Cumulus @ 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
5 December 2010
Andrew McConnell made his bones as head chef at Circa before venturing to open the successful but short-lived Three One Two. Today, with the flourishing duo of Cumulus and Cutler & Co under his belt, Andrew McConnell has cemented his status as one of Australia’s culinary icons.
Cumulus epitomises Melbourne’s unique dining culture - gastronomical excellence presented in a casual and pretense-free, albeit slightly grungy, environment - and despite entering the dining scene a little over two years ago, it remains one of the most talked about restaurants in town.
The dishes at Cumulus are undoubtedly the creations of an accomplished chef who not only understands and appreciates his produce but is also gifted in constructing perfectly harmonised flavour combinations. Throw in meticulous execution that borders on flawlessness and it becomes apparent why Cumulus has garnered such high acclaim from chefs, foodies and the like.
Cumulus compensates for its “no booking” policy by running an all day food service - obviously appealing to both city workers with erratic lunch breaks on weekdays and individuals who slumber through conventional lunch hours on weekends. In Melbourne, accessibility and convenience in fine dining are rare and thus greatly appreciated.
Our meal began with the simple, yet ever so enticing, soft shell crab. The deep fried crustacean pieces were coated in a semi-thick crisp batter that encapsulated firm, sweet flesh. With a touch of fried garlic, a squeeze of lime and an aromatic aioli and chilli sauce concoction, Cumulus’ soft shell crab was simply superb.
The charcuterie selection for the day consisted of Sicilian salami, Serrano jamon, wagyu bresaola, and a pork terrine. The salami and jamon were excellent – both possessing a rich porkiness that had been further enhanced by the flavours of the intense curing salt mix. The air-dried wagyu bresaola was garnished with horseradish shavings was similarly enjoyable. Ironically, the pork terrine, which presumably was the only item that the kitchen staff prepared themselves, was the least appealing. Its flavour bore a remarkable resemblance to mild twiggy sticks sold by the deli sections of most supermarkets – neither objectionable nor particularly impressive – and the dryness of the meat could definitely have been improved upon
The boudin noir was served as two toasted baguette slices slathered with gelatinous pig blood sausage. While the intense offal notes of this French delicacy have the potential to polarise diners, this dish is an absolute must-try for blood sausage fans and the adventurous. The blood sausage was amazingly rich in flavour and was perfectly counterbalanced by the tartness of the tomato and the freshness of the onion and parsley. As the inherent creaminess of the blood sausage makes this dish relatively heavy, sharing this dish with a dining companion would not be unwise.
The roast veal rack was the perfect example of a straightforward dish done well. Served medium-rare, the well seasoned veal retained a juicy, tender consistency throughout. However, it was the pairing of salty pieces of odoriferous Ortiz anchovies with fresh parsley that transformed a potentially run-of-the-mill dish into a memorable one.
Our first dessert, a rum baba, commendably set itself apart from the beguiling rum-sodden cake messes that are not uncommonly served at other restaurants. Cumulus’ prudent method of serving the yeast cake not pre-soaked with rum – we were given a bottle of Havana Club aged rum to use at our discretion – in combination with a cake consistency that absorbed rum without becoming soggy, allowed the blissful mix of fragrant vanilla bean custard and rum to be enjoyed without the usual sopping distraction.
We finished off our meal with a well conceived dessert that exhibited flawless flavour combinations and textural diversity. The mild pearl barley ice cream offset the accompanying rich bittersweet chocolate mousse while the sticky caramel sauce added a desirable touch of sweetness. Texturally, the crunchiness of the rye pieces, chewiness of the mousse, silkiness of the ice cream and gumminess of the caramel ensured that each bite was as titillating as the last.
In terms of food and atmosphere, Cumulus is outstanding. Service is somewhat patchy but in light of the high quality and well executed offerings, which are delivered at reasonable prices, it can be overlooked. Cumulus offers the quintessential Melbourne dining experience. On that basis alone, it is well worth a visit.