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|
The bar is back, the looks are luxe, and seafood, that unicorn of Melbourne dining, is a red hot thing. Meet Cutler & Co 2.0, ladies and gentlemen. And start your engines.
You've got to hand it to chronic chef-restaurateur Andrew McConnell, he knows how to edit. His flagship Gertrude Street fine diner has held steady over seven years, but it was on the brink of fading.
Cue a pre-emptive strike through a reno and rethink that's brought it rocketing back into the here, now and essential by splitting Cutler into two separate entities: a party up the front with serious business out the back.
Courtesy of gun designer Iva Foschia, you enter a glowing lounge of marble and light. Strong deco lines frame a bustling kitchen. An aperitif bar is loaded with vermouth and icy fizz.
McConnell, keen to make the forecourt a drink-and-snack destination without cannibalising Marion next door (his wine bar where it's all about share-plating and party wines), the focus here is aperitifs, cocktails and a "dinner" you'll build one snack and yabby at a time.
Bringing the fun to life is chef Chris Watson, last at Luxembourg, and long-time side kick to McConnell through Circa. The menu reads like a best-of-the-McConnell empire.
There's a Supernormal-ish tonkatsu sandwich of crumbed baby abalone laced with bulldog sauce – sophistication swaddled in the trashiest of bread. Bite-size doughnuts are built for busting open and filling with salmon roe, chives and cool creme fraiche.
From the glowing bar top come sourdough cobs from baker-to-watch Baker Bleu, and flaky, buttery fingers of anchovy tart, all onion sweetness and roasted peppers with a potency-to-size ratio that's off the charts.
To long-time habitues of Cutler, the return of a drive-by bar menu (discarded after the restaurant's first year, which many felt was a mistake) is music to your ears.
But this is more than a reboot. The music is louder, the tables taller, the good times plentiful. Better yet is the list of sparkling sea creatures on the B-side of the bar menu that are likely to become the restaurant's A-game.
Procure the periwinkles. Eat the mussel escabeche. Your faith in McConnell's gold standard suppliers isn't misplaced. Day to day it might be Wapengo oysters, cream of the sea, sweet little honey bugs to swipe through aioli, and something random from his secret co-op of fishermen down Mornington way.
Given all this, it's possible bar island isn't a place you'll want to leave. That's an instinct you don't have to fight. Throw in a red claw yabby, shells cracked but otherwise yours to dismember by hand, plus a bottle of pet nat or Mukai red rice sake you've got a party with legs. And claws.
The dining room is built for different needs. Darker, sleeker, its tables are lit by candles melting over wee willie winkie holders. There's comfort in deep leather booths and the a la carte and deg menus play a far straighter game than before.
You can still throw lewd cash at a 1.1kg steak. In fact, you can double down with a corn-fed hen baked in a salt-dough sarcophagus. Carved to order, it's a tender arrangement of breast and pancetta-bound legs over which you squeeze a whole head of roasted garlic.
There's still elegance in curated plates of rosy pigeon bits: crisp leg and iron-rich liver with grilled figs and bitter leaves, all loosely draped in jamon. You'll find the core produce-first mentality alive and well in miso-buttered Lakes Entrance bugs, electrified by lemon. But then you take a half turn to classic with a pithivier packed with local 'shrooms, foot-ripe comte and celeriac.
Back it all with the typical Cutler perks (veg-appreciation seen in runner beans that are enriched with a tarragon emulsion; surprise snacks like saltbush-crested parmesan biscuit to open and the simple, stunning vanilla cream and passionfruit sorbet pre-dessert and you have a Cutler that is not a just good time, but a forseeable long time play.
It's the same story everywhere it counts, especially in whip smart service from a familiar crew, but across the board they've relaxed the brief.
There's actually no greater moment than challenging sommelier Liam O'Brien – the guy behind the list of epic depth and flex – to nail something for $60 and having him come back with a $32 belter.
High five, team Cutler. Welcome back to the future.
The bar is back, the looks are luxe, and seafood, that unicorn of Melbourne dining, is a red hot thing.
Vibe: Party up the front, straight-edge dining out the back.
Pro Tip: If you want to party purely in the bar, trust the instinct.
Go-to Dish: Be my hero and go in for a single red claw yabby and a magnum.