55-57 Gertrude Street Fitzroy, Victoria 3065
|Opening hours||Sun noon-late; Tue-Sun 6pm-late|
|Features||Bar, Accepts bookings, Degustation, Wheelchair access, Vegetarian friendly, Gluten-free options, Private dining, Licensed, Events|
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $40)|
|Chef||Andrew McConnell, Casey McDonald, Allan Eccles,|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9419 4888|
There's a world of difference between a bar in a restaurant and a restaurant bar. A bar in a restaurant is a holding pen before the main event. Great restaurant bars have a sibling relationship with their restaurant – borne of the same family but with distinct personality, a destination in themselves.
The bar at Cutler & Co. is a destination.
Cutler & Co. is celebrating its 10th birthday this year. Over that decade, the bar has changed and evolved from holding pen to dining room extension to, after a renovation by Iva Foschia (who also did next door's Marion) a couple of years back, a card-carrying member of the restaurant bar club that understands its own identity.
The bar has a similar dark-hued, sexy-edgy quality to the dining room, but looser and loucher, energised by proximity to the action and energy of the open kitchen. The bar itself is a free-standing counter among marble-topped tables. It's backed by timber joinery with mirror-backed shelves holding bottles and glassware, hinged so that it can be folded closed like a home drinks cabinet. It gives the space an intimate cocktail party vibe that skews a little '60s retro.
Cutler & Co's hefty wine list is available in the bar but its own drinks list, a two-pager of cocktails, vermouth and aperitives and wines by the glass, better sets the scene.
There are five cocktails listed (classics available on request) that change seasonally and lean towards restrained, old-school and clean-edged. A classic Gibson has a permanent place on the list but mixes it up with a different pickle each month. At present, the fresh mix of Brookie's gin and Chinati Vergano vermouth is teamed with subtly tart pickled cucumber.
The vermouth and aperitif section is worth a nudge, too. It's a place to veer off your beaten track with listings like the pleasingly bitter French aperitif Suze, rhubarb-based Walcher Rondo from Italy and a slightly peppery rosé vermouth from Adelaide Hills Distillery.
In scope and price, wines on the by-the-glass list are a reminder that this is a restaurant bar. There will be no bargains. Still, the bidding starts at a reasonable $11 for wild, fresh Vasco's Mistress Loureiro, made in Portugal by Australian winemakers, before quickly shooting upwards towards premier cru champagne from Savart at $36 a glass.
This being an Andrew McConnell joint, the snacks were always going to push the boat out further than chips and nuts. It's an admirable list of fine-tuned, booze-friendly snacking.
A beautifully textured abalone katsu sandwich vies for cult status with impressive doughnuts, made with choux pastry so they're light, not too bready, a perfect foil for the accompanying sour cream and salmon roe. Fruits de mer, a platter with quality seafood lolling about over ice, is ready for its Instagram moment while a luxe cheeseburger sports O'Connor beef, comte and dill pickle on a brioche bun.
Cutler & Co's bar is a fine example of the independent restaurant bar. At 10 years old, it finally feels all grown up.
Martini Meter 4/5
Entry level here is precise, no-fuss Beefeater gin and Dolin Dry vermouth, correctly chilled and diluted, your choice of twist or olive ($23).
Go-to bar snack In a tight, don't-make-me-choose situation the doughnuts with sour cream and salmon roe might just edge out the abalone katsu sando ($15).
Open Tue-Sat 5pm-midnight, Sun noon-midnight