Cutler & Co

Believe the hype. Chef Andrew McConnell does it right. Again.

My first so-called memory of Cutler & Co was ironically a year before we even stepped into this place. I was laying on the couch back home in Chicago, reading the monthly Food & Wine Magazine that we subscribe to, when I read the rave reviews about Cutler & Co in Melbourne. Being the person I am who gets excited over news about food and the dining scene, I quickly sent a text message to my sister who lives over there. Have you been to Cutler & Co, I asked her. No, but I've heard it is very good. Let's go there together when you visit and I will make advance reservations, she replied.

Fast forward one year, and there we were at Cutler & Co together with the family for an early Christmas dinner. Advance reservations are highly recommended and many thanks to my sister who scored a table for us three months in advance.

We headed to Cutler & Co in two cars, with T and I in my brother-in-law's car. When he parked the car along the section of Gertrude St according to the restaurant's street address, he asked "Are you sure you've got the right address? This part of Gertrude St doesn't have fancy restaurants." We got out of the car, walked a bit, and saw the sign for Cutler & Co. Yup, we were at the right place.

Some standouts were the cured kingfish with avocado puree, radish, and bonito flakes. The smoked roe on cracker was also very good as an appetizer. My medium rare beef loin was very good as well. They had a suckling pig on special which could feed 2 people and my sister and bro-in-law got that. We washed that all down with some excellent wine.

As many outstanding accolades this place has received, the atmosphere is unpretentious although classy. You could come in your dress or a suit or even dress jeans if you prefer, and you won't feel out of place in the dining room that will offer you excellent food. Service was professional and friendly without any pompousness.

I'm such a big fan of any form of raw fish and could not pass up on the cured kingfish. Fortunately for me, it did not disappoint and was impressive all the way. The accompaniments of avocado puree, radish slices, and Japanese flakes (togarashi), drizzled with bonito dressing had a hint of Asian influence to it which all came together very well.

The smoked trout en croute came in a form of roe and trout slice delicately placed on a cracker. Each piece could be easily picked up by the fingers and then popped into the mouth which made for an excellent palate teaser.

The grass fed beef strip loin was recommended to be prepared medium rare (lucky me, as I only eat my steak medium rare). Without conforming to the traditional approach where a server typically asks the diner how he or she would like their steak done, at Cutler & Co this beef strip loin is prepared medium rare by default, as the chef feels it is the best way to bring out the best in the beef in texture and flavor, according to our server. My dad, who ordered this same item as me, requested his to be prepared medium instead, to which the server said that they would absolutely accommodate. The verdict: my medium rare beef was tender and juicy at every bite, while the medium beef which my dad requested did not impress him too much. He then said, "Ahh, I think medium rare would be better". The main dish also came with short ribs that had been braised overnight resulting in a very tender texture. The charred pearl onions and cauliflower puree were nice touches to the dish.

The duck was prepared two ways, smoked and fried, and served with beetroot. Again, the meat was executed perfectly with a tender texture.

The meats and seafood preparation were done very, very well and ironically, the most mundane ingredient, potato, was an item that stood out the least. The side order of roasted potatoes were not crispy on the outside although very creamy and soft on the inside. We also liked the lettuce salad that was presented tossed in lemon vinaigrette that gave it a refreshing flavor.

Cutler & Co
55-57 Gertrude Street
Fitzroy 3065

2012 Gourmet Traveller Third Best Restaurant in Australia
2012 Diners' Choice Award by The Age Good Food Guide
2011 Gourmet Traveller Restaurant of the Year
2011 Gourmet Traveller Sommelier of the Year Nominee
2011 Chef's Hat Award by The Age Good Food Guide
2010 Chef's Hat Award by The Age Good Food Guide 
2010 Chef of the Year by The Age Good Food Guide, Andrew McConnell
2007 Chef of the Year by The Age Good Food Guide, Andrew McConnell
2002 Young Chef of the Year by The Age Good Food Guide, Andrew McConnell



Cumulus Inc

Not having to wait for a table at Cumulus Inc, a place known for long waits in Melbourne? The culinary gods must have been kind to us that day as not only were we spared from waiting to be seated, we even got the kitchen counter seating. To be fair, we arrived just before 2pm but nevertheless that was a very good start. The place was still bustling with the lunch crowd when we were arrived but gradually dissipated by the time we were finished with our late leisure weekday lunch. Oh, the joys of a traveler on vacation when we do not have to worry about heading back to the office.

