Monday, May 07, 2012

Australians all let us rejoice! Cumulus Inc, Melbourne

Kitchen charcuterie selection
What makes you fall in love with a food or beverage outlet? Good food, servers who know your name, or a stool for your handbag? I can't pinpoint exactly what combination of things gets me excited, but I can tell you Cumulus Inc. has it.

The bar seating and the kitchen
Cumulus was opened by the folks behind the now-closed Three, One, Two in Carlton, and when Three, One, Two (hereafter 312 because I'm lazy) was around, I was still living in Melbourne (and hanging around Carlton a whole lot - my uni is there). Back then, 312 seemed very experimental, even compared to Vue de Monde, which was diagonally across the road. To be fair, Vue de Monde was serving a very straightforward duck confit then, geez, I feel like a dinosaur recounting these bits of what seems like ancient history. I remember I only made it into 312 once, with my parents, and they thought it was all too nouveau for them. I never went again, and after that, the crew shut 312, and maybe a year after I left Melbourne, opened Cumulus Inc. in the City and Cutler & Co. in Fitzroy. Funnily enough, I'd sent my mother to Cumulus Inc. a couple of years ago (she loved it), but I had never been till my trip back this year.

Lucy Margaux Sangiovese 2010* 
I almost didn't make it again, if it were not for our gracious host for the night, who was wise enough to ask everyone to get there by 6pm. A chef by trade, he also happened to know some of the staff, so we had lovely recommendations on the wine and a few of the dishes.

Charcuterie, again
The selection of charcuterie was amazing. There was (I think) Wagyu bresaola, pheasant terrine, capocollo, boudin noir, and proscuitto. I could eat this every day.

Gobbling up half the sea
I've always found it a bit annoying that visitors to Australia were so keen on seafood - maybe it's because they go gaga over seafood and forget that there is more to Australian cuisine - but alright, I do enjoy the occasional oyster (or the occasional dozen, ahem).

Roasted figs, goasts cheese (?), toasted brioche (I keep thinking it might have been the foie gras parfait...)
I absolutely love figs, if I tried to eat them in Hong Kong I'd be filing for bankruptcy, which is probably why I forgot what everything else was on that plate. Just look at those melting, caramelised hearts!

Grilled ox tongue, pickled chilli, paprika and parsley
Ox tongue is hardly on any non-Japanese menus and it was great to see it here. It's such a fantastic ingredient - flavourful, full of texture inexpensive - and takes in the flavours around it like a delicious sponge.

Tuna tartare with crushed green pea salad
If you watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi, you'll remember that Jiro mentions liking lean tuna, but the market demands more and more fatty tuna (o-toro). I like both; they're entirely different things - like a leaner steak vs. Wagyu - and in this dish, I loved the combination of lean tuna in medium chunks with minted peas. The freshness of the sea and the freshness of the garden in one dish - incredible.

Fried soft shell crab, kimchi, kewpie
Who doesn't love Kewpie! Well, actually, me - I'm not a huge fan of bottled mayo, even Kewpie, but I will have a smear when the dish calls for it, and these soft shell crabs did. The legs were like fries from the sea, and the kimchi and mayo together formed an alliance much better than ketchup - sweet/roundness with a wee kick.

Roast Aylesbury duck breast, toasted grains. lentils, quince
I have a thing for whole grains and earthy, wheaty flavours (have I ever told you about my guilty pleasure, Marks & Spencer's oatcakes, eaten plain?) I don't know if it's because I've been brainwashed into thinking healthy foods are delicious, or you know what, newsflash - maybe they just are. For those who can't just have a plate of grains for dinner, there was some beautifully roasted duck breast too. Pink, gamey (but not too gamey), juicy, tender, mwah!

Cauliflower with goats curd
Pomegranate and cauliflower, what a novel idea! Little bursts of fruit, a tiny little bitter edge, plus spiced-up cauliflower crumbled into a similar size as the pomegranate seeds.

