What’s Cooking at La Madonna for Summer
Everything Ready And In Its Place At La Madonna
Stepping out from the sweeping golden lit staircase onto the third floor you hear it: the soft purr of well-oiled activity welcoming you in. Tinkle of glassware here, polish of cutlery there, murmuring voices: after months closed during Melbourne’s 6th lockdown, La Madonna has reopened and is ready with a new season menu and to pour your first glass.
Defn: Mise en place [mi zɑ̃ ˈplas]: a culinary process in which ingredients are prepared and organized before cooking; also positioning as in “everything in its place”.
For those not yet in the know, La Madonna is the sleek day to night dining and drinking enclave perched on level three at Next Hotel Melbourne at the Paris end of the CBD. Put aside your preconceptions about hotel restaurants and bars, La Madonna is playfully reinventing traditional hotel food and beverage with its ever changing, produce driven menus dedicated to seasonality and the culinary heritage of powerhouse duo Chef Adrian Li and Chef Danny
An unlikely pair, Sicilian blooded Natoli and Hong Kong street-food supremo Li are effortlessly blending Umami-rich Italian and Chinese flavours across spontaneous menus that change almost as often as Melbourne weather.
Since opening in April this year, La Madonna quickly and confidently assumed it’s place amongst the world class Melbourne food and wine landscape. (You can read more on that here) And just like a mother’s love, the ultimate La Madonna, she is waiting to welcome you back in…
Ready at the pass with paddock to plate inspiration
With spring not quite behind us, and summer not quite on the doorstep, expect to see spring vegetables, lamb and seafood featuring strongly, although some favourites that made a splash from La Madonna’s initial opening menu are back as well. Our mouth’s watering for:
- Salt & Vinegar Zucchini Fritto (lauded by critics as “outrageously good”)
- The delicious riff on caprese – and the perfect representation of Natoli and Li’s combined heritage – is the compressed tomato, white soy, stracciatella, basil & yuzu kosho
- Campari-glazed Dry Aged Roast Duck, so popular that it is best to request when you book (read more here)
- Bistecca alla Di Ana (an impressive 1.3kg that diners keep coming back for)
- The decadent ice-creamy Dark Chocolate, Fernet Branca cannoli & pistachio
“Sure this time of year is great for lamb and greens, but right now for me it’s all about Victorian Spring Garlic. It’s amazing. It has a mild, sweet almost nutty flavour and is super versatile.”
Chef Adrian Li.
As for what’s next? We’re currently eyeing off these plates, although how long they will stay, who knows as Li and
Natoli are always on the hunt to champion everything from seasonal vegetables in their prime, a not-so-often used
ingredient they’ve stumbled across through their connections to the best meat, fish and poultry suppliers; or their
never-ending quest to experiment with dry and barrel-ageing.
Look out for:
- The local Abbacchio lamb ribs & salsa verde that’s Spring on a plate
- A dry aged beef tartare, bagna cauda capers & potato crisps, which is just calling out for a shared spot in the
lounge, barrel aged negroni in hand.
- Reminiscent of days travelling under the Tuscan sun is the Aperitivo friendly Culatello prosciutto & Christmas
Or perhaps something more substantial of the seafood kind:
- the whip-tail lobster ravioli, tomato vierge & wasabi leaf: “The lobster-tails are a by-product of trawling, we love
to look out for interesting ingredients to add to our dishes.”
- Or perhaps the Lakes Entrance John Dory, served whole, with charred forgotten citrus & Yarra Valley salmon roe
– another delicious example of the no waste sensibility at La Madonna, involving re-use of leftover citrus from
If you’re headed for meat free options, look out for:
- The seasonally light stinging nettle rigatoni primavera with spring vegetables and ricotta featuring Chef Danny’s
house made pasta
- Somewhat heartier is the unexpected celeriac parmigiana with smoked scamorza, watercress & pickled shallot.
So good that you won’t miss the meat.
“We really enjoy treating ingredients a little differently to reinvent classic dishes,” says Li.
And what of The Barrel Room?
The in-house Barrel Ageing could perhaps be one of the few areas where lockdown has had its benefits. Here in an open, intimate barrel lined cocoon, cocktails, spirits and liqueurs have been quietly maturing in old and new barrels under the watchful eye of Spirits Master Phil Smithers. You can read more about what in house barrel ageing is here.
It’s the largest program of its scale in Australia, and as La Madonna reopens there is much to discover, from aperitif to digestif, and everything in between. Not surprisingly, there’s some seasonal creations ready for your well-timed enjoyment right now to toast the warmer months:
- A La Madonna version of the Daiquiri ‘Strawberries & Different’ featuring rum aged with charred capsicum, blended with ice and fresh strawberry. It’s a playful take on cooling gazpacho flavours in a glass
- Or the kombucha based ‘Love Death & Kombucha’ featuring Citadelle French gin, lemon, pomegranate molasses, and sumac
- A Limoncello Spritz that includes a bianco vermouth, prosecco and fennel seed
It’s time Melbourne to settle yourself in for a taste of what’s Next, with a seat perched at the bar, a comfortable lounge, a cosy booth, or at a long table with several of your friends; an extended celebration is due, don’t you think?