Our travel itineraries always revolve around must-visit restaurants. Having read and heard so much about the award-winning Chef Andrew McConnell, Cumulus Inc was no doubt on our Melbourne list. The menu at Cumulus Inc has an emphasis on shared plates ranging from charcuterie to braised meats, and from fresh oysters to cured fish. We got full view of the kitchen magic from where we sat at the counter. The chefs were tossing salads, searing meats, and garnishing plates. Oh what a foodie's perfect way of dining.

Located in the fashionable precinct in Melbourne surrounded by boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants, Cumulus Inc has a lot to live up to. And it does live up to the hype.

Every bite of cured kingfish was nothing less than fresh. Sliced generously, the taste was pure without distractions of other dressing while staying true to its authentic flavor.

The roasted cauliflower with goat curds were addictive in every way. The spices added a very nice exotic and complex hint to this vegetable dish.

The charcuterie was another clear favorite of ours. The menu does offer an option of ala carte charcuterie but we decided to go with the kitchen charcuterie selection which came with a variety of cured meats and prosciutto which is perfect if you love everything and just do not want to make the painful decision of ordering one item over the other.

Restaurants are popping up all over and jumping on the bandwagon on executing the shared plate concepts and no longer necessarily following the traditional route of every person ordering a entree just for him or herself. That said, Cumulus Inc isn't just another one of these restaurants. There is something about this eating place, it's non-pretentious yet cool vibe and truly good good that make Cumulus Inc stand out.

We were a little jealous of a nearby table who ordered the roasted whole leg of lamb and I think that was enough of a motivating factor for us to return.

Cumulus Inc
45 Flinders Lane
Melbourne 3000

2012 Chef's Hat Award by The Age Good Food Guide
2011 Chef's Hat Award by The Age Good Food Guide
2010 Chef's Hat Award by The Age Good Food Guide
2010 Chef of the Year by The Age Good Food Guide, Andrew McConnell
2007 Chef of the Year by The Age Good Food Guide, Andrew McConnell
2002 Young Chef of the Year by The Age Good Food Guide, Andrew McConnell


Great Ocean Road and Beyond (Part 2)

After our walk in the Otway Forest, we were next headed to the highlight of Victoria in which many people go to admire and experience.

As we made our way towards Port Campbell, we stopped at Gibson Steps for an up close view of the first part of the 12 Apostles rock formation.

At Gibson Steps, we walked down 87 steps and got to beach level where the first limestone rock we saw for the day loomed in front of us. Interestingly, albeit unrelated to the limestone view, we learnt that 87 is considered an unlucky number in Australian sports especially cricket because it is 13 numbers away from 100. Myth or not, it seems like even sports superstition exists.

After we left Gibson Steps, we continued on to Port Campbell National Park for the famous view of the rest of the 12 Apostles.

Interestingly, the 12 Apostles never had twelve limestone rock formations to begin with. In fact, there were only 9 of them originally. Unfortunately, one of the rocks collapsed in 2005 leaving eight remaining today. These limestone stacks were formed 22 million years ago through the process of erosion as the seawater rises and recedes over the years. These rocks are very soft in nature and the action of the waves that cut into the limestone makes them very susceptible to erosion which gradually form these unique standalone formations. With continuous action of the waves everyday, it is only a matter of time before another unfortunate limestone rock collapses. Or perhaps in years to come, as the seawater rises and cuts into the land along the coast, another "apostle" will be formed.

The 12 Apostles we see today were once part of coastal land until nature took its course and the repeated action of the waves eroded the land and thus created these standalone rock formations. In a way, this thought could be a little unnerving as we imagine what would happen to people on land as seawater continues to rise over the years. As the waves continuously cut into the land along the coast, a hole is first created in the base of the limestone that is closest to the seawater. As the hole gets bigger from the continuous erosion process, an archway is formed. The hole continues to get even bigger and the top part of the limestone that forms the arch finally collapses and thus creating what we see as the "apostles" today. The process from start to finish for an "apostle" to form only takes 600 years which is considered as very short in terms of geological time. The soft nature of the limestone contributes to the quick process.

