Elijah Holland, former executive chef at Lume, grew up on a farm on Sydney’s northern beaches where one side is ocean and the other is bay. Holland loves nature and the outdoors, and he keenly observed his older brother baking and his mother making her own butter, yoghurt and cream.
“Everything is inspired by nature,” says Holland, who has just taken up the role of head chef at newly opened St Kilda restaurant Loti – found in the former St Moritz ice-skating rink location.
“We don’t look at the produce list and what is in, [instead] I take the whole team out twice a week to explore the countryside and the coastline. We go all the way down to Portland and all the way up to Inverloch and to Sorrento and the Great Ocean Road and everywhere in between, searching for things and also trying to learn about the landscape. I think it is important for us as chefs to understand everything about our ingredients.”
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Everything at Loti (an acronym for “lady of the ice”) is made from scratch. Holland and his team make all the vinegars, oils and pickles. They also mill flour for the bread and are about to launch a selection of seafood and meat charcuterie, which features tuna and Murray cod salami with mountain pepper and wild fennel; swordfish pancetta and hot-smoked, kelp-cured gemfish. There is also a wild boar chourico (Portuguese-style chorizo) made with a little bit of red wine lees and smoked and dried over fire.
Holland recommends starting with small one-biter snacks, like the smoked yellowfin tuna mousse savoury cornetto topped with a little shaved albacore tuna mojama and some beach succulents collected from the coastline. Or the butter-poached and grilled scampi tail glazed with Holland’s bull kelp soy sauce and skewered on a little coastal daisy bush twig so that when it’s barbequed, the perfume from the daisy comes through.
Entrees feature raw and fresh dishes. Holland originally learned how to make ceviche from a Peruvian, but has since travelled to Spain and learned some fun takes. The Loti “ice rink”’ ceviche is Spanish in style and references the “lady of the ice” name. Red emperor is cured in desert lime juice and served with smoked and dried olives collected by the team, with a little of their own house-pressed olive oil and roast capsicum oil, wild garlic, marsh saltbush and some aromats from the beach. It comes out with the frozen ceviche sauce on top which you crack in half and then the remaining sauce is poured over.
Mains can be shared or kept to yourself. A barbeque rack of turbot ribs is topped with sea parsley crust, grilled cos, capers and caper leaves from South Australia with old man saltbush and little white flowers. There are also fun specials, such as whole southern rock lobster. The meat is taken out, the tail butter-poached with lemon-scented tea tree oil and butter, and then put between two sheets of bull kelp and barbequed over the fire, which steams it and makes it really juicy. A rich stock is made from the meat and juices from the head, and this is used to cook kelp pasta with fresh chives and tarragon and chervil, and a little bit of lemon juice and cream. The lobster is served filled with this pasta but cut in a way that you can rip off the legs and smash it. “We like to have a bit of theatre to the food to make it fun for both guests and staff,” Holland tells Broadsheet.
The dessert menu brings with it some hard decisions. Will it be the Daintree chocolate magnum, made with roasted chestnuts, roasted chestnut ice-cream with a little bit of chestnut brandy and a centre of chestnut and anise myrtle jam? Or the lemon-scented tea tree marshmallow dessert which reminds Holland of growing up on the northern beaches, having bonfires and eating gummy bears? Blood orange and finger lime marshmallow sorbet, yuzu and pomelo marshmallow sorbet are topped with smoked lemon-scented tea tree marshmallow and lots of smashed citrus pearls and served with macadamia and honey gummy bears.
Holland’s ethos also flows into the drinks, which also incorporate the fruits of the foraging. “We went diving for sea urchins,” says Holland. “So we are making a sea urchin butter-washed Martini.”
Owner Cameron Northway (who co-owns Rocker, Bondi) has brought in Matt Linklater (Black Pearl) to oversee the drinks. There’s a coastal take on the Aperol Spritz using Ruby Bitter from Single Batch in place of the Aperol, with grapefruit and honey house kombucha topped with bubbles or a yuzu sour. Apart from the sea urchin Martini, the Loti Martini is made with gin, ice wine to play around the ice theme, orange bitters and orange oil. “It’s a perfect Martini for someone who doesn’t drink Martinis,” says Northway.
There are also local craft beers, and restaurant manager Dane Crofts has sorted the wines, favouring mainly Victorian producers using varieties you might not ordinarily come across: a dolcetto or gamay or an obscure pet nat, plus some international offerings.
Inspiration for the fit-out came from Northway’s own Mediterranean travels, and he worked closely with design studio Mitchell & Eades to create the feeling of being away on holiday. Pink paving runs through the restaurant and dusky pink banquette seats curve around the windows in the bar area like a rolling wave. A central bar separates dining from drinking areas with cream walls and subdued lighting throughout. Large undulating windows offer a view across to the bay and there is seating for 65 inside, with another 60 outside.
Northway wants locals to drop in, grab a coffee or a cocktail, read the newspaper or catch up with some friends, have a drink at the bar and grab some snacks or settle into the dining room. While they are open for lunch and dinner, there are no set times. “It’s about being open for the local community and being part of the local community,” he says.
14–16 The Esplanade, St Kilda
(03) 4709 0800
Wed to Thu 5pm–late
Fri to Sun 12pm–late