Notes from Melbourne 1

August 25, 2014

My first taste of Melbourne: a plate of oysters at the counter at Cumulus.  Brinier than any American oyster, crisper too, each one like a little gulp of the ocean.  Hello!

Cumulus is a lovely introduction to the food of this city. Casual and friendly, it takes its food (and its wine) very seriously.  The waitress will hunker down with you over the menu, considering the options.  Should you have the fried cauliflower?  Yes indeed; sizzling with Middle Eastern spices, it makes you wonder why you've never had this dish before.  Cauliflower was born to fry!

The woman next to me is eating roasted pumpkin that's been slathered with pomegranate molasses and topped with shards of cheese, uttering little moaning sounds that make me sorry I didn't order that as well.  But I'm happy with my house-made pastrami, shaved paper thin, served with terrificly sour pickles, horseradish cream, and crisps of rye that shatter at a touch.  What makes this sing, though, is that dusting of fresh horseradish.


I loved these silky green beans too, in their chunky hardboiled egg mayonnaise and their topping of fried shallots.


People here don't talk about Pei Modern- but they should.  I absolutely loved my (admittedly very large) lunch. It began with this delicately fried whiting, served simply on a crumpled piece of paper.


Went on to the most wonderful little chunk of fried headcheese with a ruffle of culatello on the side:


and then a shower of dishes.  The lightest little gnocchi, scented with almonds, kept from floating into the air only by that wonderful green sauce.


Burrata topped with miners lettuce – a juicy green succulent – and smoky slices of house-cured fish. The textures here were remarkable, the soft cheese snuggling up against the powerful severity of the fish, the gentle juiciness of the greens.


Surf clams in a smoked dashi broth, dotted with caviar and tiny nasturtium petals.  Pure delicious luxury, a new interpretation of surf and turf.


 But the tour de force of this meal was this: an entire grouper tail, so gently smoked the fish was still sweet, soft and tender, clinging to the bone.  It came away in large tender chunks. 



Dinner at Flower Drum – a venerable restaurant, wonderful in its old fashioned graciousness. Space between tables, dignified waiters, food served with care and a certain amount of pomp.  This is classic Cantonese: pristine ingredients, properly cooked and beautifully served with excellent wines. 

My favorite moment of the evening was this first bite, pearl meat with scallions. (Pearl meat is the main muscle of the Pinctada maxima, the huge pearl oysters which are harvested in July and August.  Its simplicity, its pure clean flavor, reminded me of extremely tender abalone.)  



The other high points were crab:

Chinese crab

Peking duck – so properly presented that even the hoisin sauce next to the pancake had been slightly warmed….


and what was possibly the most elegant fried rice I've ever eaten….

Fried rice

Other memorable moments in Melbourne, included a very fun lunch at Chin Chin, the raucously mad Thai restaurant on Flinders Lane, and a fantastic dinner at Moon Under Water.

I was on stage at Moon Under Water speaking with sommelier Campbell Burton (Som of the Year) and the wonderful Virginia Trioli, so I didn't photograph the meal, but I loved every bite.  The high point was the Aylesbury duck – rare roasted breast, confit leg – paired with quince and an entire medly of toasted grains.  The wines Campbell chose- all Spanish – were impressive.  I especially liked the 2010 Equipo Navazos La Bota de Vino Blanco "Florpower", which was served with the artichoke, scallop and black truffle soup. 

And one day, walking along the street, I stopped in at Primavera for a salted caramel chocolate chip gelato of remarkable subtlety.  


But the high point of the trip was dinner at Attica.  It was truly remarkable. Coming up next……


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