This month, Adrian Richardson and the team at La Luna celebrate a whopping 25 years in business. The Rathdowne Street restaurant is a true Melbourne dining landmark, and its suckling pig feasts have become consistently some of the hottest tickets at MFWF, selling out every year.
We had a chat to Richo on the eve of this huge milestone to talk food, drink, cooking and, of course, meat.
What was the original idea for La Luna?
I wanted something small – an inner-city bistro and eating house. A place where we could serve fresh produce simply prepared. The sort of place you could go to once or twice a week, have a glass of wine and a little bowl of pasta, maybe catch up with friends for a couple of courses. Simple, affordable, and somewhere I could have a lot of fun cooking the lovely food and produce that I enjoy.
What was on the menu that first week?
Easy, simple dishes. A little ravioli dish based on a dish my nonna used to make, a prawn pasta and caramelised onion dish, a little lamb with polenta, risotto with handmade sausages, salad, and some salami I had bought from an artisan producer. It was a small, cheap menu; everything was fresh and vibrant. Everything came in that day and I put it together. It was really beautiful.
What do you remember about the first service?
I was lucky enough to have an old friend come and call the pass for me, and luckier still, that friend was Greg Malouf. It was a promise he made many years earlier and he lived up to it. So it was me and two other chefs running around, trying to work out how to use all the equipment and at six o’clock, in rocks Greg. He stood at the end of the line and called the pass. He was wonderful. I felt like I had my big brother come in and look after me; he made it smooth and we had a couple of glasses of wine afterwards. It was a wonderful night.
Who have been your most regular regulars?
There are too many to name. I have people that came to La Luna in the first month I opened who are still coming 25 years later. I’ve watched children being born and grow up and have their own families, so many comings and goings. I walk through the dining room and feel like I know everyone. It’s a lovely experience.
Why do you think La Luna has enjoyed such incredible longevity?
I think it’s the people that work here. My colleagues, my friends, my comrades – we just love what we do.
I’ve been very lucky to have attracted good people over the years, some have come and gone, some have come back many times, but I think it’s the people that I like to work with and I think that flows through to our guests, and they enjoy the food and service. It’s that feeling of a big family, of coming home, they are coming to my house to eat lunch or dinner. I want people to feel safe, comfortable and well looked after at the heart of it that’s what hospitality means to me.
Were there some things you worried about over these 25 years that, looking back, you probably didn’t need to worry about?
I’ve worried about just about everything. The gas crisis, recessions, the new millennium. In the lead-up to these sorts of events you hear lots of doom and gloom and hype. Then along comes a pandemic, which was probably the biggest world event in my life, and ultimately you make it through. Things will happen; there are so many things that happen that you have no control of, so you just do what you do to the best of your ability and attract people around you that believe in that philosophy, and cook good food and provide lovely service. The rest will fall into place.
What about the aha! moments – what have been the biggest realisations along the way that have benefitted you and benefitted La Luna?
Early on one of the biggest aha! moments was when I started taking an interest in the book work of the restaurant and understanding how cashflow works and how you cost food properly, and how to make a profit (not a huge one, but how to make a profit nonetheless).
But also, the relationships you form with suppliers, I have had so many people come along and want to undercut people and do deals but it’s aha! I’ve got great people who supply me with great produce and I’ve formed wonderful relationships that endure over time.
Probably later in La Luna’s 25 years my biggest aha! moment was not trying to compete with anyone else and lean it to what we do really well. We enjoy dry-ageing our own beef, I love making our own charcuterie and pasta. I love all of the things we make by hand in-house. I enjoy doing these things. Realising that I didn’t need to compete with anyone else and that I was happy doing what we do. It’s about striving to do better, but enjoying beautiful produce and the wonderful people I work with.
Your suckling pig feasts are always one of the hottest tickets at MFWF. Why do you reckon everyone froths so hard for this event?
The suckling pig events are great fun. I think one of the things we have always wanted to do and for me is part of the philosophy of MFWF, is to over-deliver. It’s about restaurants giving back to customers, being over generous, and making the event entertaining, building an event that people remember.
It’s a festival, and it’s all about celebrating food and wine and all of the wonderful people that are involved, and when you have that mindset, of course you’re going to have a sell-out event.
What are you doing personally to celebrate the milestone?
The 25 years is a bit embarrassing, but it’s great to to be celebrating. I have to pinch myself. It’s a big event for any business to be celebrating 25 years; I think for me it’ll be a bit of reflection and maybe even a moment to pat myself on the back. It doesn’t mean I have to slow down; I still have a lot of work to do. I’m very proud of the people I work with. That’s what gets me up every morning.
What’s the 50th going to look like?
Two of my sons work in the business at the moment and we’ll see if they grow to love the hospitality industry as much as I do. I secretly hope they will take the helm, but only time will tell.
It would be lovely if someone takes La Luna on, in a different direction or similar direction. I don’t think I’ll be driving the boat, but I’m looking forward to watching and mentoring whoever is at the helm at the 50 years celebration. Here’s to 2048.
La Luna, 320 Rathdowne St, Carlton North, (03) 9349 4888, lalunabistro.com.au