The First Decade
Words by Michael Harden
People can be shocked when they hear a restaurant is turning ten. It’s not just the standard neuroses about the accelerating passage of time that shocks them. It’s also that a restaurant can last so many years in an industry long obsessed with the thrill of the new.
It’s true that Cutler & Co has been a decade in the same position in Fitzroy, behind the same neutral glass front marked only with a neon sign. But behind the façade, it has never stopped evolving. The changes have been major and subtle, structural and cosmetic, but what hasn’t shifted is Cutler & Co’s essence, its mission to offer top end dining that’s flexible, friendly and relaxed. Quality sans attitude.
Cutler & Co opened just a year after Cumulus Inc, which was not Andrew McConnell’s first restaurant but his first to emphatically define a particular Melbourne style. The Cumulus crowd was mad for the all-day diner and its pioneering approach and so when the plans for Cutler & Co, a fine dining restaurant in a former factory in the badlands western end of Gertrude Street, were announced less than 12 months later, overreach seemed a distinct possibility.
Instead Cutler & Co helped redefine top ending dining in Melbourne. There were degustation and a la carte menus for those after a traditional multi-course experience. But you could also come in for a wood-grilled ribeye (a feature of the menu for the entire decade) and a couple of glasses of wine. You could drink benchmark French wine or the output of tiny, often obscure wineries from all points. The bar served Carlton Draught on tap. The service style balanced finessed with friendly. The design mixed glamour with a rough-hewn industrial aesthetic, incorporating sculptural and visual art elements.
Five years later, when Marion, Cutler’s sibling wine bar and bottleshop opened next door, there was an opportunity to make changes to the restaurant. The kitchen shifted from behind the scenes to the front of the restaurant, landing in the former bar space. A couple of years after that, the restaurant paused for another overhaul that saw windows punched into the back of the restaurant, glass partitions installed to clearly delineate the bar and the dining area, with the bar morphing into a standalone space attracting its own core of followers.
None of the changes screamed “look at me”. They were consciously sympathetic to the core values of the space, its design intent. If you hadn’t recently visited the space it might be hard to pinpoint exactly what had changed because the essence is intact and many of the faces working the floor and in the kitchen are familiar. The changes were never about re-booting, but about staying on point and keeping the restaurant vital.
Ten years of evolution have brought Cutler & Co to a point where it’s more refined than it has ever been and, at the same time, more relaxed. It’s the kind of place not just confident in what it’s doing, but happy to still be doing it.