When I think of Cutler, I think back to the biggest storm Melbourne has experienced in modern times. My friends and I had earlier seen cars almost completely underwater, as we skulked away from the Flemington races, our suits completely soaked, saved from the heaviest hail by the grandstand but still frozen as ice. To our disappointment, the feature races had been abandoned, and no taxi in their right mind would pick us up. We walked into the city to get a lift from my mate’s understanding wife and quickly got home to shower, change and try to enjoy a several course meal in Melbourne’s most spoken about restaurant.
The meal that night was great, but we hadn’t really recovered, and what sticks in my mind is a dish of radish that was not cooked and seemingly just straight from the garden. The next occasion I had was a work dinner where we did the degustation again, and that was a lot more comfortable. I have built up expectations of Andrew McConnell’s food. If it was still around, effectively the restaurant that became Cutler, Three One Two in Carlton, would rate as one of my best dining experiences, and his kingfish entree as one of my best dishes of all time. The times I’ve been to Cutler have demonstrated very well the amazing talent of McConnell and his staff – both in the kitchen, on the floor, and in the design of his restaurants. He has the now sadly closed Golden Fields, making way for the new Supernormal coming in May; Cumulus Inc and Up; and Moon Under Water at the old Builder’s Arms. They are all places that I love to dine in, that Melbourne loves to call their own.
Somehow, Easter Sunday has become a traditional night for Catherine and I dining out at nice restaurants. Last year’s experience at Arzak in San Sebastian was the epitome of indulgence and wonder. Now tonight I finally got the feeling at Cutler that I had been looking for from the Three One Two days. I am absolutely positive it was me and not you Andrew! Either way, from the first dish to the last everything was exceptional this time round.
We shared the heirloom salad to begin. The great thing about sharing here is that they divide the entree into two plates, and still present it beautifully. If there was a dish on my list of current “fads” that ends up becoming part of “normal” dining, it is heirloom tomatoes. When you combine them with herbs like tarragon, parsley, and thyme, and add texture with the filo pastry, they are the most simple and wonderful ingredient imaginable.
For main Catherine had the roast chicken. I’m not sure if there is any technique used before roasting (such as sous vide), but the chicken is absolutely perfect. Lifting it was a very rich polenta and delicious baby corn that has to be from someone’s home garden. For my main I had the roasted and breaded veal. The roast veal was impeccably done – pink and tender; the breaded veal was even tastier and when combined with each bite, the crumb added the texture that the cipollini onions needed. The saltbush is a really interesting ingredient to use and worked nicely, also adding a bit of crunch and of course, salt. Put together this was an exceptional dish. I find often that entrees can be more interesting than mains on a menu. For entrees, chefs don’t feel the pressure to fill you up, and the pressure to attract you to a further dish. While both of our mains were a good size, they tasted as interesting as any entree going around, and in both dishes richness was balanced to the last taste.
Desserts ended what was a perfect streak of courses. The refresher prior to dessert was a delicious combination of raspberries and rhubarb, with a yoghurt sorbet, drizzled in olive oil and a pinch of black salt. We shared both desserts. The strawberries were fantastic with both fresh and dehydrated featuring, along with some strawberry jelly, white chocolate crumbled over, and the hay ice cream playing its part to bring it together. It was sweet enough for sweet-tooths like us, but savoury enough for someone looking for more sugary restraint. The soft chocolate, part mousse and part like an aero bar, were of the sweet-tooth persuasion. The milk sorbet and malt, again, combined well, but the highlight was the chocolate! Just when we thought we’d had enough the petit fours finished us off. McConnell has always had a thing with jelly and his beetroot jube is great, but the homemade liquorice was just beautiful. I still had the great taste in my mouth minutes after leaving the restaurant!
For a pre-show dinner, this was pretty indulgent. But it seems whether you are at the flagship, or one of the other greats in the portfolio, every time you go to a place headed by Andrew McConnell is an indulgent experience.