Whole slow roast leg of lamb
The genius is in the simplicity - and I guess, the accuracy of this roast. A superb, crisp crust, fall-apart, still-pink meat inside. My mouth is watering just thinking about these dishes. Reliving our meals - is that why we blog?

Inside Cumulus Inc. Industrial meets minimalist
From the moment I arrived till after our mains, the restaurant remained extremely busy, which was to be expected, since it was a Friday night**. Seating was tight, and noise levels were through the roof - but then again, this was never intended to be a hush-hush kind of restaurant, and I was loving the buzz.

Rum Baba
The rum baba was probably the only dish that I felt indifferent about - there was nothing wrong with it, it simply didn't wow me - but remember - bloody hell - everything else has! I don't think that's ever happened before.

Malt parfait, spelt crumbs, soft chocolate, PX raisins
This is divinity in a dessert. Malt and chocolate is the genius that Milo has shown us, but this was better than Milo. Less sweet, for one, and more malty, plus there were spelt crumbs, which made it even earthier. I have a thing for carbs that taste really earthy and wheaty, like oatcakes and dark rye, and it was that kind of flavour profile in this dessert that was pushing all my buttons. I didn't really even need the Pedro Ximenez-soaked raisins to counter it.

Madeleines filled with lemon curd
The no-bookings policy might put some people off. To be honest, I don't like it much either, but if you decide to go, go at an off hour. With all these walk-in only places popping up left right and centre all of a sudden, that's become my strategy. I'd also try and go early rather than late - so for dinner, for instance, I'd try and go Mon-Wed, before 6pm. They also have a fantastic-looking breakfast menu that I must try... Argh, why is the Aussie dollar so strong...

Cumulus Inc. is labelled Modern Australian, which in the past, could have been anything from Teage Ezard's heavily-Asian-inflected cuisine to a pizza made with tofu. But as with all things, Modern Australian has come into its own, and really grown into that definition in recent years. Sure, there are still people trying to put miso onto zucchinis and putting it into a pasta bake, but we've come a long enough way that there is now a modern cuisine in Australia that one cannot eat it and say, "oh it's European-influenced". It's become a true, mature representation of the mix of cultures in the country, and simultaneously maximises the wonderful produce it has. The food at Cumulus uses ingredients that are not unfamiliar to the average diner, but they've re-imagined completely how they can be used, to brilliant effect. It's the result of time and experience. I'm delighted, proud, even, to call this Modern Australian.

*Thank you The Basket Press aka Mr.Wine Detective for identifying the label!
**In fact, Cumulus is busy every night - get there early!

Cumulus Inc.
45 Flinders Lane
+613 9650 1445
Mon-Fri 7am-11pm, Sat-Sun 8am-11pm, no bookings unless for groups of over 14 people.

View e_ting in Melbourne/Victoria in a larger map

In case you were wondering where the blog title came from, it's the first line of the Australian national anthem, Advance Australia Fair, the lyrics of which apply pretty well to this post!

Australians all let us rejoice
For we are young and free
We've golden soil and wealth for toil,
Our home is girt by sea:
Our land abounds in nature's gifts
Of beauty rich and rare,
In history's page let every stage
Advance Australia fair,
In joyful strains then let us sing
Advance Australia fair.

Beneath our radiant Southern Cross,
We'll toil with hearts and hands,
To make this Commonwealth of ours
Renowned of all the lands,
For those who've come across the seas
We've boundless plains to share,
With courage let us all combine
To advance Australia fair.
In joyful strains then let us sing,
Advance Australia fair.


  1. I love and miss this place so much!

    Your blog is keeping me awake :D

    It isn't fine dining but it is more about flavours and everything done so right here.. Used to be like a canteen to me, more than most other places!

  2. I <3 Lucy Margaux... It's made me believe in Adelaide Hills pinot noir!

    (I'll bring you a bottle of their single vineyard stuff next visit)