If you asked a Melburnian how they’ve been going, chances are that they’ll moan and throw their hands up in the air while whinging “Omggggg, so hot that I’m about to diiiiiie!” And while I’m not THAT dramatic (most of the time), I’d be strange not to disagree with them. After having suffered through 43+ degree heat for three consecutive days and watching the city plunge into all sorts of chaos (though to be honest, I reckon the papers are just sensationalising the whole OMG-SO-HOT-THAT-MELBOURNE-IS-GOING-DOWN saga), I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard that today was ONLY going to be 37 degrees. Now, 43 degree weather is pretty damn uncomfortable especially if your house only has one measly early 90s-style rickety air conditioner that only reaches as far as the kitchen/dining room and parts of the living area while not touching any of the bedroom areas at all. These are the days where I am actually KEEN to go to work, just for the air con (though yesterday they only turned it as low as effing 26 degrees so as to not “waste energy” which is fine for people working on the second floor, but not so much us who happen to be on the eleventh floor and have to sit next to the window which, of course, faces east where the sun rises each morning). Every evening after work, I’ve been going to local shopping centres just to keep myself cool in Siberia-temperature comfort.
So yes, while today was quite “comfortable” compared to days of late, I still didn’t fancy myself staying inside the house all day so I made my way into the city at 9:30am to 1) pick up my holds from East Melbourne library and 2) meet up with Adam for some brunch. Well (1) didn’t quite happen because by the time I huffed and puffed down to East Melbourne library and realised that the building was dark, I knew something wasn’t right. Turns out, the library was closed for the day due to “extreme heat” which made me want to curse the people in charge of Melbourne libraries for spending more money on weird hippie lefty art installations than proper air conditioning units. But never mind, it was back to Borders to meet up with Adam before going to Cumulus Inc on the art gallery end of Flinders Lane.
Some of you might have already know of, or have even been to, this cafe-slash-bar owned by Andrew McConnell (he of Three, Two, One fame). It hasn’t been opened for even a year yet it has attracted a steady stream of A-listers (Melbourne A-listers, I meant. So technically W-listers to everyone else), arty-farty-non-hippy-socialist type folk, Collins St suits and oh-so-beautiful people. Everyone seemed to have good things to say about Cumulus Inc and so we decided to give the place a go on a day where the sun was beating down and there was no cloud in the sky.
Walking into the art gallery-turned-eatery, we were greeted by a smiley wait staff and a funky warehouse-looking space that beckoned you as if to say “Look at me! I’m genuine! I have nothing to hide!” And while most of the tables were taken, there were a few spare seats at the bar which we were immediately led to by a guy who looked young enough to be in high school but cool enough to be working at a place like this. Menus were promptly presented, specials were effortlessly recited and newspapers were grabbed from a pile by the door in one seamless act. I was hoping for some simple breakfast fare for brunch but because I had spent way too long reading magazines at Borders, the kitchen no longer served breakfast and so we had no choice but to order off the lunch-slash-dinner menu (valid after 12pm). The waiter, after asking if we had been here before and after seeing both of us shake our heads, suggested ordering three to five dishes which were designed to be shared tapas style (which is what every second Melbourne restaurant is doing these days). I had rolled off about four dishes before he hesitated and said that the dishes we ordered were on the light and small side and whether we would like to order one more dish to fill us up but I told him that if we were still hungry, we would order again. That was fine with him so off he went.
Sitting on the bar is something that I don’t particularly like but in this instance, I was happy to sit right in front of the kitchen to make sure that none of the chefs were doing anything dodgy like pick their nose or spit on my food just because I was Asian or something like that. While Adam was busy reading the Herald Sun, I was engrossed in watching the chefs do their magic. Very Iron Chef but without that weird crazy chairman guy and the panel of judges with the one token Japanese female celebrity who often has nothing useful to contribute.
Not long after ordering, we received a small bowl of house bread, as fluffy as cumulus clouds themselves, accompanied by a little pat of butter. Our drinks followed, a Hargreaves Hill pale ale for Adam ($7.50) and a cocktail (Belvedere vodka, apple and blood orange – $10) for me. Although I’m not a fan of vodka, my drink went down a treat on an increasingly warm day as did Adam’s beer which was light and fruity.
