Sunday, 2 March 2014

Melbourne Series - Cutler & Co

We were drawing to the end of our Melbourne food safari but we'd left one our most anticipated restaurants until last.  There are an astounding number of well regarded restaurants in Melbourne and while Sydney might currently hold the record for the most number of three hatted restaurants, Melbourne has its fair share as well. People often wonder why I'm so focussed on visiting hatted restaurants around the country and it's simply this....they represent the pinnacle, the absolute best in what food has to offer.  The chefs behind these three hatted restaurants dedicate their lives to be the best, often with an unwavering focus that can be a little maniacal.

I'm slowly crossing off all of the country's best restaurants off my 'must visit' list and on this trip I was able to visit two of the best.  Vue De Monde was now a 'notch on my belt' (see post here) and our last dinner of the trip would see Cutler & Co join the list of prestigious restaurants I've dined at.  Amazingly, Cutler & Co is currently the seventh best restaurant on the Gourmet Travellers top 100 list and sits above eight ranked Vue de Monde.  Chef and owner of Cutler & Co Andrew McConnell, was also named the Gourmet Traveller Chef of the Year for 2014, which is an outstanding recognition of excellence.

Cutler & Co is located in up-and-coming Fitzroy, we'd initially found the restaurant when we had taken a wander around Fitzroy and Collingwood after our trip to the James Bond exhibition at the Melbourne Museum. We'd heard from a friend of SC's that Gertrude Street in Fitzroy was a place to check out and still had that cross over feel that was not quite gentrified and not quite grunge.  We had an early 6pm booking for dinner and since we'd already checked out where Cutler & Co was, and it was quite a lovely evening, we chose to walk the 15 minutes from our hotel.

We arrived at Cutler & Co a few minutes early and as we walked through the unassuming front door, caught the team running through their pre-dinner meeting and pep talk.  It was clear that we were the first diners to arrive, which is pretty normal for us.  While they finished up, it gave me the opportunity to have a quick look around the restaurant.  From the front door, you are first assaulted with the large, open style kitchen which seems to dominate the whole restaurant and from my vantage point, it looked as if the restaurant was quite small.  This perception was dispelled pretty quickly once one of the wait staff came over to welcome us to Cutler & Co and showed us to our table.  The bulk of the dining area is behind the kitchen and the whole of the restaurant suddenly opened to us as we walked around the kitchen area.

We were seated and provided our menus to have a quick look over with a decision to make.  Did we want to run with the degustation, or would we be choosing the a la carte option?  While the degustation looked appetising, there were some interesting looking options on the a la carte menu that we wanted to explore. Well, that and the fact that we were feeling the effects of three days of constantly eating out!  A good thing about being the first into a restaurant is that you get quite a bit of attention from the wait staff, which gave us the opportunity to have a bit of a laugh with our waiter before things go serious.  After confirming that we would be passing on the degustation option, we got our orders away and waited for the feast to commence.

We were given a couple of crispy amuse bouche to start off with, which were light and quite tasty but it was not long before our appetisers arrived.  While we'd given up on the degustation option, we still wanted to sample as many of the Cutler & Co goodies as possible.  We started with a couple of Coffin Bay oysters, which are an excellent way to get the taste buds working.  Oysters are easy to eat and we prefer ours natural and they went down very quickly and I wondered why we only ordered two each!

Another appetiser that we found hard to resist was the Jamon Serrano, which we will almost always order whenever we spot on a menu.  There is just something wonderful about the salty Spanish ham that goes down such a treat.  The Jamon was sliced incredibly thin and had a wonderful flavour that was a little smoky and had a wonderful chewy texture.  There is not a lot to say about Jamon but we definitely enjoy eating it.

It was time to move onto our entrees and as they arrived at the table, I realised that I'd made the biggest of rookie mistakes, my camera battery had gone flat!  This could have been a disaster but luckily SC had her handy point and shoot in her handbag and I was able to get on with taking photos.  

There are a couple of dishes on menus that I can always count on SC ordering when she spies them and once she saw the steak tartare on the Cutler & Co menu, there was never a doubt that she would be testing it out. It was quite different from your traditional steak tartare and came with a herb emulsion, leek and creme fraiche.  The steak was in quite large chunks and sat atop the herb emulsion, which was spread out over the plate, which also had circular dollops of the creme fraiche.  The flavours of the dish were quite nice and very fresh, but we both agreed that just putting raw steak on a plate doesn't really make it a steak tartare.  It was surely designed to be a contemporary take on the very traditional dish.

Just as SC is likely to order steak tartare when she sees it on a menu, I'll almost always order the scallops.  I liked the sound of the Hervey Bay scallops with shaved abalone, soy milk custard and chilled dashi but it completely threw me out when placed in front of me.  The scallops were served raw, which was no problems, as was the abalone, but I was kind of expecting something a little more recognisable.  I've had abalone a few times and the best I've had was at Daniel in NYC (see post here).  I actually found the dish fairly difficult to like.  The flavours were actually pretty good but I didn't like the textures, which on the whole were fairly mushy.  It was quite a confronting dish but it just didn't sit well with me.

