Monday, May 31, 2010

Movida and Cumulus Inc.

After my last post, I have to start with a disclaimer: the majority of this post was written in an airport lounge. The Melbourne Airport Virgin Blue Lounge, to be specific. My meeting finished early and for all my ranting last week, four hours hanging out in an airport bar and/or lugging my laptop around the shops really didn’t appeal, so I paid for access to the clubhouse. That time was business hours in Perth, and everyone forgot when my flight was, so I spent most of it working. I know, shocking! So much for weightless space – perhaps it only works on international flights, or holidays.  I am happy to report that it was a quiet haven with free soup, pasta and champagne, and a red which looked quite promising, but I unfortunately did not get to sample. More importantly, it had power and internet access which allowed me to further develop this masterpiece from the slightly tipsy notes of the night before.

Now that’s out of the way: Melbourne! The weather really is awful (apparently some of the locals like it: crazy) but as most people know, the food and the shopping is great. This post is going to be food-focussed, thanks to a couple of solo restaurant outings, but there may be a shopping post at some point.

On my last night I ate at Cumulus Inc in Flinders Lane, which to start with gets points for the name. The night before I had eaten at Movida, which I have been hanging out to get to. (Made it just before a Masterchef feature, thank goodness!) Movida was as tremendous as I expected; I think it suffered a little from my high expectations, since I was impressed and satisfied, but not amazed. Cumulus Inc was amazing, though if you have the opportunity and the budget (believe me, you need the budget) you should go to both of them. It’s just that I while I really, really liked Movida, I loved Cumulus Inc. (“That’s because you don’t have a Prada backpack;” sorry, reflex 10 Things quote.)

Since I was travelling alone, I was eating alone. Both restaurants put me up at the bar – at Movida, they were thoughtful enough to seat two more solitary diners alongside me, and since they were both in sales (i.e. incapable of not talking to another human being for more than, oh, a minute) we ended up having a very social evening. We even tasted each other’s food – it is designed to be shared, after all.

Cumulus Inc also put me next to another solitary diner, but he gave off incredibly strong ‘don’t talk to me’ signals, so I didn’t. He was a few courses ahead of me, anyway. The gay couple on the other side were having intense low-voiced conversation and were also obviously not up for a chat. However, I did not need new friends, as I had incredible food and semi-psychic Cumulus Inc staff for company. It may be the staff that tipped Cumulus Inc into love territory, which is a little unfair on Movida, since I had world-travelling sales types to keep me company there. The barman at Movida did make the excellent suggestion of starting with a pear cider, which I agreed to on the basis that trying new things is a good idea, and ended up really enjoying. I have been resisting the cider trend, mostly just because it’s a trend, but I may have to bend a little.

I suspect a meal at Cumulus could be a number of different (but I’m sure equally amazing) experiences. For starters, I was sitting at the bar, but across the room you could sit at a bar facing into the kitchen, which I’d love to do sometime. This particular evening, I went for something like a French carpet picnic experience, or an incredibly expensive French ploughman’s lunch. Starting with a glass of capital-c Champagne (Why oh why do I ever drink anything else?? Oh, right, budget…) oysters were clearly called for, and conveniently enough the menu recommended a particular oyster as being an excellent accompaniment to Champagne; the Petit Clair, I think. Needless to say, the menu was right; fine bubbles, dry, slightly toasty Champagne flavour followed by the fresh, salty oyster flesh, still with its hint of sea-tang - I wonder if it is possible to live on these things.

After browsing the menu and some idle chit-chat with my waiter, the next option was the kitchen selection charcuterie plate. This was to die for, (probably of heart disease) not least the chutney, which, although not the star item, was my favourite. Other rustic-but-currently-gourmet delicacies included waygu bresaola, jamon, a Sicilian salami (I think) and a terrine. I ordered a green bean salad so that I got some greens, but since it was covered in a creamy mustard dressing it didn’t reduce the calorie count any. This was also delicious; the cold crunch of the beans with the creamy tang of the dressing and a faint assault from the anchovies draped over the pile. I began eating my carnivore’s selection with the appropriate cutlery, but eventually abandoned this (there have to be some perks to being in a strange city!) and combined bread, meat and chutney into mini-sandwiches which I then ate with my hands. I did use a knife and fork for my beans, mum, so you weren’t completely disgraced. To be fair, Movida also drove me to more primal means of consumption, when an unusually plump, perfectly cooked, pate-stuffed (but not overwhelmingly so) lamb cutlet demanded that I pick it up and suck every last vestige off the bone. Fortunately my sales companions recognised this for the compliment it was, and as a consequence one of them subsequently ordered it and did the same.