Cumulus Inc has about a dozen or so variety of oysters which came with little stories about their origins on the menu. The descriptions were poetic and wishy-washy rather than helpful when I tried to differentiate between each type of oyster. For example, pretty much all descriptions claimed that every single oyster was kissed by the goddess Venus and placed tenderly on a rock in the Pacific, its flavour intensifying every time a seagull shat on it. Or something to that effect. I suppose if I was an oyster connoisseur, I would have had a better idea as to what to order but because I didn’t acquire a taste for oysters until late 2006 (after spending all my life hating them), I’m still a charlatan when it comes to oysters. Anyway, I settled for half a dozen Coffin Bay oysters ($3.50 each) which came with a single wedge of lemon. Yeah, I know that I’m naughty because I ordered oysters in January where they’re not at their peak (even the waiter raised a hairy eyebrow when he heard the word “oyster”) but I just felt like fresh, raw, succulent oysters today. To be honest, I was a little disappointed with the oysters. While the smell of the ocean seduced me, the fact that the oysters were a tad too salty made me recoil slightly. Kinda like when you’re opening a present, expecting Louboutins only to find a pair of Peeptoes instead. Not even a squeeze of lemon could help diminish the saltiness of them. Serves me right for ordering oysters in January eh?
It does get better from this point though, folks. The next dish we received was the slow cooked octopus with aioli and dehydrated olive ($9). The waiter wasn’t kidding when he warned us about how tiny this dish was. Don’t let the photo fool you – the dish is Kylie Minogue-tiny. The stumpy mini trunks of octopus tentacles may have caused me to wrinkle my nose and roll my eyes at Adam but after one bite, all feelings of disheartenment evaporated. Each little piece had a surprisingly soft, melt-in-your-mouth texture that was accentuated by the fruity olive oil and salty dehydrated black olives. Little dabs of tomato, sorrel, green chilli and torn basil leaves provided some exciting combustion of flavours which were reminiscent of Nobu’s dishes. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing either.
Next we have the cracked wheat and freekeh salad ($10) which was an interesting study of texture. The sweet additions of barberries, preserved lemon, toasted almonds, shredded parsley and labneh made this light yet melodic salad a perfect option for a day like this. Given that all the dishes we ordered so far erred on the size 8 side of the size continuum rather than the size 14, I was surprised that this humble little salad was responsible for just about filling me up despite it being not at all heavy. Must’ve been the wheat and freekeh (a grain made from unripe wheat that is popular in the ME).Very refreshing. Very yummy.
(God, now I have that James Brown song in my head… “She’s a superfreak… superfreak” )
Our final dish was the wagyu bresaola ($16). Five rice paper-thin slices of aged air-dried salted wagyu came presented on a plate with shaved Parmesan, a dollop of remoulade (French tartare sauce) a sprinkling of celery slices and leaves. As I predicted, this tasted awesome – each little piece of wagyu would fall apart in my mouth, the creamy remoulade making the experience that much more indulgent. While I question the use of the celery (I didn’t think it added anything to the dish), I nevertheless loved this dish.
The total bill came to $73.50, not including tips which, on paper, sounds like a very expensive lunch. Especially given the fact that we didn’t really order much food (well, not much for Ad Libs anyway). Having said that though, I do believe that the prices are quite reasonable given that Andrew McConnell is a two-hatted chef and given that all the ingredients are fresh and the food made with love. More importantly, both Adam and I were adequately full. In hindsight, I would’ve skipped the oysters and probably gone for the more popular school prawns which seemed to be churned out every five seconds. I guess the only reason why I didn’t order the prawns instead was that I could easily get a plate of them at any random Chinese plate but hey, maybe McConnell does all sorts of wonderful thing with prawns so maybe next time. I would’ve also loved to try the poached chicken salad which also seemed popular with the diners and also looked pretty filling.
In short, not mind-blowing but good. Very good. Will definitely go there next time for breakfast. Do believe the hype, it’s not all puff.
Finishing the afternoon with a lovely cup of affogato from Brother Baba Budan (Lt Bourke St, between Elizabeth and Queen). While the coffee was a little bit off compared to last time (“Fernando Verdasco with a hangover” is how I’d describe it), it was the nevertheless the perfect finish to our meal. Sweet, creamy, full-bodied and oh-so refreshing.