Saturday, September 18, 2010

Melbourne Epic Part Four

One much-anticipated restaurant meal was followed closely by another for lunch. Cumulus Inc. (click here) was our destination. We arrived later in lunch service and walked in to the busy and buzzing dining room.

A more casual offshoot of Andrew McConnell’s Cutler & Co and simply called an “eating house”, Cumulus has no rules on its menu. Small dishes designed to share like modern tappas. You can order as few or as many dishes as you like at one time or simply order one at a time.

The room has high ceilings and wondrous and some times crazy lights that bear the unmistakable signature of McConnell’s partner Pascal Gomes-McNabb. A long galvanized bar runs down one wall and a long white marble kitchen pass (which you can also sit at) is its opposite. The remainder of the timber floor is taken up by tables and chairs.

Since no bookings under 7 are taken at Cumulus you have to rock-up and hope that they can accommodate you. We were offered stools at the end of the bar or at the tall, round, shared table in the centre of the dining room. We chose the bar so we could see some of the action as the many service staff looked after the packed dining room.

We were presented with menus and a drinks list. Some time passed before we were asked what we would like to eat and drink. A bottle of French pear cider and a blood orange cocktail for Leish.

Round one of drinks

Food arrived quickly, oysters. A large selection is on offer at Cumulus, mostly from Batemans Bay but Tasmania gets a look-in too. The oysters, split to order were great, fresh, salty and each one very different.
 Batemans Bay oyster selection

The next couple of dishes followed quite quickly. Silky smoked eel and waxy turnip dressed in a pungently umami mayonnaise and fresh horseradish.

silky fatty eel  

Silken soft-shell crab with house-made hot sauce. The brilliant red sauce came with a dollop of sour cream to temper its furious heat and the crab with its crispy starch coating was a treat. It is hard to find delicious soft – shell crab but Cumulus managed it perfectly.

 lots of soft shell crab

Nettle soup with thick slices of raw scallop that cooked in the heat of the soup while you were drinking it. The brilliant green soup fills you with a warm glowing feeling from its subtle natural spiciness and its nourishing chlorophyll. The large soft scallops added an opulent texture.

Nettle soup

The last slice of barely cooked scallop

It was then that they service staff forgot about us. Although we were at the bar it seemed that the only time we were approached was when another of our dishes was ready for delivery. Glasses were empty for most of the remainder of our lunch. Not to dwell on a negative we will focus on the wonderful food.

Next came large cubes of very lightly-cured tuna on top of fresh peas and pea tendrils coated in a soured cream dressing. The tuna firm and meaty and the peas sweet and bursting.

Tuna with peas and roquette flowers

cocktail #2 

Air-dried beef sliced delicately thin and simply served with grated fresh horseradish as nature intended.

 perfectly simple beef and horseradish

The obligatory liver parfait was the next three dishes. The parfait soft and almost whipped in texture with softened sultanas and some little herbs. Very rich especially when spread on to the toasted brioche that appeared on the side.

 Cumulus parfait

We also shared pigs’ tails and snails. Soft cooked pork tails flaked off the bone and formed into cylinders where then crumbed and fried before being chopped up and served with soft-braised snails, caper berries and vibrant green spinach puree. Very rich and very sticky with natural gelatin, the tails were great.

Tails and snails

within the tail crumbs

And lastly, florets of purple sprouting broccoli that had been simply blanched and coated in a creamy anchovy and umami rich sauce.

Blanched broccoli

We paid up at the bar before heading back out on to the street with the aim of seeing some of the famous Melbourne city street art before heading back to Little Press for another go at their parfait with cinnamon wafers and syrup.

The Little Press parfait had been so good the first time we had eaten it we thought it was worth another look and it didn’t disappoint. The same as last time, coated in butter and cut by the cinnamon this parfait is a wonder in itself.

We looked at some more paintings and headed back home to get ready for dinner at the renowned Station Hotel in Footscray. Just a short walk from our accommodation, the station is divided into two parts - a pubby-style bar with 8-ball tables and tall stools; and a dining room seating around 100 people with stylish wallpaper and cut flowers.

Outside the Station

A small, steely, open kitchen is staffed by 6 busy chefs who reportedly pump out some of Melbourne’s best steaks every night. The walls of the bar side are adorned with souvenired menus from many of Europe’s best past and present restaurants which give a sneak peak at the station’s head chef’s dining pedigree. A full-scale diagram of a dissected cow with all its parts labeled on one wall gives a sense that they take their steak very seriously too.

 Station's cow diagram

Our table was made ready and we were seated, our waiter promptly brought menus and drinks (in contrast to the service we had seen at lunchtime). Along-side the various steaks, the menu boasts some big flavours and skills.

A homage to Pierre Kaufman’s famous pigs trotter stuffed with sweet breads and rich mushroomy sauce caught Iain’s eye so he decided to have duck liver parfait followed by a 400 gram t-bone and the trotter dish. Elysia, who is a bit more realistic about eating two main courses, had a scotch fillet.

Food arrived quickly, good silky parfait with dressed greens and crunchy croutons comparable to some of Melbourne’s best. Then the steaks - vast elliptical plates piled with delicate-looking salad and golden hand-cut chips accompany the char-grilled beef. Very good quality and very well cooked. And the trotter? Awesome! Skillfully de boned and stuffed with a fine sweetbread mousse with a sweet and sticky mushroom sauce and a huge dollop of silken and buttery mashed potatoes. Most kitchens, let alone busy pub kitchens, wouldn’t attempt to prepare this trotter dish so it was a real treat.

Station's parfait

Kaufman's trotter homage

Iain't t-bone

 Elysia's Scotch fillet

After mains, and since we were on a table of ten, someone thought it would be a good idea to order one of each of the desserts on the menu. Crème bruee, bread and butter pudding and both chocolate and pistachio soufflés. The bread and butter pudding had apparently won best in Victoria recently and it was a good one. Soft and moist with a jellied jammy topping.

 Brulee and bread & butter pudding

The brulee was also textbook. Set, but not too set, and flecked with black vanilla seeds under its sugary crust. And soufflés, at a pub! Almost perfect, the chocolate one was ever so slightly over-cooked but the pistachio with its glowing interior was very well done. Now very full of food we made our way back home for a nightcap and bed.

 Souffles! And the green interior of the pistachio one.

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