Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Dining out is probably the one simple life pleasure I miss most since the start of motherhood 3 months ago. My relationship with food has evolved from seeking joy in every bite to rummaging for food that can be eaten cold with one hand whilst the other holds a screaming baby (think muesli bars).
Babysitters are few on the ground since moving to a new city without family and friends, so when my visiting mother-in-law offered to babysit on Saturday night of course I jumped at the chance.
The best restaurants in Melbourne are impossible to get a table at on the day, so we opted for one that didn’t take bookings. Cumulus Inc is a firm favourite on the Melbourne eating scene, and came highly recommended by friends so hubby and I had very high expectations. It was again awarded one hat in this year’s Age Good Food Guide 2012, announced in August 2011.
Cumulus Inc is a bar cum café cum restaurant made famous by chef Andrew McConnell, open all day from breakfast to last nightcap. The brief but thoughtful a la carte menu is set up for sharing, made up of a handful of fish and meat mains, as well as oysters and charcuterie selection.
The restaurant itself is a great place to meet friends, with a bar stools along one side against the bar, and more bar seats along the opposite wall for a birdseye into the open kitchen. In between are the more standard restaurant style tables. Service is friendly and informative – we were initially sat at the bar, and asked to move to an empty table, which they were happy to oblige. Turning up at 6pm for a table ensures we sit straight away, however less than an hour later we can see that the number of people being turned away grows.
We started with the Fried soft shell crab & school prawns, shredded cabbage, honey & chardonnay vinegar. Not bad, but it didn’t knock our socks off. Visually the whole dish looked a little vanilla, which may have also influenced the taste.
Now for the main – we opted for the signature dish of whole slow roast lamb shoulder to share. We also ordered a side of Spiced cauliflower with goat’s curd. Now I’m going to go ahead and say it –this may be controversial, but the lamb was nowhere near the best I have had in Melbourne. It was good but not great. As I said to my husband half way through the dish, after all the accolades I was expecting this lamb to make love to my taste buds. He agreed that it felt more like being screwed over. Its not that the lamb didn’t fall off the bone (it did) or that it wasn’t tasty (it was). It was just lacking overall. Some kind of yoghurt or sauce accompaniment besides the red onions may have done the job.
According to food writer Janne Apelgren, this year’s biggest trend was dude food – a marriage of street food, barbeque and fast food on a roller coaster ride of taste. This may have also been the reason why the whole roast lamb shoulder felt lacking – we’ve been too spoilt with mini flavour bursts like sticky pork belly tacos and crispy prawn betel leaves.
As far as outstanding lamb in Melbourne goes, my pick would be The Press Club. Hubby had recently eaten at Golden Fields, Andrew McConnell’s first solo venture restaurant, and raved about this lamb shoulder. We both also agreed the lamb at The Newmarket Hotel was a better taste sensation.
Redemption for the meal came in the form of dessert. We shared the plate of Mandarin sorbet, soft chocolate and clove meringue, as well as a couple of lemon curd filled Madeleine’s. The orange intensity of the sorbet was heavenly, the perfect coupling for the dark chocolate mousse like accompaniment. The Madeleine’s too were delicious, and baked and filled fresh and served hot at the table.
However good dessert and service could not save this meal for us in the end, and with dinners out now few and far between, I don’t think Cumulus Inc is one I will be venturing back to anytime soon.
Did you know?
– Andrew McConnell (previously of Circa fame) opened Cumulous Inc in 2008 to rave reviews, followed by Cutler & Co Dining Room and Bar in Fitzroy. More recently he has launched his first solo venture south of the river with Golden Fields in St Kilda in 2011.
– McConnell added to his hat for Cumulus Inc. with another for his new restaurant Golden Fields, in St Kilda.