Monday, December 27, 2010

Me, Cutler & Co

Expectation can really impact an overall experience of any kind. Too high and disappointment often ensues. Too low and the experience can shock and awe, and make for rave reviews when maybe that shouldn’t necessarily be the case. Keep that in mind this New Year's Eve, partygoers.

Cutler & Co frontage, Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, Melbourne
Waiting at the front bar of Cutler & Co in Melbourne for a table booked for 30 minutes ago, I realise that despite the restaurant’s moniker as the best in Australia I haven’t come along with an overly expectant attitude. Perhaps I left it with the grumpy cab driver who brought us to the restaurant, or maybe it was in the gutter of the grungy, dark industrial street.

Campari and blood orange juice
Either way, I was not unhappy to wait in the front bar as groups around us were seated; helped in part by the Campari and blood orange aperitif – possibly of fresh blood orange, if the fruit bowl at the bar was anything to go by. Both bitter and sour at once, it really is a great palate starter.

Cutler & Co back room
Eventually seated in the back room, I couldn’t help but look up in wonderment at the mesh light fittings, so cloud-like yet futuristically industrial, and utterly entrancing. In fact, I was rather entranced with the entire place; the lighting soft on the roughly painted brick walls and exposed cement, and a convivial yet intimate level of chatter swimming through the room.

It’s not a huge menu to choose from, with the biggest choice being between the degustation and al la carte. We opt for the latter given plenty of flexibility to add on appetisers, share desserts and so on.

Bread and butter
Bread was a quartered brown sourdough roll, quite soft and served with creamy butter and pink salt flakes. We had been talked through the menu of oysters, which is quite the experience in itself, and were ready and waiting for a little oyster tasting session.

With a name inciting thoughts of tetanus and other disease, we had to have the Rusty Nail oyster and also the En Surface, which was said to grow near the top of the water; hence the name.

Quality was showcased with the molluscs served alone with a cheek of lemon for squeezing. The En Surface oyster was particularly briney while the Rusty Nail was tastier with a stronger mineral flavour as well as creaminess.

Anchovy pastries
I'd heard much about the anchovy pastries at Cutler & Co, which are available as an appetiser or part of the bar menu. Four grissini lookalikes turn up, lightly golden and blistery all over, served plain.

The first bite through the slightly chewy dough is a king hit of salt and fish, but not overly fishy. I preferred a bit of lemon squeezed into the pastries to balance the saltiness. There was a wonderful sense of the whimsical brought by four fishy bread sticks - it was unusual, unexpected and rather exciting.

Cured kingfish, smoked onion, pickled cucumber, beetroot, avruga
I was a little swoony over the Japanese inspired presentation of my entree, and even more impressed once I'd tasted the many components. Starting with the firm blocks of cured kingfish, I worked myself around the plate for combinations of ingredients: kingfish and pickled cucumber was refreshing, kingfish with smoked onion puree was rich, kingfish with beetroot jelly was sweet and sour.

A bit too much fun even, I used the matchstick pastry straws to scoop up the avruga caviar and creme fraiche. And garnished with nasturtium petals and leaves (or is that mallow?), it was like a stroll through a Japanese zen garden that left me much, much more than content.

Mandarin duck - crisp leg, smoked fillet, boudin noir and lentils
The duck entree was definitely a heavier one, with a pink centred fillet and squares of confit leg meat. There seemed to be hints of five spice in the crisply battered squares, while the pig jelly boudin noir meant I felt little need to share in this dish. Caramelised onion and green lentils rounded off the dish which could almost be considered a main meal given its substantiality.

King George whiting, prawn vinaigrette, broccolini and guinciale
Sold on the presence of guanciale, I was only a tad disappointed to find its light addition to my main dish. The tissue thin, opaque slice had been fried to a crisp, but maintained its salty depth of flavour well with the milder tasting grilled whiting fillets.

It was a well sized dish, joyfully scattered with a green medley of broccolini tips, other leaves and rocket flowers; steamed potato slices; very firm peeled prawns dressed with a mayonnaise; all doused with a healthy amount of olive oil. It was definitely one of my favourite main meals of the year, despite my not even being a fish lover, with an ingenious air of controlled madness.

Roast suckling pig, xo spring onion, garlic and parsley root
The pork main was an interesting one, featuring a small, crackling-topped block of belly and several slices of pale pink loin. Honestly, the loin looked like it could have done with some sauce other than the unidentified white puree alongside. The spring onion/garlic/parsley mix had a definite Asian twist with the flavour of belacan picked out among others.

I couldn't help but feel that the pork dish was rather bare, and even pedestrian, compared to my exciting whiting main, but I suppose variety is the spice of life and one way to try to please all.

Cutler & Co front room
By this late dining hour, the restaurant was no longer packed with the noise dying down somewhat - not that it was particularly noisy when full. Regardless of the prices, it's definitely a casual restaurant, just with top notch service and cooking - and I think the combination works ridiculously well.

Chocolate ice cream sandwich, vanilla parfait, salted caramel
We'd decided to share a dessert but did not expect the kitchen to plate up one dessert on two plates. In this case, it totally killed the sandwich concept and presented something more like an hors d'oeuvre or bruschetta even.

A crumbed block of frozen custardy, vanilla concoction sat in a pool of sumptuous salted caramel (of which every last bit was scraped off the plate), which was topped with a quenelle of uber chocolate-y ice cream. The ice cream tasted more of chocolate than some chocolate bars do, though was on the very sweet, throat stinging side when combined with the caramel.

Petit fours - chocolate fudge
It was nearing midnight and belly capacity when the petit fours arrived in an enviable silver dish, to end a night of enviable dishes. The small brick of chocolate fudge was another exercise in sweetness, topped off with nubs of sweet and tangy dehydrated passionfruit and the subdued saltiness of black salt flakes.

After many hours sitting within the casual-but-so-cool interiors of Cutler & Co, after my expectations had been blown to bits all over the restaurant; it was time to return to the expectedly chilly Melbourne weather to find an expectedly grumpy cab driver to take us home.

Cutler & Co on Urbanspoon


Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Sounds like had mixed feelings about your meal at Cutler and Co. We really enjoyed our meal there. And is that a Georg Jensen plate for the petit fours? We have one at home! And yes Melbourne cab drivers are surly unless they are taking you to and from the airport!

Tina said...

Hi Lorraine - I loved it, my companion had slightly different thoughts :) Looks like it could be George Jensen too!

Helen (Grab Your Fork) said...

I love the look of the cured kingfish and it does seem like a beautiful arrangement of textures and flavours.

Madam Wu said...

Looks too polished and contrived but some smart ideas being served up for sure

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