First Taste: Cumulus Inc.

Cumulus Inc.

Cumulus are fair-weather clouds, the cartoon clouds—white and cotton-wool, fluffy—like the ones from the Peanuts comics,” says chef Andrew McConnell. In short, lots of fun. He’s also talking about Cumulus Inc., his restaurant that has taken Melbourne by storm in recent weeks. McConnell has a reputation in Australian dining circles for being something of a literate chef, but there’s nothing fusty or bookwormy about him or his restaurants. A finely tuned sense of fun and intellectual inquisitiveness is something McConnell and his partner, architect Pascale Gomes-McNabb, have brought to bear on some of Melbourne’s best and most interesting restaurants. Three, One, Two, their Carlton flagship, might have camouflage netting for curtains, but it’s also consistently rated one of the city’s dining hotspots.

Gomes-McNabb and McConnell bring a similarly unhinged aesthetic to Cumulus Inc., a larger-format restaurant with a menu centered around small plates. The room is a former art gallery on fashionable Flinders Lane, with a bar running down the length of one side and an open kitchen along the other. Pointy-toed shoe lasts fixed to one corner of the wall function as coat hooks. This being a McConnell-Gomes-McNabb production, the lasts are laid out in a dance-step pattern. It’s that kind of place.

For all the whimsy, the kitchen is serious when it comes to quality of product and attention to detail. With food this good, it’s easy to lament all the dishes that can’t fit on your table this time around. Sure, you’ve had the thin slices of smoked Wagyu beef tongue with diced mustard fruits and a fine grating of fresh horseradish; the custardy boudin noir on little toast fingers topped with smoked tomato and parsley salad; the quail wrapped in vine leaves, grilled and served with pistachio and labneh (especially good paired with the cracked wheat, freekeh, almond, preserved lemon and barberry salad). But what about the oysters? The sesame crab toast? The Cantabrian anchovies, served by the tin, like they are in Barcelona?

Happily, this being a competitively priced, all-day establishment, you’ll have plenty of opportunities for repeat visits to sample the tumbler of salt cod soup with emerald parsley foam, the stuffed pig’s ears with ravigote and green sauce, the seared-on-one-side tuna with jamón crumbs, the baba with pour-your-own aged rum…

Cumulus Inc. 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, Australia (03-9650-1445)

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