If one individual has made an indelible mark on Melbourne’s food scene, that person is Andrew McConnell. Quiet, unassuming and passionate, McConnell and his 350 staff preside over no less than nine innovative Melbourne establishments: Cutler & Co; Cumulus and its sister-bar Cumulus Up; wine bar Marion; The Builders Arms pub and its Chinese restaurant Ricky & Pinky; pan-Asian kitchen Supernormal; French bistro Luxembourg; and the carnivorous Meatsmith. “For any other chef, it’d be overkill,” comments Broadsheet, “but almost counter-intuitively, each new McConnell venue seems more distinct, more refined. With each addition to his suite of bars, butchers, bistros, fine-diners and cafes, the chef not only sets a standard, but raises it. By running so many restaurants, McConnell has given himself multiple creative guises to express himself through. He’s also forged a system of staff and suppliers that works to reinforce quality.”
McConnell’s connection to the Melbourne food scene is well captured in this late-night culinary tour of the city with some pals that starts at a Japanese gem hidden in one of Melbourne’s iconic laneways, moves to a Richmond bar for rum, and returns to the city to eat at late-night Chinese food institution for beer and doughnuts dunked in XO pippie sauce ... all in featured in this revealing fly-on-the-wall documentary from Vice.
McConnell’s success, says Broadsheet, is attributable to two dominant themes: produce – “chefs talk up the quality of their beef sides, the freshness of their wombok, the ethical standards of their line-caught gurnard so regularly, it’s become a certified cliché … but McConnell’s suppliers really are that good” and artistic flair – “the attention to form and design are obvious in the relaxed sophistication of Cumulus’ fit-out, or the cheeky Shibuya-stylings of Supernormal. And, they’re also obvious on the plate. Take the modernist construction of his ox tongue, crisp pig’s ear, pickled chilli and fried garlic dish, which we’re unlikely to ever forget.”
At Cutler & Co, McConnell creates “a unique dining experience that even unadventurous eaters can enjoy,” says Eating & Sleeping. “The décor is like nothing you’ve ever seen before, the building itself is a peculiar place to establish a restaurant and the food combinations are bizarre.”
Next door, at Marion, sommelier Liam O'Brien's list has “all the might of the Cutler cellar (joined at the hip), while the kitchen serves a menu with the same produce-driven bent as next door, but it's simpler stuff - plates of padron peppers, crab and avruga on rye crisps, and an on temp steak - that draws you into the glowing white, bronze and tan space for just one drink that's never just one drink,” according to The Age.
The highlights at Supernormal, says Time Out, include the “sweet and squishy New England lobster rolls,” the twice-cooked duck – “a half or quarter bird with anise-fragrant meat and shatter-crisp skin for tearing up and eating in soft steamed buns” – and the Chinese pot sticker dumplings – “pan-fried pork and prawn dumplings are five-spice heavy and connected by a lacy golden web of starch.”