St Luja Restaurant

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by Mantis Kane

I carefully injected a whiskey-filled syringe into my final doughnut and consumed it in one gulp. That’s not a euphemism for some degenerate junk practice, or a sordid sexual act, but rather a satisfactory curtain call for a handsome banquet at St Luja.

The doughnuts were authentic, as was the whiskey. St Luja houses 70 different brands, so it’s apt that they intermingle their whiskey specialism with the food. As novelty doughnuts go, this variety is on the more interesting end of the spectrum. If you’ve tired of transfusing salted caramel or Nutella into your doughnut, then whisky doughnuts are reason enough to visit St Luja. Getting pissed on doughnuts is fun and dangerous.

But let’s not let them overshadow the food, which is really something.

The menu is structured like Spanish tapas, with extensive sharing plates and more hefty mains.  Stylistically it’s Modern Australian, with a French twist. There’s a wild cocktail list, with a strong leaning toward whiskey – even their Negronis gets the sour mash treatment.

There’s a lot going on. Such fusion often ends is a form of culinary schizophrenia, or kitchen Tourettes – as known in the industry – where the chef crams in too much, cherry picking from every fashionable foodie hotspot until the menu reads like Captain Cook’s bucket list. From a distance, the untrained eye and uneducated tongue might question St Luja’s whirling combination of styles and audacity. But go try the food, and you’ll taste the dots being joined.

Head chef Allison Hartmire is of pure pedigree having worked with some of Melbourne’s most celebrated chefs, such as George Colombaris and Shane Delia. She has done her homework. There’s flair and substance – no better exemplified than by the Tomato carpaccio, a delicate and colourful piece of art. Or the Steak Tartar, with a 60c egg and crisps. Yes, crisps. If, like me, you’re a crisp addict, then you’re always wooed by their inclusion. And this wasn’t merely a packet of Doritos carelessly thrown across the plate as a cheap afterthought, but rather a meticulously stacked tower of homemade kettle crisps.

The vibe is Speakeasy, low lit and boozy, with lots of nooks and crannies to hide in. Their late weekend licence makes it a perfect spot for long luxurious sessions, plus their music ticks all the boxes, low slung house makes everything more palatable.

St Luja is located at the dystopian end of Fitzroy St. Blink and you could be in Detroit, savaged by economic decay, the only form life bookended by vacant shops and demolition zones. But regeneration is coming, and St Luja represents the kind of spirit that will see this patch grow from an oasis to an orchard.

Check out St Luja’s next Degustation Night here: http://stluja.com.au/whatson/

Review requests: food@stkildanews.com

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