On my birthday proper, Michael booked us a table for two at Cutler & Co. Though we've long been fans of owner-chef Andrew McConnell's vegetarian options, it's been three years since we were last at this restaurant. It's plenty of time for trends and seasons to have transformed the menu.
I started out with an old classic, anyway - gin and tonic ($9.50), to the drinker's own preferred dilution.
Like many high end restaurants the a la carte menu features a lot of meat. Nevertheless, Cutler & Co slip their vegetarian degustation to all diners and they've proven themselves capable of catering well to vegans and miscellaneous peskytarians. The wait staff remembered from Michael's reservation call that we were vegetarian and made sure to point out what altered and additional a la carte dishes were available. We didn't pay them much mind as we were pretty keen on the degustation ($110 each). The beverage options have expanded with a classic wine pairing (chosen by Michael; $85), a premium wine pairing ($125) and - yay for lightweight me - a non-alcoholic drink pairing ($49).
Beginning bread was served with beetroot chutney, as well as the usual butter and salt. Though the sourdough rolls looked light, they were very crusty. I held off on the white rye, bracing myself for the 6+ courses to come.
McConnell is clearly a pepper de Padron lover, repeatedly serving them in his restaurants for more than seven years. Fried almost to blistering skin and generously salted, this batch were sweeter than usual without a single firecracker among them.
Our first official course was a silky buttermilk mashed potato with a pine nut crumb and crisp-edged kale leaves. The potato tasted of sharp cheese, a trusty companion to green leaves. The apple and lemon juice in my drink effectively cut through the richness, and some muddled celery softened it out and lent an unusual savoury note.
These green spring vegetables were subject to nothing more than the lightest blanching before being served with goats curd and toasted sunflower seeds (sprinkled at the table after an oversight in the kitchen). My paired drink was based on an unfamiliar citrus fruit, more celery, and bay leaf.
Carrots and asparagus also received light treatment, augmented with a green lovage puree and dabs of fromage blanc. We also detected dill and the occasional little burst of sweet aniseed. I was very taken by the accompanying mocktail - grapefruit and verjuice shot through with almond syrup and garnished with sorrel.
In a nod to Japan, braised cos was served with shiitake mushrooms, ginger and sesame. My warm green tea added toasted rice flavours.
Unfortunately the staff were distracted before they could describe our final savoury course. Our plates held pressed eggplant, shanklish and pickles that I found out of place. The menu also mentions honey and elderflower, but these were overpowered by the burned flavour of the eggplant skin. The grain-based side salad, pomegranate seeds and fresh herbs were all rather Ottolenghi. (Ottolenghi is a legitimate adjective in this Plenty-loving house.)
Our sommelier was especially proud of the faux pinot he had for me here - the grape juice base is enhanced with star anise, coriander seeds, and a popular canned Chinese tea.
We declined a cheese course and moved on to the palate cleanser, a real cutie - rose cream, peach sorbet and fresh peach segments.
Dessert proper was fairly cleansing itself - a small tangy quinelle of buttermilk icecream with melon, cucumber and a little oat crumble.
My final paired beverage used more cucumber, muddled into apple juice with elderflower. Its acidity almost gave the sensation that it was carbonated.
The petit four of the night was a fruit-flavoured marshmallow, but our waiter swiftly recalled that the marshmallow would contain gelatine and served us ganache on wafers instead - we reckon it might be secretly superior to the marshmallows.
There's nothing like a parting taste of chocolate to sweeten my judgement. This degustation didn't hold any outstanding individual dishes for me, but I admired its consistent and careful use of fresh, seasonal vegetables (.... though as usual, it wouldn't hurt for a high-end chef to prioritise more plant-based proteins!). If anything the well-paired and varied non-alcoholic beverages are the innovation that elevated my experience. Cutler & Co really does set a consistently high standard - after the incomparable Attica, it's probably my favourite fine dining in Melbourne.
Since that last post, it has received a rave review on easy as vegan pie and a mixed review on Nouveau Potato. Omni bloggers are largely fans - see Sweet & Sour Fork, ChiGarden, BLK's Food Blog, The Glutton's Diet, JKP, A Food Story, Eat, Drink and DIY, I came, I saw, I ate, James Ridenour, let me feed you MELBOURNE, WHAT'S NEXT ON THE LIST, foodie about town, Gourmet Chick, Prick with a Fork and Spoonfuls of Wanderlust - although the experience didn't quite match the reputation for FoodMeUpScotty or The Survival Imperative.
Accessibility: Cutler & Co has a flat entry and generous space between tables. The front bar often contains high benches and chairs, but there are some standard-height booth seats to the side. There's full table service. The toilets we encountered were quite narrow.