Fine Dining Made Fun Again
Claim to fame: Fancy dining redefined
Reason to go: All the care and quality in the kitchen, plenty of buzz and zing on the floor
To look out for: Sunday lunch – a relaxed, partially shared menu at a very attractive price
Picture, if you will, a reality in which fine dining fustiness has been replaced by hip, savvy waiters. A place where confidence is the hallmark of the kitchen, where even when it’s trying new things, its reach doesn’t extend beyond its grasp. Where patrons know – and love – the fact that the wine list is as much about gentle challenge and exploration as it is about comfort and familiarity. A place where luxury shores up the spirit of adventure rather than stifling it. That place exists, and it’s called Cutler & Co.
If you want delicately composed tweezer-food rendered with an eye for impact, it’s here. Chris Watson, under the direction of Andrew McConnell, Cutler’s owner (and the defining chef of Melbourne circa now), turns out plates that put flavor first. Pickled radish and fresh wasabi make the bright foils to raw duckfish. There’s salmon roe in there too, to bring pops of brine and texture. What’s that extra dose of umami in the salad of heirloom tomatoes and goat’s curd? Why it’s kombu oil, naturally. And that surprise herbal twist in with the grilled calamari, cucumber and oyster sauce? Lemon verbena.
Yet if you want something hot and gutsy served to share, so you can order a bottle of wine and get into a serious conversation with your friends rather than having to pause every 10 minutes while a waiter announces the latest creation to issue from the kitchen, Cutler can more than cater that too. Baking a chicken in salt locks in its moisture; wrapping its legs in bacon and serving them with roasted garlic is the icing on the cake.
A one-kilo slab of dry-aged O’Connor ribeye (sourced, presumably, from McConnell’s luxe butchery, Meatsmith, just a hop, skip and a jump away on Smith Street) needs nothing more than house-made mustard, cabbage and fennel salad (and possibly a bottle of new-style cool-climate Victorian syrah) to shine.
Desserts are unusually good. Fruit of the season stars, as it should: apples, confited and turned into a terrine with the deeply sympathetic accompaniment of burnt-butter ice-cream, say, or blueberries flavoring a Vacherin sharing plate with fromage blanc and blackberry sorbet.