45 Flinders Lane Melbourne, Victoria 3000
|Opening hours||Mon-Thu 5pm-late, Fri noon-late, Sat-Sun 8am-late|
|Features||Outdoor seating, Bar, Accepts bookings, Breakfast-brunch, Business lunch, Late night, Licensed, Long lunch, Private dining, Romance-first date, Wheelchair access|
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9650 1445|
This might sound strange but when I heard last week that Flinders Lane's Gimlet had been voted onto the annual World's 50 Best Restaurants list at an exciting (if innumerate) 84, I thought immediately of Cumulus Inc, the dining room further up the hill.
Both restaurants are part of Trader House, the restaurant and provedore collective owned by Melbourne chef Andrew McConnell and his wife Jo McGann. (Cutler & Co, Marion, Meatsmith, Morning Market, Supernormal and Builders Arms Hotel are the other venues.)
Gimlet, which opened (closed, opened) in 2020, deserves accolades: the grand corner dining room makes an event of the merest slice of bread, and the offering is sweeping, confident, celebratory. It's just that Cumulus Inc feels to me like the spry stayer whose shoulders Gimlet stands upon to preen and shine.
Founded in 2008 by McConnell, architect Pascale Gomes-McNabb and winemaker Jayden Ong, Cumulus both created and captured Melbourne's dining zeitgeist, offering bookings-free, all-day, produce-focused dining that was both easy (to love) and hard (to get a table).
It was fine dining but casual, whip-smart and welcoming. It made lamb shoulder trendy. It was a pulsing spot on our heat map, a destination food-loving visitors would come to for a transfusion of Melbourne culture. It also became a key hospitality training ground.
Then came the pandemic and various iterations of post-lockdown disquietude. In this version of Melbourne, it is no longer practical to open the doors every day at 7am and start baking madeleines.
But this is Cumulus, a place that meets Melbourne where it's at and guides us into new versions of ourselves. And what Cumulus is showing us now is that we can be very splendid weekend brunchers.
Come before noon and the menu starts quite breakfasty. There's raisin toast, crumpets and an English breakfast that veers into Scotland by adding a square Lorne sausage studded with black pudding.
But there's also fancier brunch stuff, often eggy and leaning towards seafood. Lemon-and-mayo spanner crab is piled over pan-toasted thick-cut shokupan (airy Japanese bread).
A fluffy frittata with smoked trout and salmon roe shimmers under a poised pile of soft herbs.
In the afternoon, the brunch menu shifts to extra luxe. Lobster mousseline is folded into agnolotti and dressed with a shellfishy tomato-spiked butter sauce. Veal is crumbed, fried and topped with a sunnyside-up egg.
There's a very spicy Bloody Mary – with mezcal, if you like (I do) – and clever wine ideas, presented with an expert upsell that makes you feel incredibly civilised for being tipsy at 12 on a Sunday.
I love the sophistication, the optimism, the eternal buzz of the room and, of course, the sharp cooking. You can book, too.
There's a caveat. This brunch concept is a test, guaranteed for winter and then they'll see if it stacks up – what with weekend penalty rates and the vagaries of viral variants.
Whatever happens, I trust Cumulus Inc and its constant questing, its thoughtful reformatting of Melbourne dining, for now, then and whatever is next.