The food just keeps getting better…Melbourne 2014

We’ve had some fantastic meals already in Australia this visit, but let me mention a couple of highlights in this post.

First up, a lucky find. We walked into what used to be no more than a cheese shop – The Two Tall Chefs – only to discover that we had to stay for breakfast. The menu is breakfast and lunch, the sort of thing that we eat for b/f as a rule, whilst Europeans are boring themselves to death with croissants. I had house smoked trout with a watercress salad on roesti – wonderful. Yet again I take note that I all but never have bad roesti in Australia, whilst in Europe I have yet to have a good version. Manny had an inspired take on scotch eggs. Quail eggs, soft-hard boiled in a coating which included prawn and salt cod, this on a bed of spinach and mushrooms. Coffee and tea were both good. Service was sweet, casual cafe style. We took home cheese and a fine pork pie and I’m dying to go back.

Next, a visit to Cumulus Inc. Well, actually two visits, dinner and breakfast, followed by a visit to Cumulus Up.

Lamb ribs at Cumulus Up
Lamb ribs at Cumulus Up

My pictures don’t do justice to the experience of eating the food….but they are here for the picture junkies. The lamb ribs were sensational. The Cumulus Inc b/f and my bacon sandwich could not have been better done. Missing from the picture are drinks and lovely jams to go with the toast.

The Cumulus Inc breakfast
The Cumulus Inc breakfast
The Cumulus take on the bacon sandwich
The Cumulus take on the bacon sandwich

Breakfast finished on a delightful sweet note.

The famous Cumulus madeleines with lemon curd
The famous Cumulus madeleines with lemon curd

It is pleasing to see a trendy place that’s been around for a few years has stayed true to itself and has lost nothing that made it a winner from the start. I’ve been eating at wonderful restaurants since my parents used to take us to the original Neddy’s (Cheong Liew) in Adelaide in the seventies and I’m stretching to recall if I’ve ever been to a restaurant that has such excellent service to match impeccable food.

Not only that, but I’m forced to eat my words on not one, but two counts.

Last time I was in Australia I boycotted all celebrity business chefs. The ones who put their names to so many venues, they are clearly not cooking at any of them. Such a chef would seem to be Andrew McConnell who lends his name to Cumulus Inc and Up. In fact, I wrote this to his group’s email address last year last year:

Hi….does the chef Andrew who promotes this restaurant actually cook there? As far as I can tell, every top chef now has at least several restaurants locally, but probably isn’t even at any of them, probably he is opening up his branch in London, or doing the publicity for his latest book…I would like to go to a restaurant that has a chef who loves his work and loves the place he has built and wants to be there – are there any of them left? If so, where are they, I wonder?

and received the following from his PA:

I very much understand where you are coming from as it is difficult to know these days if celebrity chefs actually cook in their venues. I can honestly say that Andrew spends quite a bit of time cooking in each of his restaurants on a weekly basis. He feels the mentoring he can provide his chefs is invaluable. Andrew also does not like to consider himself a ‘celebrity chef’ even though he does get many requests from the media.

I’m know Andrew would be delighted if you were to visit one of his restaurants while you are in Melbourne. I cannot guarantee where he will be on any given day but you can take my word that he does spend much of his time in his restaurants.

At the time I was too depressed about the whole situation to take Lisa at her word, but now I find myself retracting my disgruntledness. I can quite see that McConnell must be a fabulous inspiration to a generation of young chefs working under him. Clarity, simplicity, sophistication and at times sheer ingenuity all sit together. I wish I had a picture to show you of the ‘duck waffle, foie gras & prune’ and also the ‘kale fritters’ we had in the wine bar, but my attempts failed. The service in all places was knowledgeable, friendly at the right distance, and utterly efficient without ever making you feel like they were waiting to recycle your table, even if that is what was happening – I’m not saying it was, but it often is the Australian way.

I love places like The Two Tall Chefs, which I think is exactly what I pine for – places that are content in themselves, the chefs here are not trying to take over the world, they respect their little spot in it – and this means respecting the customer. These things do go together. But I can see the other scenario can work too, if only because the McConnell stable of restaurants is the demonstration of it.

The other retraction? Recently I lent my approval to a Gluttony Fair’s take on tapas. My retraction is limited – sharing can work without feeling like an unnecessary contrivance or a way of extracting more silver from the punter. Again, Cumulus is the proof.

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3 thoughts on “The food just keeps getting better…Melbourne 2014

  1. I’m a bit sceptical about the lemon curd with the madeleines, because I’m sure no red-blooded French person with pep in their veins would condone that sort of embellishment, but the madeleines themselves look lovely and light. I’m sure Proust would approve, provided the curd was hidden in a dungeon somewhere.

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    • This is what happens when you are in Australia. You manage to eat madeleines without mentioning the P person at all. I’ve never eaten one before, but I can testify that it was nice.

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