15 August, 2012

Cutler & Co

Special occasions require special meals. And all the better if they incorporate special drinks too.

The latter was more than adequately taken of by The Everleigh, the kind of place that needs the excuse of a blow-out evening to get me through the door (and up the stairs). It's a gorgeous cocktail bar, taking the trade of bartending super seriously. I've chosen my words carefully there - the menu includes a quote from the 1930s deriding the term 'mixologist' and the notion that being a barman is a professional's job. Instead, it's a trade: that is, an area of craftsmanship.

And the Everleigh staff certainly mix an artful cocktail. All drinkers have the option of Bartender's Choice: you can talk to the staff about your drink preferences - much as you would discuss food at a chef's table dinner - and they'll suggest a suitable mix for your taste.

Taking advantage of this led me to a Detroit Daisy - a tart and hefty cocktail, made with Havana Reserva Jamaican rum, pomegranate juice, lime and mint - and a New York Sour - bourbon with lemon, sugar, egg white and a drizzle of red wine, lending it quite a curious flavour.

Suitably chipper, we headed across the road and up a bit to Cutler & Co, to see what wonders Andrew McConnell's crew could deliver to our evening.

By day, C&C is a warm space, with a dramatic black metal shelter bending over the central bar; muted greys; whitewashed brick wall and a fern garden along the back wall lending colour contrast. By night, while still effective and suitably swish, the lights are a little low, the volume a little high and some of the contrasting effect gets lost in the shadows. What doesn't get lost are the flouncy tulle light covers creating some of that muted effect. They've taken advantage of the building's depth to give each table a bit of space, so you can easily hear your dining partner - and not your neighbours - over the hubbub, although the same couldn't always be said of the waiters.

The first item to arrive at our table was a snack of something something tapioca with something something black sesame. It was brought in a hurry, placed in a hurry and explained in a hurry and the odd ingredient was all we managed to pick up between us.

I've always had great respect for waitstaff who can explain the same specials to dozens of customers with enthusiasm throughout the night. At the other end of the scale, waitstaff can seem almost embarrassed about lengthy dish descriptions, and deliver them in the way you give your name and DOB over the phone - quickly to get it out of the way and hoping no-one else is listening - while already scurrying back to the kitchen.

The snacks were lovely, but nothing on the sourdough bread that came next. Small individual loaves shaped like creme caramels are studded with salt and accompanied by the most wonderful salted butter. They've quite a crust to crack open, but when you do...wow.

C&C keep the menu blessedly simple: six appetisers (three types of oyster); five entrees or a sample of each; five mains; or a kilo of rib-eye to share for $160. Chef's menu is available for $150.

My entree was reminiscent of a recent, comparable dining experience at Heston Blumenthal's Dinner restaurant in London: roasted breast and confit leg of pigeon, morcilla, carrot and gingerbread.

I couldn't go past it - McConnell's morcilla has drawn the crowds to Cumulus Inc for breakfast, and I was terribly eager to try it. It was suitably wonderful, and the pigeon breast - as in London - was commendably tender.

It did provoke one awkward moment, however. I'd remembered from the menu that the dish featured breast and leg, and thought that the miniscule piece of meat on the bone represented both - a bit rich for a $34 entree, I thought! In the low, reddish light, the two pieces of breast looked decidedly orange and I mistook them for carrot. Upon enquiry (and after a bit of confusion!) we determined that 'carrot and gingerbread' meant puree - the smear under the meat. A useful word to include :)

It's another reason that I do appreciate, in this dining environment, when waitstaff don't simply recite the menu description, but actually indicate how it relates to what has appeared in front of you on the plate!

SG's entree was the hand-picked mud crab, buttermilk potato, almond & brown butter.

This was the prettiest of the dishes, with edible flowers dotted among the daubs of smooth-as-cream potato and shredded crab meat.

Our worship at the meat temple continued with the mains. For SG, the slow roast chicken breast, pancetta,
braised turnips and onion.

A reduction was poured over the dish after it came to the table. It was divine, and when mopped up with the aforementioned sourdough was worth the price of admission on its own.

(More brownie points to C&C for specifying onion on the menu - for those like me who can't tolerate it, it's frustrating how often it arrives unannounced.)

I went for braised beef cheek, smoked tongue, roasted kohlrabi, sans the onion soubise on the menu. (The least pretty, but made up for looks in flavour!)

Soubise is a bechamel-style sauce - ie with flour and butter - but cooked down with a hefty wodge of onions. The beef cheek was superb - one of the best pieces of meat I've eaten anywhere or anywhen. The dish did suffer a bit though without its sauce - all that gelatinous meat without a break in texture.

About halfway through the beef cheek I started dreaming about a salted caramel crepe from La Petite Creperie. Happily the menu could make part of that wish come true, and we ordered a chocolate ice cream sandwich, vanilla parfait and salted caramel for dessert to share. Our trio of waitstaff miscommunications was completed when two separate dishes arrived, and the ice cream was just starting to drip before we could hail our man and remind him we'd wanted to share. It was a shared serve, he'd explained, that they'd plated up separately, meaning we scored an extra splodge of ice cream. A much-appreciated gesture, but again, take the time to explain these things!

In another throwback to our Heston experience, dessert was anteceded by another rich morsel - a peanut butter cup.

Delicious, but excessive after already eating our fill of very similar flavours (as the picture, below, shows). Is the amuse bouche being overtaken by the apr├Ęs met?

It was a decadent night out, with price tag to match, and happily the food and wine were up to the task of making it a special one.

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