Back at Cumulus, all this cholesterol was served with a nicely matched rosé, thanks to the semi-psychic bar staff. My one mark against them for the evening was this was really, really cold. If you know me, you know one of my pet hates is that in Australia we serve most white and pink wine (in my opinion) much, much too cold. The rosé in question did open up and round out very nicely with some warmth, and they won some points back because rosé, also trendy at the moment, generally doesn’t do it for me. Once that ran out, one of the staff wandered up and mused aloud, “Hmm, are we ready for a red? Shall we continue the French theme?” Unsurprisingly, I nodded and received a smooth, full-bodied-but-not-too-heavy Languedoc red which went down very nicely as I mopped up the last of my chutney and endeavoured to finish my beans. Getting just the right wine at just the right time without even saying a word – they’re either telepathic or really good at their job, or a bit of both.

Helpfully, they gave me some space here to sit and muse with the rest of my red, in the almost-trance good food and wine brings about: sated, a slight buzz from the wine, a little high from the combinations of flavours and feeling a general good will towards all humanity. I think it no coincidence that Tiny Tim’s cry of ‘God bless us – every one!’ came at a good Christmas dinner.

Meanwhile, one of the bar staff was inventing cocktails in between making coffee and other, less interesting drinks, and managed to sneak a dessert menu in front of me in the process. Using their special powers, they realised that even though I was, technically, full, I was not quite ready to go yet, and cunningly took advantage of this. I was convinced to have the special Camembert for dessert. I swear it was smuggled into the country because there is no way anything that good and that smelly is legal in Australia. Especially Camembert! I was still working on the Languedoc red, and the combination of the restrained, refined red wine with the smoky creaminess of the Camembert, the odd sharp edge of mould biting through... well, I am distracted just by the memory.

I finally finished the red, mellowing out even further, and was languidly chasing remnants of Camembert about the plate while I had a slightly incoherent discussion about digestifs with the cocktail-inventing-barman. I have had some digestifs in my time, it's just by the time I get to them I’m generally not in a state to remember their names. There is an obscure apple digestif I’ve had at Movida-Next-Door which I am forever chasing (not an eau de vie, and not a calvados, although those are good too) but in the interim he suggested Montenegro. The first taste always makes me wonder why I agreed to it, with the bitterness overwhelming everything, but gradually the warmth and the spices emerge and I recall what a pleasant way it is to finish off and round out all the flavours of a good dinner. I can never quite determine the balance between the psycho-somatic and the physical in the effect of a digestif, but I am sure it helps my stomach cope with all the protein and fat and alcohol I have subjected it to. With, you know, more alcohol.

I seem to have sadly neglected the food at Movida: it was great, but with entertaining company I did not have quite the same time to ponder it at length, and since I chose my own wine there were no unexpected surprises, although I did pick a good calvados to finish off with. The Movida dinner included a delicious croquette, (nearly as good as the Duende ones, which have spoilt me for life) a funky scallop dish, and ooh, now I think about, an incredible prawn mini-terrine, (there is a fancier name, which escapes me) the lamb cutlet which got a mention above, and no dessert. Sales people can’t get too fat, and were on vastly different time zones which meant an early night for them.

In terms of budget, dinner at Cumulus Inc set some personal records in terms of price. I have been out with groups and had more expensive dinners, (just, and generally due to wine) but I think this is the first time I’ve managed such levels on my own. Obviously the French wines contributed, as did the Camembert – definitely black market, at that price! Mind you, I had great meals in London which I very carefully did not translate back into $A.

Absolutely worth it though, and *cough* compared to the Italian boots I’d bought that day, quite reasonable, or to the suit I’d ordered, practically cheap. Since I’d spent the equivalent of a tropical holiday on clothes and shoes, I figured a meal in Spain and then one in France was worth the effort. While there was a certain selfish satisfaction in being able to set the agenda, budget and timing of the evenings at will, I think both Movida and Cumulus would be better enjoyed in a group, or at least with one other person! They lacked a little in the ‘someone to share it with’ stakes. Fortunately, my faithful few, I have you to do so now.

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