We had both been a little challenged by our entrees with each of the dishes not being what we'd expected and not really hitting the mark.  While we were contemplating this and wondering what the main courses would be like, we were presented with a La Habana 'cigar box' that had a couple of 'cigars'.  They were actually like cannoli rolls with a cream in the middle, tapenade at the end to represent 'ash' and a white balsamic jelly at the other end.  I really hate tapenade and asked SC what it was like, expecting her to say that I should give the 'ash' end a miss.  She actually said they were OK and that I should have a taste.  Big mistake!  It was not nice.  I really will run with my instinct when it comes to anything with olives in future and not listen to SC. The rest of the cigar was pretty nice but I couldn't get the tapenade out of my mouth.

When we'd been deciding on mains, I had really wanted to get the chicken but after some negotiations, SC ended up with the roast chicken with house ground polenta, baby corn and miso.  This was a beautiful looking dish with vibrant colours and excellent plating.  The chicken skin was crispy and salty and covered beautifully moist and succulent chicken.  Chicken and corn are a wonderful combination the Cutler & Co version was spectacular.  The polenta also had a sweet corn flavour and the sweet chicken and corn was offset by the slightly bitter taste of the miso.  SC kindly allowed me to have a decent piece of the chicken and it was very, very good.

I liked the sound of the rock flathead with seaweed, grilled octopus, shiitake and eggplant, with one exception...  I'm not a fan of eggplant.  After confirming with our waiter that it was not going to dominate the dish, I went ahead and ordered.  Flathead is quite a firm white fish with a strong flavour and this was very well cooked, with lovely crispy skin.  The fish itself was probably the highlight of the dish with the octopus a close second, but there were some elements of the dish that didn't work for me.  Overall the dish was very salty and the seaweed and shiitake mushroom flavours dominating the plate. and I really couldn't eat the eggplant.  I think there were just too many dominant flavours competing on this dish and it would have been better served with a couple of ingredients removed.

After our mains were taken away, we were given another little palate cleanser which consisted of a panna cotta covered with a berry jelly.  It was quite delicious, in particular the sweetness of the panna cotta with the tartness of the berry and I'd have loved a big bowl of this for dessert.

After the sweet little interlude, it was actually time for real dessert and SC's was milk crumbs with hay ice cream and strawberries.  I'd contemplated getting this dish myself after such a heavy main course because it sounded like it would be quite light and fresh.  The fresh strawberries were covered in a white chocolate crumbs and a very subtle hay flavoured ice cream.  The white chocolate and strawberries were a nice contrasting texture to the smooth and very creamy ice cream.  I didn't get to sample very much of this one, but SC very much enjoyed the dessert.

If I'd wanted a light dessert, I'd definitely made the wrong choice.  My desert of earl grey ice cream with chocolate cherries and brandy jelly sounded a lot lighter than it turned out to be.  It was actually a beautifully presented and wonderfully flavoured dessert, but it was very, very heavy.  The perfect quenelles of chocolate mouse were deep and rich and unfortunately the subtle flavour of the earl grey ice cream was lost in their richness.  The cherries were a good combination with the chocolate but probably didn't work so well with the ice cream, which was jus too subtle.  I was worried about the brandy jelly but it was quite nice and along with the earl grey ice cream, was the lightest part of the dessert.

Given the reputation and standing of Cutler & Co, I was ever so slightly disappointed with the meal as a whole.  There was nothing inherently wrong with the dishes and on their own, they were each spectacular in their way.  I guess that my main issue was that there was no real congruency between each of the dishes, they didn't seem to work with each other.  I've been to three hat restaurant where each of the courses flow beautifully together, even a la carte.  I'm sure that if we'd ordered the degustation that the courses would have flowed together to tell a more compelling story.

We were the first to arrive on the night and over the course of the two hours that we were there, watched the dining room slowly fill up.  As the room filled up, the vibe of the restaurant slowly improved from a quiet dining room to a bustling hive of activity.  I really loved the interior of Cutler & Co, with it's exposed brick walls and bizarre light fittings, it was quite a cool spot to have dinner.  Our wait staff for the evening were first rate, as you would expect from one of the best restaurants in the country.

What was strange about the night, which I only found out a few days after getting back from our food safari, was that one of my Facebook friends had been at Cutler & Co on the same night as us, in fact had taken the 8:30 sitting in comparison to our 6pm sitting.  Stranger still was that she ordered almost exactly the same courses as SC and I, with the only exception that she didn't get the Jamon.  It's a bit weird that two couples from Brisbane would be interstate at the same restaurant on the same night and weirder still that the courses ordered were the same.  After comparing notes it was clear to us both that some of the dishes just didn't hit it on the night - which was a bit of a shame.

For reservations - go here

Exposed brick and cool light fittings 
The restaurant packed out fairly quickly - ahh, looking outside it was still light - love daylight savings
We started our meal with a crispy little amuse bouch

I'm always banging on about steak tartare and my buddy from Brisbane tried the Cutler & Co version and didn't really enjoy it - She will need to try a traditional version
Cutler & Co on UrbanspoonCutler & Co. Dining Room


  1. Facebook friend gets a mention, woohoo! Yes, I will have to give steak tartare another go, won't I? :)

    1. Haha, of course mate - you were practically there at the same time as me :)

  2. Very nice shots. I need to get back in there.

    1. Not bad considering my A camera went flat :) Some great food


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