Cutler & Co is one of Melbourne's most talked about restaurants, where Andrew McConnell's imaginative, modern food has been a major hit with the critics. Joanna Wood went to visit
In any given year, in any given city, you will find a chef-restaurateur who is the man or woman of the moment. In Melbourne it is currently Andrew McConnell. The award-winning, locally born chef has three restaurants, including his flagship Cutler & Co - considered one of the city's must-see eateries by visitors and locals alike.
The restaurant is 10 minutes from the Central Business District in the Fitzroy area of Melbourne, which, until McConnell moved in, was considered unfashionable and definitely not the place for up-market restaurants.
Cutler & Co, with its under-stated but hip bar and 80-seat dining space, occupies the site of four former industrial units, which its design reflects. It incorporates bare brick walls and wooden herringbone floors, plus mesmerising lampshades; all scrunched-up taupe net, which the late Queen Mum might have popped on her head in an alternative universe.
McConnell's seasonal à la carte and tasting menus, like the shades, are grounded in classicism but clearly rest in the sophisticated world of modern dining, thanks to his 10 years working in Europe and China. The food is clean flavoured, imaginative and tasty. "I use technique to capture taste and develop textures," he says.
A typical menu will incorporate dishes featuring wide-ranging ingredients: from fresh wasabi to foie gras, black radish to heirloom tomatoes, wild local fish to New South Wales-reared Wagyu beef. "I chop and change constantly," says McConnell - depending on what his suppliers offer him.
Back in March the A$140/£93 seven-course tasting menu included an ultra-fresh bit of firm, cured kingfish, served with snippets of octopus, avocado, cucumber and a splurge of fresh wasabi sauce, the latter having the zing, but not the overpowering kick, of sauce made from its dried cousin. With a crunch of toasted sesame seeds scattered over it, the dish was elegant, balanced and refreshing, Japanese-influenced both in taste and presentation.
Other highlights included a massive burst of flavour from a salad of heirloom tomatoes with brik pastry, cubes of sweet balsamic jelly, fragrant baby basil and creamy ricotta. A fresh potato salad showcased three potato varieties, including purple; three cheeses, including an 18-month-old Tasmanian Gruyère; and tender baby leeks.
Dessert tantalisers included a classic flavour match of violet and chocolate, given a new twist in violet ice-cream with chocolate ganache, accompanied by a sour cherry and clove meringue, the aromatic spice underlying the distinctive taste of the fruit.
Thirty out of 80 diners at Cutler & Co order the tasting menu, but there are plenty of gems elsewhere. Wafer-thin, crispy crackling in a flavour-charged roast suckling pig option, which also showcases other piggy bits - eg, a light-as-air black boudin - offset by two purées, a squirt of plum and a swipe of parsnip (A$47/£31); or a slow-cooked piece of John Dory accompanied by local mushrooms, pommes Anna and a delicate green olive purée.
food and wine matching
All McConnell's dishes - created by him in the restaurant's bijou kitchen with the help of a 14-strong brigade - are distinguished by a lightness of culinary touch. Luckily for the diners, his talent is complemented by the skill in food and wine matching at Cutler & Co. The impressive wine list, presented by grape and wine type rather than colour, draws from both the New and Old Worlds.
With such a lot to entice foodies, it's easy to see why the restaurant is averaging 90 covers a night, is frequently booked out - and has won a Best New Restaurant award in 2010 from Australia's equivalent of Michelin, The Age Good Food Guide. Don't miss it on your next visit to Melbourne.
Sample dishes from the menu
Wagyu beef tartare, Ortiz anchovy, truffled Pecorino and caper berries A$24/£16 Light potato soup, Hervey Bay scallops, spring onion and sea lettuce A$23/£15 Poached chicken, foie gras parfait, quinoa and prune A$25/£16.50
Roast wild barramundi, prawn, almond and shaved celery salad A$43/£28.50 Smoked shallot and curd tart, baby beetroot, walnut and apple A$36/£24 Roast lamb saddle, eggplant, fenugreek and spiced carrots A$43/£28.50
Olive oil shortbread, strawberry marshmallow, coconut and white chocolate A$18/£12 Black sesame, apricot sorbet, yogurt, thyme butter cream A$17/£11 Chocolate ice-cream sandwich, vanilla parfait and salted caramel A$18/£12
Cutler & Co 55-57 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy 3065, Melbourne, Australia
Tel: 0061 3 9419 4888