The idea of the Chef’s Table, where diners get to sit at an exclusive table in full view of the kitchen and its workings, is not a new concept.
However, in the upper echelon of restaurants in the Melbourne culinary landscape, they are certainly swelling again in popularity.
This may be due to the increased interest in fine dining among the general population, due to reality television shows such as Masterchef, and a greater interest in cooking.
Certainly, a Chef’s Table allows the diner to be in the thick of the action, so not only do they get to observe the chef at work and pick up on some of the cooking techniques used, but they are often permitted to engage with the chefs and ask them questions.
The only downside to a Chef’s Table is that due to the exclusivity of them, they often require booking months in advance and cost a pretty penny.
The slightly more affordable and casual version of the Chef’s Table that can be seen cropping up in middle tier restaurants is dining at a bar in front of an open kitchen- and it’s a perfect alternative.
While you are generally treated the same way as any other diners in the restaurant, the Kitchen Counter is still a fabulous way to get up close and observe a professional chef doing their thing.
Lupino, the stylish Italian restaurant in Melbourne’s CBD offers this set-up and it is brilliant fun.
Chef Marco Lori is front and centre in front of the polished wooden bar, providing diners with plenty to watch while they work their way through his delicious Italian fare.
By sitting in front of Lori, we got a great look at how each pasta dish was put together and consequently, what we wanted to order (that hand made pappardelle was impossible to ignore!), or then what we wished we had ordered (why, oh why, didn’t we order the arancini or the meatballs?!) as the evening progressed.
It was interesting to see that the television chefs’ adage of “here’s one I prepared earlier” could not be truer. While everything was clearly freshly prepared earlier that day, everything from handmade pasta to spears of blanched asparagus were pulled out of the commercial fridges, all individually portioned out and ready to be thrown into pots and pans before your eyes.
The house-baked bread was sliced up and served to us right before our eyes, reassuring us that what we were eating could not be fresher in any way.
A huge vat of master stock simmered on the stove, which was constantly ladled out into various sauces for most of the dishes on the menu. Clearly, that liquid was all-important as it touched the plates of most diners.
Even if you don’t think you like cooking, it is still worth eating at a Chef’s Table or Kitchen Counter at least once in your life. Most of all, it is fun to understand exactly how your meal arrives in front of you looking the way it does. And, watching anyone in any industry doing his or her job skilfully is impressive. With 10 pots and pans on a stove at once, stirring and chopping simultaneously, yet still producing plates that look as though they have been agonised over for hours is no mean feat.
To the chefs of Australia, we salute you!
41 Little Collins Street, Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9639 0333