157 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda (map)
Bookings restricted to 8-14 people set banquets (book via email)
Open noon-midnight, Tuesday-Sunday
(from June, open for breakfasts Friday-Sunday)
It hasn't officially opened yet (well, it's still in soft opening mode), but on Saturday night Jack, best-friend-K and I braved the brutal Melbourne weather conditions to check out the Cumulus of the South, Golden Fields. As Jack commented on Twitter, it takes a special kind of restaurant to get her out on public transport on a night like that! Discretionary taxi afterwards.
Let me point out at the outset that I have a mental block with the name of this restaurant... EVERY damn time I go to say the name aloud, I mistakenly call it Golden Plains instead of Golden Fields. It's a really annoying habit I don't seem to be able to shake.
The restaurant's interior has been designed by Projects of Imagination (who set up a Tumblr photo blog detailing the fitout process), but is remarkably similar to Cumulus Inc: the coat hooks, the white marble and tiles, the minimal signage, the clean lines, the round high table in the corner with stools. It has the unmistakeable feel of an Andrew McConnell restaurant. A golden lucky cat statue presides over the kitchen, and I was rather taken with the golden rollerskate over the bar.
The menu is divided into sections labelled Raw, To Start, Salads & Vegetables and Meat & Fish. There were so many small dishes we liked the sound of that we decided to skip getting a big meat or fish dish and just graze on things to share. To start with, I had a kickass martini, the Big Boss Impressionist (Miller's, Lillet Blanc and orange blossom, $18) and we were brought a little plate of pumpkin seeds as an appetiser.
We noted with interest that the white wine list was divided into Riesling (of which there were over a dozen) and Other, and were happily nudged into ordering a bottle of German Riesling.
A pleasing starter of fresh sea urchin, flat bread, crisp lardo, escabeche ($5 each).
Like the other Andrew McConnell restaurants, oysters from Steve Feletti's Moonlight Flat oysterage up in Batemans Bay are on hand. We went with a trio of the special not listed on the menu, the angasi oysters ($6 each). We also ordered a single bowl of the white onion and conpoy soup with shredded pearl meat ($10), just so we could each have a taste of the velvety broth given an umami kick in the pants from the conpoy. I loved it and would definitely order it again next time.
Along with the sea urchin and pearl meat, there are other rather posh seafood items on the menu including Moreton Bay bugs and crayfish. The crayfish is in a starter I suspect could become a Golden Fields signature item: a New England lobster roll ($15), consisting of a hot buttered bun with cold poached crayfish, watercress and Kewpie (love that the menu specifies that it's Kewpie mayo). The little bun is sweet, the crayfish is fresh and together with the mayo it made me wish we'd ordered more than one to split three ways. When Epicure does its next round-up of Melbourne's top 10 sandwiches, this one ought to make the list.
The school prawns were retired from the Cumulus Inc menu a little while ago, but they've popped up again down at Golden Fields, and this time they've been sexed up with one of the Dude Food flavours du jour, PIG TAIL SCRATCHING. Yep, they're "pork and prawn" fried school prawns, served with garlic mayo ($12). Dirty and delicious.
The salad we ordered was described on the menu as shredded chicken, sesame paste, house-made cold rice noodles, chilli oil ($12). It was presented to us in layers: the cold rice noodles, Sichuan pepper and chilli oil, shredded poached thigh, tahini, cucumber, coriander and sous-vide breast on top.
The use of tahini as the sesame agent in a dish featuring Sichuan pepper and chilli oil is a good example of the way the Golden Fields menu interprets its Shanghai/Hong Kong focus in a creative way.
The other vegetables we shared were beans braised simply with garlic and ginger ($13 - according to the menu usually served "spicy as", but the spicy version wasn't available on the night we visited), and a dish of steamed eggplant, silken tofu and pickled chillies ($14).
We hadn't ordered it, but a serve of rustic pork dumplings with Shanghai chilli vinegar arrived compliments of the kitchen. I gave a happy yelp when they arrived - they're my favourite dish on the bar menu at Cutler (and yes, as Andrew explained when he gave the recipe to Gourmet Traveller last month, they're technically steamed buns but he calls them dumplings). Thanks chef!
For sweets we'd ordered the peanut butter parfait with salted caramel and soft chocolate ($10 and pretty much my wet dream of a dessert). We were also brought (compliments of the kitchen again) a dessert of soft black sesame cake with lime ice cream and yoghurt which, while less obviously a crowd-pleaser than the caramel/chocolate, was delicate and unusual in the way that the best desserts at Cutler are. For the adventurous, you might like to try the dessert described on the menu as green tea ice cream, pumpkin and liquorice.
So it's pretty much a rave review from me - not a dud dish and the service was excellent. Very eager to revisit and work my way through more dishes (like the shredded cabbage with Moreton Bay bugs, Kampot pepper and mint, or the slow-roast lamb shoulder with cumin seed and salted lemon). Oh, and the weekend breakfast menu once it starts up in June!
ps Remember - no bookings unless you're in a group of 8-14 and want a set banquet. To maximise your Golden
pps Oh, and suckling pig junkies: they're offering a whole suckling pig banquet. Shall we book one?!