Published on October 31st, 2013 | by Magnus Reviewman0
Review 17 – Cumulus Inc.
“The coffee’s so much better in Melbourne”
“Beers are cheaper in Melbourne”
“There’s more to do in Melbourne”
The list of ways in which Melbourne is better than Perth, according to people from Perth, goes on. In fact, if I had a dollar for every time I’d heard one of the above, well, I’d probably be living in Melbourne, and I’d definitely be eating at Cumulus Inc. Brought to the Melbourne dining scene by the ridiculously prolific Andrew McConnell, Cumulus Inc. is arguably as close to culinary Heaven on Earth as you’re likely to get, fitting given it’s named after a low-level cloud formation.
A handful of photos collated from various visits can be found here.
With a focus on seasonal produce and super flavours delivered with finesse, it’s normally among the first places I go after getting off a plane in the spiritual capital of Australia (let’s be honest, not many people have kind things to say about Canberra). It’s got a wonderful light-filled interior with cloud-inspired lights and shapes on the walls and ceiling along with an open kitchen where you can see the talented team at work. The interior transitions to moody evening dining without taking a hit, too. It just feels like a nice place to be, and the staff complement this with an unfussy, friendly and knowledgeable attitude.
The menu is a showcase of the best flora and fauna the land and seas of Australia have to offer. Fresh-off-the-line tuna tartare ($32) is probably the pick of the entrees, with generous gems of tuna laid out on a bed of goat’s curd (the best kind of bed) pairing with a crushed pea salad – a nicely textured, welcome break from the fine-dining cliché of purée.
The slow-roasted lamb ($69) is about as conventional as the Cumulus menu gets, and yet by the time you and the four to six lucky people you’re with are finished (very generous portion), you’ll be wondering how something so ordinary was made so extraordinary. It’s jam-packed with oregano, garlic and lemon flavours, falls off the bone, and comes with the simplest of onion and sumac side dishes. You might find yourself picking up some sumac in your spice aisle afterwards, while you wonder where it’s been all your life. I did.
When it’s on the menu, slow-cooked octopus is out of this world. It melts in the mouth, which is really the only thing you want an eight-legged cephalopod doing in your mouth. And when you taste this leggy protein alongside the powerful black olive oil (it exists), aioli and smoked tomato you’ll wonder why these components don’t hang out more in the wild.
You wouldn’t find nettles hanging out in the wild with anything, let alone pigs. They sting, after all. But as it happens, my least favourite plant makes an awesome garnish for pork chops, as masterfully demonstrated through the pork chop with peppered cabbage, apple and nettle ($36).
And really, that’s what makes the food at Cumulus Inc. so special. Some of these combinations, when you taste them, make perfect, blissful sense. But you, me and even most chefs wouldn’t be able to come up with them. Then there are more run-of-the-mill offerings, but executed to perfection and enhanced through left-of-centre garnishes or sides.
To finish, I’d recommend grabbing a couple of madeleines filled with lemon curd. I mean, what else would you spend your $2.50 on? That’s right – house-made pastry at one of the best eateries in Australia will set you back the same amount of coin you probably have underneath your couch cushions right now. Unbelievable in price, just as good in taste.
Wherever you look on the Cumulus Inc. menu, fairly priced, seasonal fare executed well and with a dash of innovation looks back. Combine the menu with the super staff and wonderful-yet-welcoming interior and the cumulative effect puts yet another feather in Andrew McConnell’s cap. His Asian Fusion diner Supernormal is due to open in 2014, and if Cumulus Inc. is anything to go by, he’ll have to dash to his local hatter to get more caps for all his feathers.
So, the coffee is by and large better. The beer’s always cheaper. And more often than not there’s more to do. But is the food really better in Melbourne? That’s still up for debate. However, the food’s definitely better at Cumulus Inc.
It’s all silver lining and no cloud. 10/10