Big In Melbourne: Andrew McConnell

I hadn't intended on traveling over 10,000 miles for a New England lobster roll, but this is exactly why I had found myself sitting at a counter in a hip section of St. Kilda last week. Golden Fields is the latest opening from celebrated Melbourne chef Andrew McConnell (Cumulus and Cutler & Co.). The restaurant is Asian at face value, inspired by the chef's work in Hong Kong and Shanghai. But it's not that simple.

There's a wonderful Berkshire pork dumpling boosted with vinegar, scallion and white kimchi. A standard (in name only) cold chicken salad with chunks of tender breast (cooked sous-vide) transforms from banal to brilliant with sesame paste and chili oil. It's served over housemade noodles — you pretty much should book your ticket now to come try it. Kimchi is house-made, a preperation McConnell learned from his friend and drinking buddy David Chang.

Which leads to that lobster roll. "I was in New York 18 months ago and had a lobster roll and I figured I could do one better," McConnell tells me. Was it better than Pearl? No. But it's a pretty fresh interpretation were he takes a semi-sweet broche roll, slathers on some Kewpie mayonnaise, adds watercress, shallot and piles on sliced Tasmanian crayfish. The Maine fisherman would not be hating.

Before lunch service one day last week, McConnell and I talked about his incredible eating city.

Melbourne is beyond a foodie city. I hate using that world. But people here are very food smart. They travel. They don't put up with bullshit.

Melbourne diners are astute and well-traveled. I supposed it's beyond that. It's been part of our culture for a long time.

It seems like people in this city dine like five to six times a day...

It's not dissimilar from myself. When I travel around the city on my day off, my route is dictated by what restaurants I can get into.

What should Melbourne's food scene be known for?

Historically, Melbourne has looked to Europe for its lead, but also taken much from our neighbors in Southeast Asia. It's a very unique style of cooking.

How did you develop the menu at Golden Fields?

Being so close to Asia, a lot of our population travels to places like Indonesia and Thailand. China is a little further, but people go there too. As a younger chef, I worked in Asia for five years—in Hong Kong and Shanghai. It was through my time living there and traveling extensively that I was inspired to use these flavors.

Did Melbourne need this restaurant?

I did! These are a lot of the flavors I use at home. Flavors I am comfortably with and found on the streets of Asia.

And then you have a New England lobster roll, which was sort of the dish of the year in Melbourne. It blew up.

It did a little bit. But the buns are from Chinatown. We use crayfish, which is big in China. And we use a variation of Japanese mayonnaise.

And you were inspired by a trip to New York. What lobster roll did you like, but could do better?

I wish I could remember (laughing). It was a cloudy week.

Describe your relationship with David Chang. You are buddies, eh?

He came to hang out at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival a couple years ago and I've been to New York and he has looked after me very well. I'm really excited about Seiobo. It's not a replica of anything he has ever done.