For a start, it was one of the first of a slate of new arrivals on the lane, driving its resurgence as a dining destination. But it was also playing a very different game to other restaurants of the time, positioning itself in the middle ground between high-end dining and casual, cheaper – often middling – neighbourhood spots. It was egalitarian and uncomplicated, offering fine-dining-quality produce and techniques in a casual environment. McConnell’s food was often a little cheeky and subversive, mashing up luxury standards with comfort food. Produce, seasonality and locality reigned supreme, and – importantly – you could get a meal any time of day, not just within prescribed hours. It all seems standard now. It was utterly progressive back then.
“When Jayden and I opened Cumulus Inc we didn’t set out to do anything other than create a place to eat, relax and socialise,” says McConnell, who has since gone on to open a raft of other Melbourne classics, including Gimlet, Supernormal, Cutler & Co and more. “[It was] a place where quality was the focus, where you could feel at home, stay as long as you please, and return often. Fifteen years has raced by, and this is, and always has been, a place for our guests and friends to make of it what they will.”
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The restaurant’s tuna tartare has been on the menu since the very early days, cementing itself as a signature alongside various iterations of its slow-cooked lamb shoulder. It’s one of the stars of Cumulus Inc’s special 15th-birthday menu, a hitlist of its most iconic creations of the last decade and a half. For $88 diners will enjoy a cornucopia of dishes, from Baker Bleu sourdough and the tuna tartare to start, to foie gras parfait, and that lamb shoulder. To finish? Its legendary rum baba. Sommelier Chris Webb has also put together a “favourite 15 from the last 15” wine list to lubricate the proceedings.
While it’s unlikely you’ll be able to recreate in your own home the quiet luxury of Cumulus Inc’s dining room, with its bentwood chairs, understated hanging lights and open kitchen, this tuna tartare will get you on the right track. It’s a distillation of all that makes Cumulus Inc great: a share dish made with seasonal produce treated with elegance and care. And it’ll be on the table in around half an hour.
Cumulus Inc’s tuna tartare
Prep time: 20 minutes, plus 15 minutes for marinating
Cooking time: 2 minutes
½ clove garlic
1 anchovy fillet
1 tbsp light soy sauce
Pinch caster sugar
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
Finely grated zest of ¼ lemon
250g sashimi-grade tuna, trimmed and cut into 1½–2cm cubes
130g fresh peas
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 spring onion, finely sliced
20 mint leaves, shredded
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
3 tbsp goat’s curd
8 pea shoot tendrils
Rocket flowers, to garnish (optional)
Crush the garlic and anchovy using a mortar and pestle, then transfer to a medium-sized bowl. Whisk in the soy sauce, sugar, olive oil, vinegar and lemon zest. Add the tuna to the bowl and leave to marinate in the fridge for 15 minutes, stirring gently every so often.
Meanwhile, bring 2 litres of salted water to the boil, blanch the peas for 2 minutes or until tender and refresh in iced water. Using a mortar and pestle, gently crush the peas, then transfer to a bowl and add the extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, spring onion and mint. Mix well, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.
To serve, use the back of a spoon to spread the goat’s curd over a serving plate and arrange the pea salad on top. Season the tuna with a pinch of salt and, using a slotted spoon, remove the tuna from the marinade and carefully arrange over the pea salad. Dress the plate with a few pea tendrils, and rocket flowers, if using.
Cumulus Inc’s 15th birthday menu and wine list are available every day from midday until October 1, 2023.