Chef Luke Mangan has left an indelible mark on the Australian dining scene over the past 30-plus years, not only at restaurants like Glass at Hilton Sydney and Luke’s Kitchen at Kimpton Margot but through collaborations with some of the country’s top travel brands.
Whether plating up dishes on land, at sea or cruising at 40,000 feet, the celebrity chef says it’s his love of travel which continually inspires his dishes. Japan, France and Italy all rank among his dearest destinations.
What are some of your favourite food travel memories?
One of the best things that happened to me was in Capri. I’d just had lunch in this restaurant on the water called La Fontelina. We were coming back about 2pm and got a bit lost in the part of town where the locals live. (You walk everywhere and there are so many back streets.)
This older guy pulled up on a scooter – he could hardly speak a word of English but could tell I was lost – and asked if I was alright and had I eaten. I said ‘Yeah, I’m fine’ but he insisted I come to his house for lunch. He took us back to lunch with his wife and daughter.
The wife was cooking a beautiful pasta with tomatoes from the garden. We hardly spoke, but the meal and the wine they served was just a great experience. I’m one for finding experiences and talking with locals, and when things like that happen it’s only of those once-in-a-lifetime memories. I still keep in touch with him today.
Any restaurants or dishes you always return to?
There’s one just off Capri called Conca del Sogno – in between Positano and Capri on the Amalfi Coast. It’s just a very simple grilled fish, spaghetti with zucchini, zucchini flowers... You have to hop on a little boat to get to it, and I’ve probably been going for 10 years.
You’re on the water and it’s one of my favourite places in the world: simple food, unpretentious and a great setting.
Have any of your signature dishes been inspired by your adventures?
A love of French, Italian and Japanese food always ends up in parts of my menus, like a tempura of quail, which we may have done in the past. There are always influences of these.
Is there a particular dish I’ve created? Probably not, but I think you’re always creating something based on the travel you’ve done. Taking components of things you’ve tried.
Where have you travelled recently and what surprised you (food-wise) about the trip?
I went to New York over Christmas – it was my first big trip since Covid. I love going there. The food scene is amazing. I always go back to the same places: Balthazar, Jean-Georges on the park is another great restaurant.
I’ve also just come back from a trip to Singapore. I was staying at the Marina Bay Sands and had a great meal at Cut by Wolfgang Puck.
And also a very good meal at Wakuda, by Tetsuya Wakuda. It’s a hotel you don’t have to leave, with so many great restaurants and shopping.
What’s your favourite gourmet destination in Australia and why?
I quite enjoy going to Melbourne. I think it’s got that European feel to it; great Italian restaurants. Yarra Valley and the Mornington Peninsula also.
I’m looking forward to going to Tasmania soon, which I haven’t done for a while and know there’s great restaurants and food markets to explore.
St Tropez in the south of France. I’ve got friends who own a house and a wine shop. There’s a great fish market. Having a coffee and a croissant is pretty cool. Then there’s travelling to this great little hotel in Saint Paul de Vence called Le Colombe d’Or.
Positano, I love going to. You’ve kind of got to know where to go. There are lots of tourist traps, but I’ve managed to find some little places I go back to go simple pasta and grilled fish. I can’t give an exact name of a place, but I know where it is!
You’ve collaborated with P&O Cruises, Virgin Australia and Virgin Atlantic. What is it that draws you to these brands?
For me, it’s the challenge. I’ve had people say ‘We’re doing this outdoor event with no kitchen and it might be a bit challenging’, but just tell them we’ve cooked on planes, trains, cruise ships and hotels; we can do anything.
I like challenges and I think what we do is try to create restaurant food. We make it real and prove it can be done. Take Luke’s Table on the Harbour Bridge, for example. People go ‘How do you do that?’ We built a kitchen for that experience, then pulled it down once it was over and rebuilt the next day. It’s fun and exciting.
Where to next?
I’m heading to India at the end of the year, going to places like Mumbai. Possibly Sri Lanka as well.