Over many years, there is a lot of force from the waves onto the soft stone which gradually created cliffs along the coast as we see today. Again, the unique shapes of these cliffs were naturally formed through erosion from seawater.

The lines on these limestone rocks are marks left by seawater and they show how high the seawater level used to be.

A very short drive away from the 12 Apostles was where I found my absolute favorite view of the day: Loch Ard Gorge. The eroded limestone resulted in this beautiful formation that seems to be shaped ever so perfectly while creating a tranquil and narrow inlet of clear water that flows in just from the ocean a little beyond. The line marks on the rocks show how high the seawater level used to be.

As beautiful as Loch Ard Gorge is, it is also the site of the most famous shipwreck in Victoria. An immigrant voyage was well on its way sailing from England to Australia in the 1800s, with the entire Carmichael family on board the Loch Ard ship. Unsure of the ship's bearings, it was during dawn when the captain realized how close the ship was to running aground. He dropped the anchor and the ship got unfortunately pulled in and crashed into the rock. The only survivors were the captain and the 18-year-old daughter from the Carmichael family who later returned to England for the rest of her life after this horrible tragedy. In present day, the shipwreck still lies underneath the water and only authorized divers are allowed to go under water to explore the wreck.

At the inlet of the Loch Ard Gorge where a small serene beach is, we saw a hole that was gradually forming in the limestone. Could this be another "apostle" in the making? The erosion of rocks is a continuous process and will continue to happen even after we leave Earth and very possibly after the end of human race.

The above piece of rock, called "The Razorback", extended much further out to sea and is believed to have been as far as 7km out in the water. Again, erosion was at work here causing this piece of rock to be what it is today. As the limestone that is part of the coastal land continuously gets eroded in the many years to come, more roads and viewing platforms would have to be moved more inland.

In the above picture, we saw another hole forming at the base of the limestone. Perhaps it is again another "apostle" in the making?

If anyone thought about where the inspiration for the name "12 Apostles" came from, it was because people saw the figure of a face on the rock (as shown in the above picture). Look closely at the middle piece of rock and you might see the face of a knight looking out to sea. As to why the rocks were called "apostles", there really was no significance to it except that someone thought "apostle" was a nice name. Yes, the name "12 Apostles" was coined by a marketing executive, we were told.

Finally the last piece of limestone we saw, named "London Bridge", is also another piece of eroded rock. There used to be an archway that connected both rocks together but alas in 1990 the archway collapsed from erosion, leaving one part of the rock now to be free standing and out in the water. London Bridge literally had fallen down. At the base of the free standing rock, a hole has been formed as well. It is only a matter of time before the hole gets bigger while forming an archway, and then eventually collapsing.

Such is nature. It can form beautiful things but also destroy it, before forming another yet beautiful structure.

Paul told us a real life story that happened on the day London Bridge collapsed. A married man took a sick day from work but the truth was that he spent the day with his mistress out there. They were both standing at the edge of the London Bridge rock when suddenly the archway collapsed leaving them both stranded on the rock that was standing alone in the water. Rescuers came and saved them. Reporters were all around with their video cameras. Unfortunately for the man, his employer saw him on TV and knew his sick day was a lie. The man got fired. And his wife divorced him. Ironic, but maybe also a little amusing.

If you have not made your way to this part of the world to see this..... Go. Now. Before more of the present "apostles" gradually collapse.

Great Ocean Road and Beyond (Part 1)

It was our third time in Melbourne in the last four years and we finally made it to the Great Ocean Road. T and I generally do not like going on huge commercialized bus tours where busloads of tourists are offloaded at different sites merely to plant themselves in photographs before making their way back onto the bus again without the personal touch of experiencing the local flavor. This time was no different for us.

