Gastronomic blowout (Part II)

Sunday, 17 July 2011

I think I have found the perfect soundtrack appropriate for this 'blowout' series of posts...

The beauty of travelling to Melbourne during weekdays is that you're not jostling with other tourists/foodies/locals (who already know it's all good) to get into places. This was certainly the case with the Cutler and Co., Andrew McConnell's fine dining venture (see my review of casual diner Cumulus Inc. here) located on Gertrude St, Fitzroy. I think i was a little too excited, when i walked past Radio bar & cafe on the same street which has featured a couple of times on Offspring (plug, plug). Man, the restaurant front was pitch black, except for the neon blue ampersand (&) tucked in the glass window. We could well have walked straight past...

Front and centre: the front half of the restaurant is the designated bar, where there are smashing cocktails and bar snacks to be had... Photo by the Round
Cutler & Co. was an easy tram ride away from where we were staying (don't you just love it). S and I had a table for two at 6. There was a bit of an embarrassing situation when we strolled straight into the restaurant part only to be redirected back to the entrance to meet the maitre d standing at the front rostrum. I'm not really sure how we managed to just miss each other but anyways. Clearly, we had never eaten there before and there was unspoken etiquette.

We were one of the first tables to be filled in the restaurant so we had a chance to admire the interiors. S was not really a fan, opting for the schmancier, polished look of the Press Club from the night before. I on the other hand, liked the work of Pascale Gomes-McNabb - who is responsible for the design all of McConnell's restaurants. I would call it 'modern eclectic': a roughly whitewashed walls (juxtaposed? haha) with an ultra-modern glass atrium full of wine (temperature and humidity controlled, no doubt), mesh encased hanging lights and sliding automatic glass doors in and out of the kitchen. Flash.

The dining room. Apparently being on time (i.e. us) is not cool, so we had the restaurant (almost) to ourselves for a moment
Having arrived punctually, we had swarms of wait staff hovering around, catering to our every beck and whim. It was awesome but very conversation fragmenting... "Would you like a drink to start? Would you like water for the table? Would you like to see the wine list? Have you dined with us before? Would you like me to explain our menu to you?". Me: "Could I have a margarita please?". Usually, people/bouncers are very suspicious of me whenever I order an alcoholic beverage. The awkward i.d. moment hasn't happened to me in a restaurant before [It has however, happened to me on a plane when I tried to order a vodka lemonade - i don't drink and fly now because it's such a hassle. And i hear a hangover at altitude is 1000x worse], and tonight was no exception. It must have been because S and I were oozing of sophistication and maturity, lol!

I read the degustation menu longingly, a whopping 8 course menu selection for $140. It would have been such a treat but my wallet was heaving at the thought. Again, by some freakish coincidence we were flanked by 3 tables that each ordered the degustation menu. And once again we were privy to the delights. 8 could take a while. It must be a sign for my dining future (please!). Vue du Monde is pretty high up there on my list (literally, and figuratively). The restaurant has recently relocated to the 55th floor of the Rialto building. One day my friends, one day... Off the a la carte menu I steered clear of the duck, because I didn't want to ruin the best duck dish i had ever had (bold, i know) from the Press Club. I had fun quizzing the lady on what 'hapuka' was (white fish) and 'pain perdu' off the dessert menu (literally translates as 'lost bread' in french). Anyway, I 'settled' (well, hardly) for the roast suckling pig, morcilla (black pud, but morcilla is a nicer way of putting it), sweet & sour shallots and almond. Get ready for this -

What a fine choice. Nothing much beats a slab of suckling pig on a winter's evening. All I need now is a crackling fire and a wool blanket.
Helloooo! The suckling pig was an absolute joy. The portion size was very generous, melt-in-your-mouth good and the crackling was divine (usually i hate crackling because you get the sensation that your teeth are going to break apart). That black stuff i.e. the morcilla was well seasoned and tasty - ask me about 5 years ago and I wouldn't touch the stuff with a ten-foot-pole (apparently, also an American punk rock band, lol). The lashings of sauce are also great to mop up with any residual bread roll (don't tell anyone, but we asked if we could have seconds...the answer is YES). Anyway, S's dish was like a work of art!

¡Hola! Presenting the wild barra, prawn, young garlic, pickled pine mushrooms & nettle (I always thought that was a weed) main.
I'm very happy to report that Cutler & Co. are generous in terms of what you get on the plate. You do get what you pay for. I'm not a big fan of being served 'pretentiousness on a plate'. You know, what I'm talking about right, the one molecular gastronomy mouthful that costs an arm and a leg. It's because of the litres of liquid nitrogen that were used to prepare it...too harsh? Sometimes WOW factor is great but still being hungry after a meal? Not so much. But enough of my whinging, it's dessert time!

Quenelle'd perfection: violet ice cream, chocolate ganache & sour cherry & clove meringue
Sadly, we couldn't go with the dessert smorgasbord that we did last night, because our numbers had halved (just the 2 of us). We managed to show some restraint and picked one each. Mine was a simple play on texture and flavour, that was very well executed. The ganache & ice cream were the best parts. What I would do for an ice cream churner...honestly! The powderised, sherbety stuff was pretty interesting - still not entirely sure what that actually was.  S on the other hand ordered a sexed up version of an iced vo-vo...

Fun times with a piping bag: strawberry marshmallow, white chocolate, coconut ice cream & shortbread.
The mallows were the bomb by the way. Funny how you admire the dish for a split second and then promptly proceed to demolish it (we're all class). A good dessert is one way to win the hearts of diners, and 'Pastry' has certainly won mine. Somehow we had managed to stretch out our dinner for 2.5 hours - woot go team. We had an awkward moment, post bill paying when we just sat there waiting for our coats to be brought out, only to ask for them and then be ushered back to the front where the maitre d had them ready. I swear, I had no idea how this thing worked. The Australian Gourmet Traveller Restaurant Guide, ranks Cutler & Co. as the #1 restaurant in Australia (2011). That's a big call, they're certainly up there I'm sure. I'm not sure if my 'dining experience' is broad enough to be able to qualify it just yet...something we'll just have to fix! Until next time xo


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