North by Northwest: Cutler & Co’s Seaonal and Regional Produce Dinner

Getting to visit Cutler & Co has been a task. It’s not like I haven’t wanted to go there either. Firstly, there’s the gift voucher I received for my birthday last October that I still haven’t used (even though I have been assured it will still be honoured… and I will use it in the next couple of months. Promise).

Then there was my recent week’s stay in hospital, where from my window at St Vincent’s, I was compelled to gaze upon Cutler & Co’s facade whilst miserably consuming hospital food. There was a glimmer of hope when, after a few opportunistic tweets, I was to receive a ‘care package’ of tasty appetisers. But then I was discharged and my hopes were duly shattered.

Third time lucky came in the form of a phone call late last week from Essjay, asking if I would like to join her and Ed for dinner at Cutler & Co to celebrate Autumnal fare:

Me: When is it?
Essjay: Monday
Me: F*ckit! It’s my daughter’s fifth birthday. I can’t go [sobs hysterically]

Well that’s how I remembered the conversation. Crestfallen, I told Kate when I got home and surprisingly, she said I’d be mad not to go. She was sure that our daughter wouldn’t be too scarred for life. I wasn’t too sure, but who am I to argue with one’s better half? So I called Essjay back and it was game on.

I was extremely interested in celebrating seasonal and local produce from a particular region. I guess if we all lived on farms or had more time in our lives… or at least the inclination, I am sure we’d all be eating fresh, seasonal produce and enjoying things when they should be enjoyed – in their prime. Thanks to microchip technology and the like, we get stuff all year round these days, regardless of whether it’s any good or not. Gone are the days where you only could get asparagus when there was an ‘r’ in the month… or is that yabbies? I can’t remember. The point is most of us do not care enough to do too much about it.

Fortunately, Andrew McConnell and the team at Cutler & Co do care and last night was the first of a series of seasonal feasts that showcase the food and wine of regional Victoria. Their plan, as Mother Nature moves us into each new season, is to focus on a different part of Victoria and create a menu that highlights the freshest produce available for that region.

Last night’s ‘North by Northwest’ dinner focussed on the produce available in Autumn from Northern Victoria in the form of a five-course degustation, matched with local wines.

Proceedings opened with an amuse bouche of some simple, house-cured Manzanilla olives paired with a 2011 Galli Estate ‘Artigiano’ Pinot Grigio from Sunbury. The flavoursome and meaty olives were a great accompaniment to the clean, crisp and fruity wine.

Our first course combined cured and lightly smoked rainbow trout (from Wilhelmina, near god-forsaken Murrindindi, where I hate camping) with the mild, fresh herb of chickweed, a sharper citrus hit from some sorrel, texture and crunch from the smoky, almost bacon-like rye seeds, tangy crunch from pickled onion and cucumber and a fine quenelle of mustard cream. The 2010 Williams Crossing (by Curly Flat) Chardonnay from the Macedon Ranges complimented the citrus from the sorrel and still allowed the mild smokiness of the trout to come through.

Next up was a densely pressed pheasant terrine; three blocks garnished with bitter leaves, a sweet reduction, spiced almond crumb and topped with Cutler & Co’s signature foie gras cigar. As much as I tried to save my cigar to the very end to be enjoyed on its own, in a corner, by myself, I did the right thing and tried it with the terrine. With the exception of the most awesomely light and crunchy cigar filled with creamy, rich foie gras, the terrine was probably my least favourite dish of the night. By all means it was pleasant pheasant, but nothing remarkable to truly distinguish it as pheasant. It was just lost. Maybe it was just lost on me.

As for the wine, the 2010 Vinero ‘South Gisborne’ Pinot Noir, made by Cutler & Co’s Sommelier, Liam O’Brien, was an absolute cracker. Smooth, fruity with lots of cherry flavour. It was a perfect match.

My favourite dish of the night was the Sher Wagyu scotch, served with hay-baked carrots, watercress puree and char grilled garlic shoots. This was some of the most meltingly tender beef I have ever, ever eaten. Someone made the comment that it absolutely trounced Blackmore Wagyu and I tend to agree. The meat was perfectly cooked to a blushing rare to medium rare and lightly anointed with a delicious jus.

The char grilled garlic shoots and watercress puree provided different levels of freshness to counteract the richness of the Wagyu. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the sweet roasted hay-baked carrot, but I would honestly need a non-hay baked carrot to determine the difference the hay made as I failed to detect and flavours imparted by the hay. No surprises in the well matched limited release 2008 Heathcote Estate ‘Block A’ Shiraz. Ballsy, but not overly tannic… it was on the fruitier side, which is my preference.

The penultimate dish was the Holy Goat ‘La Luna’, served with poached quince and flaxseed lavosh. We were fortunate to be drinking a ‘project wine’; a 2009 Chalmers Passisto Malvasia/Picolit from the Murray Darling region. There was mild concern at the table as to how this sweet, but not too sweet wine would pair with the creamy, almost nutty and tangy goat’s chevre. It worked a treat and more so that the quince flavours were picked up in the wine. My favourite wine of the night (slightly pipping Liam’s Pinot).

Our last dish was a warming, rich pear and suet pudding with chestnut ice cream. The quenelle of ice cream could have been bigger, but that’s just me being greedy (it was adequately proportioned to the pudding). The pudding was light, not overly sweet, nutty from the chestnuts and a sign that winter will soon be on its way. The accompanying Harcourt Valley’s Bress ‘Bon Bon’ Cider aptly accentuated the pear in the dessert and was well balanced between the acidity cutting through the richness of the dessert, and its sweetness with neither the cider nor dessert dominating the other.

The night was a great celebration of produce at its prime, presented in the best possible way by one of Australia’s best chefs. If last night was anything to go by, I will look forward to seeing what the following seasons and regions bring to Cutler & Co’s table.

[farfromfamished dined as a guest of Cutler & Co]

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