I can barely imagine the Melbourne food scene without Andrew McConnell. He has put a firm stamp on the definition of the city’s dining scene with his exciting and progressive menus. The Chef of the Year, in The Age Good Food Guide (2015), has been responsible for some of the hottest openings in town including Supernormal, Cutler & Co and Moon Under Water. It seems like everything McConnell touches turns to gold.
One of his most popular restaurants in Melbourne is Cumulus Inc on Flinders Lane which opened in 2008. Despite frequenting here for breakfast, coffee and many lemon stuffed madeleines, it took me seven years to go here for dinner.
We arrived at 7.30pm on a Saturday night and were told there was only an hour wait for a table. Bookings are only available for groups of seven or more at the downstairs restaurant but bookings are available in Cumulus Up upstairs which has more of a wine bar/casual dining vibe. Luckily for us, there was a few seats at the bar for a couple of pre-dinner wines while we waited for our table downstairs.
Housed in an old rag trade building, Cumulus Inc is contemporary and effortlessly elegant. During the day, the eatery is light and airy, its large metal framed windows drawing in the sunshine from Flinders Lane, but when the sun goes down it’s a bit more of a mysterious affair, with a sleeker, more sophisticated feel. An open kitchen takes centre stage where you can observe the chefs busily at work, while a wrap around marble bar is full of diners ploughing into McConnell’s signature dishes with delight. A pillar in the middle punctuates the room with a splash of red, amongst the sea of largely white earthy tones. There’s a good mix of bar seats and shared tables available for different group sizes. Despite it being a high quality eatery, it doesn’t feel pretentious or stuffy.
The menu has a modern European focus and in typical McConnell style, aims to challenge and delight the tastebuds. It centres on good, traditional food without being over fussy. Oysters have a real focus, with a great selection ranging from the Moonlight Flat variety from Bateman’s Bay to Coffin Bay in South Australia. There’s also a nice range of starters, charcuterie, salads, meat and fish. For a group of four, they suggest ordering five to ten dishes depending on how hungry you are.
We started with a copper pot full of pigs head croquettes ($12) – it’s the kind of dish where you want to leave your cutlery at home and dive right in with your fingers. The golden morsels were beautifully crispy on the outside, a nice textural contrast to the flaky pigs’ meat within. A side of tartare provided a nice touch of freshness and moisture to cut through the richness of the batter, while a plate laden with fresh Bass Strait scallops ($6 each) was sure to delight, topped with a small dollop of burnt butter, enticing the tastebuds for more with every mouthful.
On the charcuterie menu, there’s a rather decadent dish of chorizo stuffed dates and cider onions ($14) – a playful meeting of sweet, salty and sour flavours.
Followed by a chicken and rabbit terrine teamed with a healthy drizzle of grilled leek dressing.
For the main event, a rock flat head ($36) was cooked to perfection, a single cut revealing a white fleshy centre which gave away with the slightest of nudges. A bed of creamy borlotti beans and chermoula (a Moroccan spice rub) was the perfect companion for the rock flat head to give it a further lift in flavour and subtle spice.
The O’Connor sirloin steak ($36) was another stand out, cooked medium rare and brilliantly seared on the outside. Topped with thin slices of salted radish and white anchovy, the steak was allowed to be the true hero of the dish – with only small touches accentuating its flavour without overpowering it. A side of roast new season potatoes ($8) slathered heavily with confit garlic and sage were devilishly good, although my hips are likely to be paying for it in many months to come.
The dessert menu is full of a sumptuous range of treats, guaranteed to have even the mildest sweet tooth quivering with joy. There’s a soft chocolate paired with a pineapple and buttermilk and a rather delicious looking rum baba. I couldn’t go past the salted caramel tart ($16) teamed with prune and vanilla ripple ice-cream. With almost a panacotta consistency with a slight wobble, the tart was super creamy, full of smooth caramel and a hint of salt. The ice cream was the perfect pair, accentuating the creaminess of the dish.
It only took me seven years to get here but the wait was certainly worth it in the end! I can’t wait to see what McConnell has in store for us next.
Highlight – The salted caramel tart – one of the best desserts I have had in a while. Low light – No booking policy for small groups.
Overall Rating 8/10 (Food 9/10, Service 8/10, Atmopshere 8/10, Value for Money 7/10).
A 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne 3000 VIC
T 03 9650 1445