Cumulus Inc.

It was the day of my birthday, I was in Melbourne and I hadn’t booked anywhere for lunch. You may say that was silly but I had so many options I couldn’t go wrong. All weekend I had wanted lunch seriously early. I seemed to be starving by 1130am and pacing the streets waiting for lunch service to start.

Cumulus Inc. was busy with people still finishing brunch or having a morning cake stop. I hoped I wouldn’t look like a starving earlybird sitting at the marble counter, which overlooks the open kitchen, waiting for lunch service to start. The kitchen area is small and it’s packed with chefs bumping elbows with each other.

One of the first things I liked about Cumulus Inc. was that their menu was a tapas and sharing plate style where most of the sharing plates can be halved. Fantastic news for people who like to try alot of different dishes or for solo diners. The choices just became all that harder or maybe easier because I could have more.

Slow Braised octopus with aioli and dehydrated olives came out first. It was a pretty picture with a touch of chilli and basil. The octopus was soft and the there was a good balance to the dish. No need to take that olive oil back to the kitchen either, I’ll be finishing that off with my bread.

Sitting in front of the kitchen lends itself to some enlightenment. I was sitting in front of the youngster of the team who was continually getting nudged, sworn at and berated by the head chef.  Now I’m guessing that in some kitchens this is the norm and it wasn’t done loudly but enough for me to hear. It made me feel so uncomfortable that at times I didn’t know where to look. I’m soft, I know.

The next dishes took a little more time to come out as the morning crowd were swapping their tables for the lunch crew and the place was continually packed. The menu reads so well it was hard to make a choice but I had to try the tuna tartare with crushed green pea salad. A dish this simple needs the tuna to be perfect and it was. Slicked with olive oil, the tuna melted in my mouth.  

It was recommended I try the spiced cauliflower salad. I didn’t need much convincing. This was my favourite dish, so much so that I tried to search the web to see if the recipe was out there anywhere. I couldn’t find it but I did notice alot of others loved this dish too and have tried to recreate it at home. The pan roasted spice flavours tasted moroccan inspired along with pine nuts, goats curd and a twinkle of pomegranate seeds on top.  This was a half serve, it was so good I could have had more. 

What do you have for dessert when you don’t really feel like it. Not the pearl barley ice cream, soft chocolate, caramel and rye desert. A very rich dessert of smooth chocolate and vanilla with the rye biscuit being a thin slice of toasted rye bread. It gave the dish a bitter taste. It just didn’t do it for me.

Another Melbourne haunt ticked off the list, yes, but it was more than that, it’s another place added to the would go back to list. The two ladies out for lunch beside me were tucking into a slow roast shoulder of lamb that I wanted to pinch. The charcuterie board the father and son were having the other side looked worthy as well. I’ll just sit the other end of the bar next time.

Circa at The Prince and Serrat Wines

My first day in Melbourne I head to St Kilda. A stroll along the beach led me to Stokehouse. I had heard good things, but it was a bit too early for lunch so I kept walking until I came to The Prince Hotel. The Prince has been a ’boutique’ hotel in St Kilda for a long time now along with Circa, the restaurant tucked away inside the hotel. I have had it in my sights for a long time and decided it was time to satisfy my curiosity.

I was still slightly early for lunch service so the waiter found a table in the bar area with a paper and a gin and tonic to tide me over. I was in no hurry, so I sat happily until I was shown a table in the main dining room. It’s beautiful, filled with light from the glass rooftop, a wall of planted herbs and light furnishings. The kitchen garden on the wall of the main dining room extends to the deck upstairs. It was designed by the innovative Joost Bakker, who is also behind The Greenhouse series. I could imagine this would be a very popular place for ladies that lunch (yes, it’s one of my aspirations, so I took note).

The very friendly staff helped me narrow down the seasonal menu, by head chef Jake Nicolson. First up was the miso glazed eel with dancing bonito flakes, avocado puree and apple ($24). This was my favourite dish. I love eel anyway but it’s even better glazed with miso. The bonito flakes kept me entertained for a while too and I couldn’t work out if it was an air-conditioning breeze or electric static, (like when your hair goes crazy and stands on end) but they were definitely waving to me for sometime. Such an unexpected combination but it worked perfectly well. The tiny, baby prawn-like crackers were a great contrasting texture to the puree and eel. 

I wasn’t feeling like a heavy meal so I chose the fish which was a NZ king salmon with roasted salsify and local grown shitake mushrooms ($37). The first hit when it arrived was a truffle aroma. I couldn’t really work out where they had dropped the truffle, maybe in the parsley and shallot puree.

