Melbourne was the second leg of our vacation in Australia last fall. A travel agent promised us that it was just like San Francisco. Aside from the sudden shifts the elevation, the resemblance was there in terms of energy and diversity.
Melbourne is also known for its food scene. Touted as “Modern Australian”, Cumulus Inc. in downtown Melbourne was at the top of list of the places I wanted to try after hours of searching.
The restaurant sits in a centuries-old rag trade building. Classical and minimal, he dining space is spacious vertically, though the tables are tightly packed. My poor jet-lagged wife graciously tagged along, even though she was ready to pack it in for the night.
The menu is designed to be shared small plates, and unless requested, food arrives in random order.
Chilled Green Pea And Sorrel Soup
This was a lot of peas (phrasing, I know). Very bright, sweet, and dense. The texture was so smooth it almost felt like a custard. The sorrel contributed a slight earthy taste underneath after the initial taste. Commendable execution to extract so much flavor from peas.
Kingfish with Mussel Escabeche
Kingfish is a type of yellowtail amberjack native to Australia and New Zealand. Cured in the briny escabeche, this was sashimi layered over an aioli. Fish was fresh and buttery smooth. The aioli further emphasized the smoothness, but unnecessary.
Tuna over crushed pea salad
Continuing with the raw fish trend, this was another standout. The dressing on the fish had a touch of vinegar, oil, and soy sauce that complimented well. Also, this place likes peas. Not that I am complaining because they were good. Hard to see from the picture but it was mixed with spring onions to give it some fragrance. A mash-potato like spread, perhaps cream cheese, fanned around the plate.
Soft-Shell Crab Lettuce Wrap
This was one of the most memorable dishes in recent memory. The crab was perfectly prepared. The crunchy crust gave way to memorably tender crab meat. The batter included some pepper powder to give it some heat. The butter lettuce gave a cool contrast. It took some effort not to steal my wife’s portion.
As you can see from the photos, the portion sizes here are not very large. This is intentional to encourage you to try as many dishes as possible. But, the tab can add up quickly, especially if you add alcohol to the mix. If you are looking for a hearty, gut-busting meal, you should probably go elsewhere. Otherwise, you can do a lot worse than grabbing a few bites and a drink here next time you happen to end up in Melbourne.