Head down Bond Street and you may spy the new Italian piazza bringing a little citrus sunshine to the concrete jungle that is Australian Square. Bought to you by Tim Holmes à Court and Daimon Downey (Pelicano Bar) and Kate McMahon (Catalina) this power trio are focused on bringing classic Italian dining to the CBD with their latest venture. The Lemon Tree's sleek white interior, crisp linen seats, fragrant lemon trees, and distant buzz of jazz music really feels like a little patch of southern Italy has broken off the mainland and found a new home nestled in the city.
The tables are tightly packed, and the clock-off time brings the loud post-work crowd one expects at a city venue. If you can forgive the odd snippet of overheard conversation about KPIs and synergy, the Lemon Tree could be your new after-work destination for sipping Italian aperitivi (all $16) like a boss. (Don't leave without trying the Spritz and Negroni.)
The theme is simple Italian, celebrating locally sourced fresh produce. The menu is broken down into traditional primi, secondi and contorni, with a handful of share plates designed to tide you over while you peruse the well-curated wine list. Though small, the eggplant melanzane ($18) — a stack of smoky roast eggplant, layered with rich tomato puree and adorned with basil and parmesan — is packing some seriously complex flavours. And if you're after something more substantial to share, we recommend the calamari ($18): large golden curls of perfectly cooked, ever so lightly battered squid generously studded with chilli and parsley.
The pasta dishes showcase the honest Italian style that The Lemon Tree prides itself on. The linguini scuie scuie ($23) is a stand-out — perfectly cooked linguini is tossed scuie scuie (quickly quickly) with fresh tomatoes, basil and parmesan. It's the kind of dish that makes you want to move to Italy and exist forever on a pasta diet. We should mention that the sharp parmesan curls adorning each of these dishes is seriously the Heisenberg blue meth of the cheese world.
The mains are generously proportioned and continue the theme of showcasing seasonal ingredients. The garlicky portobello mushrooms ($28), toppled over a buttery rosemary polenta with a generous slab of deliciously melty taleggio, is enough to satisfy any vegetarian, while the seared Cone Bay barramundi ($34), complete with delicious crackling blanket and fresh summer salad of fennel ribbons and blood orange, serves as a reminder of why it's so good to live close to the sea.
The dessert menu is short, and the lemon tart ($14) with a simple quenelle of mascarpone was our favourite. If you prefer your post-dinner treats to be a little stronger, there's an extensive cocktail menu (all $18). And we found the signature Lemon Tree Martini makes the perfect citrus companion for those warmer evenings.