Photo by Sonja Veljanovski
By Tehya Nicholas
On a black granite bench top in a Carlton restaurant, two chefs grind spices for a wide collection of Asian sauces, oils and dressings. It’s stage four lockdown. Where there were once high benches and low-slung chairs packed with people feasting on cured pork belly with rolled rice noodles and whole steamed barramundi, there is now a quieter bustle: invention borne of necessity.
Ned Trumble, Keat Lee, Chris Lerch and Susan Wyles - the quartet behind Chinese-inspired restaurant Lagoon Dining - soldiered through a lockdown in their first year of operation. Without the clang and clatter of a packed restaurant to attend to, the team sprung on the opportunity to do what their loyal customers had been begging for since the beginning; bottle their sauces. So they got to work creating, refining and packaging a retail collection to bring that Lagoon taste home.
The team retained proximity to the Lagoon Dining menu, creating a sense of continuity in the retail range. Everything sold on store shelves, besides the Garlic Oil, will be familiar to those who’ve had the pleasure of eating at the restaurant. The result is an easy flow from home-cook to dining experience, and clarity around the Lagoon brand. Customer’s know what to expect from Lagoon Dining when they try the XO sauce; well-balanced East Asian flavours and meticulous preparation, with no shortcuts. Lerch says it’s this approach to food that separates Lagoon Dining from the plethora of Asian restaurants in the city.
“We believe our products are unique in terms of flavour compared to any other products on the retail market, and this is reflected in the care and attention to detail in production. Being able to offer something that we feel is exceptional and unique and then seeing our customers using these products in their homes is very gratifying for us.”
In the year since the beginning of the pandemic, Lerch, Trumble, Lee and Wyles have proved themselves resilient restaurateurs committed to serving their local community. Their retail line involved hours of nutritional testing, shelf-life testing and branding, and meanwhile they continued to serve take-home meals and takeaway. To their own surprise, the Lagoon Dining Express range now rivals many reputable and established condiment brands and the restaurant has reopened to packed tables.
Those granite bench tops, which should have been dusty after a COVID-riddled year, are now the touchstone for Lagoon Dining’s success. The team, who have come far since their early days at Ezard Restaurant, have added something special to the Lygon Street community. Their customers love it, and they do too.
“Lagoon Dining is in many ways a reflection of [our] partnership: fun, tasty, professional, loud, and boozy. It’s a good time.”
Explore Lagoon Dining online Co-lab Pantry.