45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne (map)
"At the risk of sounding completely outrageous, how about we meet up for a fancy dinner tonight at Andrew McConnell's new place in Flinders Lane, Cumulus Inc? Yes, they're open for dinner - apparently they got their liquor licence last Friday. Meet you there in an hour?"
And thus an impromptu Decadent Thursday for two was born. Best-friend-K had already cased the joint for breakfast - she works a block away - and now we were going to see if the new dinner menu matched up. As I walked in, I couldn't help thinking back to the Disastrous Decadent Tuesday we'd had at Giuseppe Arnaldo & Sons last month. Would this be a similar experience? Are my Decadent Weeknights doomed to fail?
But no - our night at Cumulus Inc last Thursday was a smashing success. The food and drinks were brilliant, the service professional, the restaurant decor and ambiance quietly fabulous. Decadent all over!
B-f-K and I had both had frustrating days, so decided to start with a drink up on the bar stools while waiting for our table. Listed under Delicious Drinks (a separate (and cheaper) list from the cocktail list) was a concoction that sounded right up my alley, albeit slightly summery considering the season: Pimms, Tanqueray gin, fresh mint, lemonade and dry ginger ale ($9.50). Served in a tall glass and looking positively technicolour, it was refreshing and delicious - loved the slice of blood orange.
We started with a half dozen Rusty Wire oysters ($4 each) from Moonlight Flat Oysterage (in Batemans Bay, NSW). The Rusty Wire oysters are a random selection of whatever happen to be the best oysters on the day, and the menu provides a cute little story about how they got their name. To be perfectly honest, this was the one dish that left b-f-K and I a little underwhelmed - the taste of salt water was too strong, so we had to drown the poor things in lemon juice.
Our next dish more than made up for the previous one. The menu has a separate section entitled Charcuterie and from the mouthwatering selection we chose the wagyu bresaola with remoulade and fresh horseradish ($15). Maybe it's the Northern Italian in me, but I just ADORE bresaola and order it whenever I see it. Generally we have it the traditional way (with olive oil, pepper, a few rucola leaves and shaved parmigiano), so I was intrigued to see it with remoulade (which you can see poking out from underneath the meat in the above pic) and fresh horseradish (the little shavings on top). It tasted fantastic - as you might expect, the wagyu bresaola simply fell apart in one's mouth, and the French-style céléri rémoulade was particularly fine. B-f-K had never had bresaola before, but was similarly impressed. Probably my favourite dish of the night.
Next we had a salad of beetroot, shanklish, lentils, raw apple, mint and fromage blanc ($12). I loved the way the raw apple was cut into little matchsticks, just like Ed had had it here for breakfast with smoked salmon and egg. I'm not wild about lentils as a rule (too many bad experiences with bland bland bland dhals during my student days), but puy lentils? Done like this? Yum.
The tuna a la plancha, served with raw and cooked artichoke and caramelised garlic ($28), was also excellent - the triangles of tuna had been seared on one side only, leaving the sashimiesque side pouting pinkly at us. The caramelised garlic added a gorgeous pungent sweetness to the dish.
Did I already mention the top-notch service? One example was when I asked our friendly waitress for advice with the wine list - I wanted a glass of lightish red, but didn't know anything about the 2006 DJ Palacios 'Petalos' Mencia (from Bierzos, Spain, $14). I asked her whether it was lighter or heavier than the Chianti on offer (the 2005 Casa Sola Chianti Classico, $12) and immediately she offered to bring me two glasses with a taste of each... I was impressed (and the Mencia won hands down, by the way - b-f-K agreed an ordered a glass for her too).
We kept commenting how much more ENJOYABLE our evening was to that disaster at Giuseppe Arnaldo & Sons. Cumulus Inc looks like it's been put together with so much love and care (Ed already picked up on details like the finishes on the chairs and bar stools, and Jack mentioned the coat rack and the lighting). For me it was the little touches - the cake fresh out of the oven cooling on the benchtop, the row of cook books stacked neatly on a top shelf in the open plan kitchen, the Aesop Resurrection Aromatique hand wash in the bathrooms (also seen at Auction Rooms and The Press Club), the tables spaced a goodly distance apart...
An extra salad mysteriously arrived at our table with our mains, "compliments of the kitchen" (!!!). I'd been eying off this salad as I'd perused the menu - cracked wheat and freekeh salad with preserved lemon and barberries ($10) - wondering over and over what the hell freekeh was. As a result I got the Alexander Downer "I'm too freak-eh" song from Keating! stuck in my head... :)
Our waitress explained that freekeh was a relatively new grain made from unripe wheat. On its own the freekeh didn't have a particularly strong flavour, but I liked it with the preserved lemon and the little red barberries studding the salad.
Our final dish was the braised wagyu with shallots, field mushrooms and nettle ($29). It's funny... a month ago nettles were not even registering on my foodie radar and now I'm seeing them everywhere - on the menu at Mama Ganoush, on the blogs of Stickfingers (Deep Dish Dreams) and Neil (At My Table). Neil in particular seems especially enamoured of nettles this month.
Seeing them on the menu here at Cumulus Inc b-f-K and I decided to take the opportunity to give them a try. B-f-K was not a fan ("they taste like pureed cos lettuce" was her assessment), but they had a difficult-to-define tangy flavour I rather liked. The wagyu beef had been braised to hearty perfection and the field mushrooms were full of flavour.
Digestivi liqueurs were ordered to follow our meal. B-f-K nursed a glass of All Saints Muscat; I liked the look of the Bertrand Poire Williams ($14); again, our waitress was only too happy upon my inquires to bring forth the bottle for an inspection and a sniff. That eau-de-vie had a kick like an angry mule, but a lovely sweet warm aftertaste.
Although we'd already eaten like royalty I managed to con b-f-K into us ordering a pair of Madeleines ($2.50 each, allow ten minutes as they are made fresh!) - they arrived warm and filled with melty lemon curd. SO GOOD!
Following the success of Circa, the Prince and Three, One, Two, Andrew McConnell is on to another winner here, one that is more accessible and relaxed but still characterised by great food. I'm going there again this week and can't wait!