Cutler & Co: New-school cool and food to love. Photo: Ken Irwin
Restaurant years are like dog years: their clock ticks that much faster than the accepted human notion of time. In an industry so fickle reaching your first birthday is now seen as an achievement. Five years is squarely, unsexily middle-aged.
But pay heed, people of Melbourne queuing for Andean barbecue and Vietnamese tacos and whatever else is so hot right now this week. Despite being positively ancient, Cutler & Co still scratches that itch: the one that wants to be where the action is, where the food excites and the ambience fizzes and the waiters make you laugh while doing their job with the velvet smoothness of the very best.
At this particular midweek dinner during the most unpredictable time of year, Cutler & Co isn't on the rolling boil of its early days. It's more like a steady simmer at a place bold (or foolhardy) enough to have created its own competition. Andrew McConnell has added the Builders Arms and Moon Under Water just down the road, plus Golden Fields in St Kilda and Cumulus Up in the city. And hey, we all know about the impending arrival of SuperNormal next year. But Cutler & Co remains the flagship restaurant among the eating houses and wine bars and what not.
Marron, green sauce and jamon. Photo: Ken Irwin
Things have changed. The kitchen has been wrenched from seclusion and put front and centre in the space formerly occupied by the bar. It brings life and energy to a room that remains the model of new-school cool. The only other obvious bits of post-2009 zhooshing are the mood-lit tree ferns on the rear wall. They avert a potential dead zone with a touch of Jurassic Park-inspired surrealism.
And the food? This is food to love. Confident enough not to make a fuss, but harbouring little curios, like the slices of confit duck gizzard masquerading as liver on a plate of modulated reds: the blushing pink of smoked duck breast with hints of star anise and orange, the candy-brightness of a sweet-sour cherry sauce, and the rich dark maroon of beetroot. Not to mention a dark smoosh of boudin noir on a sweetish rye cracker that smooths out any corners.
You'd be similarly hard pressed to find any frou-frou with the just-poached marron tail in a new-green sea of broad beans and peas, blanched for a nanosecond before being bedded in a herby green emulsion and gritty almond cream. Wisps of jamon posing impressionistically over the top turn it into an upscale surf and turf.
If there's a criticism it's that the menu nudges determined red meat eaters on to the $160 rib eye for two, or the quarter suckling pig for - gulp - $220. On a similar note, the wine list is marvellous but the prices are ambitious. There's also a wood-grilled beef rib on the $130 degustation menu, but go a la carte and the four entrees-four mains are devoid of ovine, bovine and porcine.
Facing those odds you might opt to get your red meat fix with the bar snacks-slash-appetisers, including luscious slices of wagyu bresaola dusted with horseradish. Or think laterally and hop over to the main of roasted rock flathead. With its hearty caramelised crust and an umami-fied support crew of shiitakes and eggplant, with the silken note of spanner crab, it's as meaty as a fish dish gets.
There's also unexpected presence to the soft polenta anchoring two perfect batons of roast chicken with baby corn and garlic shoots. They make it in-house from scratch; it's fabulously tasty.
Come dessert, the Cutler cannoli isn't a real, faithful cannoli, as you'd probably expect; nor is it one of those boring deconstructions with a useless pile of crumbs, which is a very good thing. This is a proper, intelligent reimagining: fried pastry and crackable shards of milk skin, whipped ricotta and soft chocolate and segments of orange from which every tiny strand of pith has been meticulously removed. McConnell's desserts have always been up there, which is impressive for a restaurant with no dedicated pastry chef. Cutler & Co is three acts of equal strength. Not bad for an old girl.
The best bit The food - faultless
The worst bit More meat needed on the main carte
Go-to dish Marron, green sauce, jamon, $32
- 03 9419 4888
- Cuisine - Contemporary
- Prices - Typical entree, $27; main, $45; desserts, $19
- Features - Accepts bookings, Licensed, Gluten-free options, Wheelchair access, Outdoor seating
- Chef(s) - Andrew McConnell & Chris Watson
- Owners - Andrew McConnell & Frank Van Haandel
- Cards accepted - AMEX, Mastercard, Visa, EFTPOS
- Opening Hours - Daily, 6-11pm; Fri & Sun, noon-3pm (added lunch hours: Tues-Sun Nov 26-Dec 22)
- Author - Larissa Dubecki