We went on the Great Ocean Road wanting to learn about Australia, and more importantly what it means for someone to be Australian. Paul Anderson from Escape Discovery Adventures helped us achieve that. We had an unforgettable day out with Paul, an extremely genuine and sincere man, and it was evident that he has put a lot of personal effort into making his business venture a success and we personally wish him to continue succeeding. There were 10 of us (all fun people!) in total that day from the U.S., Ireland, and Brunei. Of course, Paul was Australian. We appreciated the tiny details that Paul thought of from providing hand sanitizers to an informative collection of articles about Victoria that we read while riding in the van. He was passionate about his country and tried to represent Australia the best he could. What made it most special was the personal touch that we will always have to anchor our memories of Victoria.

It is no secret that there has always been is a competitive love-hate relationship between Melbourne and Sydney. Everyone knows that. Paul joked that if we thought Sydney was the capital of Australia, he would have been very upset. Interestingly, T and I experienced first hand a couple times this competitive relationship between Melbourne and Sydney. We were departing Sydney and making our way to the airport for our flight to Melbourne when our taxi driver spent almost the entire journey basically telling us that Melbourne was no fun and going as far to proudly proclaim that despite living in Australia for more than 20 years, he had never set foot in Melbourne and does not intend to. When T and I were in Melbourne, we were in a shoe store and when the very friendly owner found out we were just in Sydney before, he went on to ask what we thought of Sydney. And of course, he offered his two cents that Melbourne was a much better place than Sydney. Oh, those Melburnians and Sydneysiders!

We made our way out of the city of Melbourne and passed Geelong (pronounced juh-long, NOT jee-long). A port city just outside of Melbourne, we were told that people from Geelong (population of 200,000) have a distinct identity of their own and would never say that they are from Melbourne because well, Geelong is Geelong. The culture to strive for distinct identities (with some jealousy involve!) dates back from the early days of the Gold Rush. Geelong could have very well turn out to be what Melbourne is in present day but alas, during the Gold Rush days, false maps were created to imply that the Ballarat gold mines were located closer to Melbourne than Geelong which led to the influx of arrivals and population growth in Melbourne. Interesting what a silent lie could do. Melbourne then had a huge immigrant influx and the biggest immigrant community were made up of the Chinese who helped shape Melbourne to what it is. Melbourne also went on to become the capital of Australia until 1927 when Canberra was established as the new capital of the country. The reason for this change was that as Melbourne was booming with commercial activities, the government wanted to separate administration and commercial activities to prevent corruption. Old parliament buildings are still seen and preserved in Melbourne today.

Today Australia is made up of many thriving ethnic and immigrant communities but the country at present still faces reconciliation issues which began in the early days between the European settlers and the aborigines. One of the factors that make reconciliation difficult is the very different thought and philosophy between these two groups. While the government has tried to offer monetary compensation to the aborigines for their loss of land ownership, the aborigines believe that they actually do not even own the land but instead belong to and are linked to the land. Therefore, the aborigines believe that monetary compensation is not the answer to their lost connection to the land.

Admittedly, there is little that people today know about the aborigines but it is the oldest continuously living civilization in the world. Although Australia is a relatively new country, the land area existed long ago. According to the aborigines map, this land area isn't just one country which the settlers call Australia. Instead, on the aborigines map, this land area has  300 "countries" divided by culture and language. With great diversity in culture and language within the aborigines, one small area settlement could be a different "country" from another nearby settlement separated only by the bay. Whatever bits of knowledge Australia got to learn about the aborigines culture, it was thanks to William Buckley the notorious English convict back in the 1800s who escaped prison and traveled from Melbourne along the Great Ocean Road. He lived with the aborigines and for a white man to be accepted into the aborigines community was a very huge deal. After many years of living and speaking their language, Buckley returned to Melbourne only to realize that he had forgotten how to speak English. The authorities pardoned him and made him a conduit and bridge between the aborigines and Europeans. It was through Buckley's documentation that the Europeans in Australia gradually learned about the aborigines culture.

We were there in summer and appropriately, got insight on the Australian heat. Australia reportedly has the harshest skin cancer rate in the world, especially in the state of Victoria. Due to the intense heat in the country and as the most arid place in the world, there is not a lot of livable land in Australia. Considered as the most sparsely populated country in the world, 70% of the Australian population are crammed onto the strip along the east coast where the air is cooler near the ocean while the great dividing mountain ranges inland have even higher temperatures.


