Monday, December 21, 2009

December 20, 2009: Cutler and Co

First things first, a quick rant:

Cindy and I have been big fans of Andrew McConnell. He's wowed us at three, one, two and Cumulus Inc, been a drunken food critic at the Circus Pie Classic and consistently included vego options when he does the recipes for the Good Weekend magazine in The Age. So I was pretty excited to hear last year that his new restaurant, Cutler and Co, was opening right across from where I work. Unfortunately, as part of the process of opening it, McConnell started a whispering campaign in an attempt to force my workplace out of Gertrude Street. I'm happy to admit that the clientele of the drug and alcohol centre I work at are unlikely to be dining at Cutler and Co any time soon and that they're not always the most stable folks but, y'know, it seems pretty important that they have access to health services. While Gertrude Street is gentrifying like crazy, I'm not impressed by a high-end restauranteur that turns up and tries to sweep people who've been around the street for decades away to somewhere a bit less visible. Thankfully it all blew over fairly quickly and the lowering of the tone from our side of the street hasn't seemed to damage Cutler and Co's reception too much. But it meant that I kept up a silent boycott for the best part of a year, despite rave after rave after rave.

Finally, with Cindy's family in town and a fancy lunch on the agenda, I decided to get over myself and see if Cutler and Co could live up to the hype. It's a good time of year to do so, what with them supporting the StreetSmart campaign. It's a big, beautiful space, with an odd mix of stark (bare concrete ceilings) and ornate in a high-ceilinged old factory building. Sunday lunch-time is fixed-menu time at C & C, so we weren't stuck with too many difficult choices: the entrees are set, so all you have to do is choose a main and a dessert from short lists (a choice of 1 for vegos in the main section). We'd let the staff know ahead of time that we had two vegetarians, so they'd made a few tweaks to some of the entrees to ensure we got to try everything.

Our first plate was a mix of French breakfast radishes and cute little bread chips with smoked tomato dolloped on top. Even a tomato-skeptic like me was enamoured by the smoky, sweet mush on top of the crunchy bread pieces. It was a pretty great start. The radishes provoked a few raised eyebrows - do we just crunch into them? Turns out we do. They're more tender and less tart than I'd imagined, and were basically a burst of freshness in my mouth.

Next up were the peppers de padron, which had ambushed Cindy at three, one, two the first time we at there (these are like russian roulette in pepper form with the odd viciously hot one amongst the generally mild majority). This time around we didn't seem to get a loaded pepper, with just six perfectly cooked little bundles of sweet, warming adventure.

Our next entree, zucchini, smoked tomato and salted ricottta, was probably the most visually appealing plate of the meal, with the greens and yellows of the zucchini standing out against the bright white of the ricotta. Luckily, it had more than just good looks, with the gloriously fresh zucchini proving the perfect vessel for all the other flavours on the plate.

Our asparagus and egg sauce came out without the terrifying sounding 'prawn floss' promised, meaning we could happily chow down on these lightly cooked spears of deliciousness.

The most substantial of the entrees was the cous cous salad. This was probably my favourite dish of the day, with a depth of flavour that belied its seeming simplicity. Sweet currants, crunchy almonds and a mysterious green herb were the obvious ingredients, but this was much more than the sum of its parts - I had to restrain myself from scarfing the whole thing before anyone else had a taste.

Having shared our way through five plates, it was time for the mains. Cindy and I had just the one choice: Fataya pastry, filled with fetta, silverbeet and almond. This was a thick pastry bowl, stuffed with tender, herby silverbeet, topped with what we think was shaved fennel and served with a hommoussy sauce. It was well cooked and combined some great flavours, with the herbs (more fennel maybe?) working with the soft, salty fetta and the earthiness of the silverbeet.

With two desserts (plus a cheese plate) to choose from, Cindy and I could happily sample both the sweet treats on offer (unfortunately for Cindy, the ice-cream sandwich that she was pining for is an a la carte only option).

I went for the sheep's milk yoghurt, beetroot icecream and almond sponge, purely for the thrill of trying beetroot icecream. Colour aside, I'd never have picked the beetroot flavour, which was an intriguing sweetness with maybe a tiny hint of beetroot's earthiness. The almond sponge was mostly just a sop for the fast-melting icecream, while the spongey yoghurt square and the clear floral jelly were nice textural oddities, but didn't have the most memorable flavours.

Cindy's dessert was a poached apple with salted caramel, spiced biscuit and burnt butter icecream. This was another fun combination of textures, with a firm apple, crunchy little biscuit bits, gooey caramel and soft icecream. Cindy made little combinations of everything on her spoon and enjoyed the mix of flavours without being quite as blown away as she was expecting (I think she was still in mourning for the icecream sandwich at this point - we'll have to follow Claire's lead and do a Trippytaco and Cutler and Co combo one night).

At $65 a pop, this isn't a casual Sunday lunch, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a more enjoyable place to go for a daytime special occasion. Everything was well-considered and brilliantly executed, and we had none of the service problems reported occassionally elsewhere. Despite my misgivings about Cutler and Co's aggressive gentrification of Gertrude Street, it's hard to argue with the result - outstanding food with excellent service in a beautiful space. I'm going to bury the hatchet I think - I'd only be punishing myself.

Address: 55-57 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy
Ph: 9419 4888
Price: Sunday lunches, $65 (typically entrees will set you back about $20 and mains about $40)
Website: (be warned, it's one of those ludicrous fancy slow sites)


  1. hi guys! thanks for the invite cindy, I have the deets through lisa on FB.. see you both there! happy christmas!

  2. You can get chestnuts from Asian grocery store rather cheaply actually. They're prepacked snack type thing and only a couple of dollars a bag.

  3. Awesome, Carla - see you soon!

    Thanks, Kat! I think I've seen them vacuum-packed at an Asian grocery before, but didn't have time to explore properly before that tofurkey extravaganza. :-)