not as frequented as it deserves. It has great features - a horseshoe bar, good private dining spaces - so we'll just be tweaking it a little."
Head chef will be Jay Sinclair, who has worked for Paul Dimattina for the past decade, while Nick Brown (Levantine Hill Wines) has been recruited as venue manager. The dining room menu will be launched once some restyling touches have been completed in early August.
"After seven years at Dandelion it will be nice to cook something other than Vietnamese, and use ingredients other than chilli and coriander," says Lindsay. "My regulars are always asking me for these dishes. It's a good way to get them off my back."
Lamaro's Hotel, 273-279 Cecil St, South Melbourne, Vic, (03) 9690 3737, lamaroshotel.com.au. Open Mon 4pm-11pm, Tues-Sat noon-11pm, Sun noon-6pm.