I had previously been quaffing a 2010 Frankland Estate ‘Isolation Ridge’ Riesling, but I thought I would try something different to have with my salmon. I chose a 09 Serrat Chardonnay and was completely stunned. This wine was beautifully elegant and would certainly be the best Australian Chardonnay I have had to date. It has the aroma of light oak, citrus and a fine minerality to taste. Imagine how good it would taste if it was cellared for 3-5 years as recommended by Serrat. Of course I am no expert but I’m sure you won’t be disappointed if you manage to get your hands on one of these bottles.

Tom Carson and Nadège Suné, are the couple credited with making Serrat wines. Nadège is French and, of course, it is evident that their wine is heavily influenced by the time they have spent in France.

Tom used to work for Yering Station for many years before he started Serrat. As their website explains Serrat is a Catalonian word meaning ” high density planting”. Serrat have 8,800 vines per hectare, producing less than one bottle of wine per vine.

It just so happened that Tom and his team were at Circa, in their private dining room, celebrating end of harvest. Lucky for him or I may have invited myself over to their table. As I was singing the Serrat praises to the restaurant manager, Madeleine  Morgan, she informed me I could purchase some from the wine shop next door. Of course I did. I haven’t tried the Pinot Noir yet but I have been told it’s just as good and I’m sure it will be.

The dessert menu read well but as has been my trend lately I went for the cheese. You can choose from a large selection of cheese which remains under watch in the kitchen. I was wanting to stay drinking white wine so the sommelier, Matt Brooke, came up with a 2002 Richer ‘Braunenerger Juffer-Sonnenunhr’ Auslese to accompany my cheese. 

Even though I took notes I deleted them from my phone. The hard cheese was one I had not come across before, so I easily forgot it. I think a sheep, and goats milk blend, definitely from the UK, served with poached quince, fruit and nut log, crisp salty cracker bread and fruit bread.

Needless to say by this stage I had had my share of wine but with unlimited tap water top ups I was fairing ok. It was my birthday weekend after all!

MoVida

I knew about the reputation of MoVida. I even have Frank Camorras’ cookbook, MoVida Rustica but when I managed to grab a last minute table there I never imagined I would love it quite so much.

It was my last day for a Melbournian lunch. I had a few places on my list to try but MoVida was the first. At 1pm the place was packed. Did I want to come back in 45minutes, you bet ya.  As soon as I walked into the place it exuded an unpretentious cool atmosphere. Dim lighting, a long timber bar, relaxed music and people looking like they are having a good time. I was back bang on 45mins.

I couldn’t go past trying the hand filleted Cantabrian artisan anchovies on croutons with smoked tomato sorbet ($4.50 each). The crispy toast and anchovy were warm enough to take the cold sorbet. I really did imagine myself on a hot Spanish day sitting in a outside a tapas bar.

As I waited for my next tapas to come out from the kitchen, which is open to the dining room via a large window, I sipped on a 2009 Paco and Lola Albarino ($13). Next to come out was a special of the day sea urchin and goats curd crostini. The crostini was warm, providing gentle heat to the curd and sea urchin. It’s a small touch that makes so much difference to the taste of a dish.

Two beautiful pieces of Pyrenees wet roast lamb with fino and paprika sauce ($4.50 each). They fell apart at the touch and I felt like I was melting into my chair and never wanting to leave. By this time I had stepped up to a 2008 DJP Petalos Mencia ($17).  A Spanish wine elegant enough to glide me through the rest of my meal.

I was starting to become full but I was determined to eat more. It was just that good. It was suggested by the waitress I try the Cecina, an award winning dish of air-dried wagu beef with poached egg and truffle foam ($19.50). The advice was to mix the ingredients together let them sit together for a few moments to let the flavours mingle and then indulge. It was like the best ever brunch dish you could come up with. The runny egg with soft potato, strong beef with a hit of black truffle.

I thought a full dessert would really do me in so I asked for the selection of cheese ($22). They were two Spanish cheeses, a firm Bica and the blue, a Valdeon, both very fine cheeses. Bica means ‘bag of cheese’ and is a buttery mix of goat, cow and sheeps milk.  The Valdeon is a smooth creamy well rounded earthy blue cheese. I had a taste of each and hit the wall. Lucky for me the waiter pinched some foil from the kitchen so I could stash the cheese in my bag to enjoy later.

I LOVE MOVIDA. I’m just thankful it’s in Melbourne otherwise I would have a permanent seat at the bar.