We made a stop at Anglesea Golf Club, the only club in the world with rules that golfers must give way to kangaroos. These kangaroos are part of the wildlife and do not belong to the club. They were enjoying the tranquil morning near the golf bunkers and flag poles. These kangaroos from the east coast were brown and almost representative of the color of a tree trunk. Different from these are kangaroos with redder skin from the outback which portray aggressive tendencies because of the need to forage for food in the harsh lands.

One might have noticed that Australia's Coat of Arms includes the kangaroo and emu. Of all other Australian wildlife, these two animals were specifically chosen to represent the coat of arms because the kangaroo and emu are the only Australian wildlife that do not travel backward. With these animals' ability to only move forward, they were meant to represent Australia as a progressive country. Who would have known?

Morning tea was at Buff Beach in Anglesea where we were treated to goodies that could not have been more Australian. Thanks to Paul's wife, we savored some homemade ANZAC cookies. There were the legendary Tim Tam biscuits, as well as lamington, a traditional sponge cake covered in chocolate and rolled in coconut flakes. We were told that every school girl in Australia would have baked a lamington at least once in her life.

Those who were not big fans of Vegemite, a quintessential yeast extract in Australian households, could not escape even a smidgen of it that morning as we were all given a cracker smeared with a thin layer of Vegemite. I actually requested for a second helping as it started to grow on me. Admittedly, the pungent taste is not for everyone but the thought of Vegemite as a yeast extract gathered from the bottom of beer barrels is interesting in itself.


Listed as an Australian National Heritage, the Great Ocean Road spans about more than 150 miles and took 13 years to complete. The Great Ocean Road was built by soldiers of ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) who at that time recently returned home from battling World War I and for independence from the monarchy. As the Great Ocean Road was a way to give employment to the soldiers who had returned home, it also became a war memorial to commemorate their fellow fallen soldiers. Hence, the Great Ocean Road embodies the Australian spirit that fights against the odds despite being a small country.

At Kennett River, we saw more wildlife. First things first: it's just koala and not koala bear. In fact we were told that only tourists say "koala bear" although there is not a single trace of bear in the koala genes. As a newborn, the koala is only the size of a jelly bean without fur. After 7 months, it is then considered a young koala also known as a joey, taking on the same name as a young kangaroo.

Koalas only feed on eucalyptus gum tree leaves which contain high levels of nitrogen. Interestingly as Mother Earth would have it, the koala is the only animal with a digestive system that can handle this high level of nitrogen. The gum tree leaves are just about all the koalas eat and these creatures don't need to drink water.

Koalas always come off as calm and gentle because of their sleepy demeanor but what people do not realize is that these creatures are very territorial and will go to the extent of killing each other to protect its territory on the tree. The koalas also don't move all that much once it has claimed its territory and could potentially starve to death. To mark its territory, the koala stains the tree by rubbing its chest against the tree.

These gorgeous king parrots have such rich beautiful colors on the feathers that it was hard not to admire them. We had kernels on the palm of our hands and it didn't take long until we had a parrot land on our palm for food. The parrots intelligently opened the kernels with their beaks and ate the seeds.

One way to differentiate the king parrots is that the males have an orange head while the females have a green head.

We pulled over at Cape Patton lookout near Apollo Bay just along the Great Ocean Road for scenic coastal views before making our way to Otway Forest.

At Otway Forest we were on a guided walk. This is a cool climate forest that got lucky with a good geographical location and climate. With lots of good luck, Forest Otway gets a lot of rainfall every year and thus creating damp soil. Although not immune to the notorious Australian bush fires, the damp soil protects the forest from it.

Although the trees are tall in height and the trunks are very thick, they are not as strong as they appear to be. The roots of these trees grow above the ground (like in the above picture) making the trees less strong to hold up. Despite their majestic height and size, these trees can get toppled easily by strong winds.

One of the very unique things about the beautiful Otway Forest is that these trees and plants help each other out and not compete for nutrients. Plants and trees gradually form conjoined roots while growing from the same base in the soil. In nature, even plants and trees learn to share.

After we left Otway Forest, we were well on our way to Port Campbell for the highlight of the day...