A confident venture, but sequels, prequels, nothing beats the original.
Once the alleyway for horse driven carts alternatively stacked with reels of cloth or bins of sewerage, Flinders Lane today is home to a line up of well-known restaurants. Arguably the forefather of monochrome industrial decor, food without geographic borders, and one of the first to instill and maintain a proudly arrogant no-bookings policy, love it or hate it, Cumulus is the quintessential Melbourne restaurant. Five years on, it has recently spread wings and settled itself in a vacant space upstairs, a space that is a little less sleek, a little more spartan, but with the same bubbling vibe of its predecessor downstairs The decor has little to commend to itself, much less to distract the attention of dining patrons. It focuses on textural interest rather than evoking a more classical form of beauty. The overwhelming charcoal black is lightened by a set of jagged Australia-shaped mirror works, a slash of red chairs and a flock of bi-colour drop lighting that reminds us of ambulance lights. Closely-spaced square, wood tables line one wall and contrast with circular, veined marbles tables in the middle. A bar stacked with bottles filters the chemist white glare of an open kitchen. Globular waratah blossoms soften the austerity of unfinished ceiling floor boards and parquetry walls. Overlook these aspects, and Cumulus the Second is a converted art studio, complete with a painter’s dream set of wide windows that look beyond the bleak greys and dull reds of nearby city buildings.
MoMo & Coco have visited for a number of after work drinks/nibbles. Cumulus Up’s menu is a skeletal dwarf — so short and so simple, it immediately set off internal alarm bells — this is a place you nibble and drink, or more accurately, you drink more than you intend to eat. That said, we managed a dinner-sized meal. The Zucchini Flower Fritters ($9) were not the plump beauties found in Italian restaurants, but rather shrivelled, somewhat over-deep-fried, crispy twigs. We liked their crunch but prefer the original. The accompanying, roughly mashed, tomato-based condiment did not uplift it. The newest talk-of-the-town, the Duck and Foie Gras Waffle ($8), proved to be a divisive dish between ourselves and our dining companion — duck flesh mixed with flour, imprinted with a waffle’s typical honeycomb grid, one half-teaspoon droplet of prune puree and a pirouette swirl of foie gras squirted on, served piping warm. It is most certainly, a bone-warming snack. However, the earthy taste of liver is something that we will never be able to love — and why, oh why, do we see it in every new restaurant now? Trocadero, Brooks, Little Hunter, now Cumulus II? Argh! We preferred the diced Octopus and Crouton Salad ($16) with a dash of fermented chilli paste and nuggets of mussels. It was Mediterranean summer on a plate — all warm topaz golds, tomato reds and tanned browns. Similarly, a hard squeeze and lingering drizzle of lemon neutralised the slight creamy sourness of just-cooked crescents of Scampi ($16), and epitomised exquisite simplicity. We can’t recall the price of the Bonito, but it surely is the dish that deserves the hype undeserved by that waffle quarter. As pretty as Japan in springtime and as characteristically light in taste, it was embellished with medallions of a variety of radishes, flicks of ginger, vinegar and soy, flecks of sesame and enveloped with kelp and flecks of sesame. But readers, Cumulus the Second is more about wine than anything else, so drink yourself to cloudiness with the encyclopaedic wine list. While you do so, are you noting the trend of dedicated wine bars in Melbourne?
Of three desserts on offer at any one time, we bypassed a tart, and on a more recent visit, the Eton Mess. If there is one dessert you should not bypass while at Cumulus Up however, it is the “Profiteroles” ($15). Three balls of ice cream sandwiched in puffs and theatrically flooded with chocolate sauce by the wait staff. Good, but the puffs were a touch flat. In our memory, the ones at Bistro Guillaume were better…and bigger.
Although on the menu on our very first visit, but no longer thereafter nor at the time of writing this review, the “Fool” ($12) was a hybrid dessert, intermarrying a trifle and a pavlova — meringue shards were embedded within lashings of apricot and passion fruit that were in turn, swirled with thick slicks of yogurt. A sprinkle of praline toffee rocks set it off. We loved the apricot/passion fruit component and the crunchy surface, but with the greatest honesty, we almost thought we were eating yogurt and muesli. Yogurt at dinner… for dessert. Maybe for you, not for us.
Although the desserts are not particularly memorable, one will of course, be minded to remember that Cumulus Up’s agenda is first and foremost, that of a winebar, rather than a restaurant. With reference to this then, the extensive, globe-trotting wine list is the draw-card, though the food by no means, plays second fiddle. It is upmarket snacking/nibbling and one is well-awarded whether one pursues the hyped duck foie gras waffle or looks towards any of the other excellent dishes. There is no question that Cumulus Up is a confident venture — obstinately industrial decor, incisive food, poised service. But, sequels, prequels, nothing really, ever, beats the original. In an art studio-like setting, we feel that Cumulus Up will probably be the experimental chambers of the chefs before it filters down to the masterpieces created below at the original Cumulus.
Dessert adventure checklist
- ☑ Dessert destination: Cumulus Up, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne CBD, Vic 3000.
- ☑ Budget: $$-$$$.
- ☑ Sweet irresistibles: Restaurant dessert. Modern European.
- ☑ Must-eat: N/A.
- ☑ The short and sweet story: A confident wine-bar venture, but prequels, sequels, nothing really beats the original.