There is a cost to popularity. Once you have a defined space, there is only so many chairs you can pack into it. After that, the only option to make larger profits is to increase prices or reduce costs. It is obvious that none of these measures is likely to work in the long term. It is this conundrum that must have restaurateurs constantly asking the question of “what’s next?”
Andrew McConnell asked this question over five years ago when Cutler and Co. was going great guns. He came up with a city restaurant with a bistro feel, with a no bookings policy, and dishes with many influences, often served to share. Cumulus Inc has been full ever since and never forget it came before Chin Chin, setting the scene for the strongest culinary street in Australia.
It is not unusual for a popular restaurant to expand in some way. Think about St Ali going across the street for a waiting room that was the antithesis of any other waiting room you’ve been in; or Cafe Di Stasio and its wine bar; or even earlier and Longrain in Sydney which was the first time waiting in their cocktail lounge was cooler than being seated. It seems Cumulus had only one way to go and that was Up!
Cumulus Up takes advantage of the second floor of the main restaurant. It has its own personality but began life as a place to grab a drink and graze while waiting for a seat downstairs. These days it seems it is almost as difficult to get in upstairs as it is downstairs. It is both intimate with low lighting and dark furnishings, as it is communal.
To be entirely honest, I haven’t been to Cumulus for a while and I did want to dine there tonight. The last time we missed out we had a double miss because Up was closed for a function. This time we are able to go up and we don’t hesitate. As we wait to be seated we are shown the menu and start our usual negotiation. However, once we are pointed to the blackboard specials our choice becomes simple.
The 600g O’Connor ribeye steak, which comes with a Cafe de Paris butter, is just the dish of indulgence we feel like tonight. Initially we were on our way into Richmond before one thing led to another and we had tried a cocktail at Romeo Lane before heading here after 8.30pm. With the addition of roasted potatoes and a leafy salad as sides we are set.
As we had ordered, the ribeye comes out medium rare. Other than a few fatty threads it is very tender, with a delicious salty char providing a burst in each bite. There’s enough of the butter and herb sauce to provide a softened texture and even more layers of flavour. When combined with the gorgeous roasted potatoes it doesn’t get much more comforting. Even the leafy salad was great.
After such a delicious main to share we took a short break before ordering dessert. I needed to try the chocolate ice cream sandwich, claiming the dessert at the same time as mentioning we could share. Catherine went for her second option for us to share with a refreshing combination of lemon verbena, fresh fruit and yoghurt cream. Whilst the latter dish was refreshing, the former took the honours by a mile and is the only one we would go back for. The butterscotch was the icing on the cake.
An unanticipated sojourn indulging in wine, steak and chocolate doesn’t get much better than this. Downstairs spawned Andrew’s next adventures into places like Golden Fields (now Supernormal) and Moon Under Water, just as it provided some of the impetus for the next generation of Flinders Lane restaurants. But when downstairs is full there should be no hesitation in going up.