Interiors

Cutler & Co

June 15, 2009

Pascale Gomes-McNabb transforms a former metalworker premises on Gertrude Street into a modern restaurant, attracting the fanfare of the gourmet paparazzi.

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Situated in the quiet end of Gertrude Street in the urban chic, inner Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy, Cutler & Co doesn’’t exactly scream look at me, but rather excites curiosity with its austere façade of sky blue tinted windows and bold graphic signage. However, when the sun goes down and the lights are switched on, or dimmed as the case may be, what a voyeur’’s delight!

Magically the windows become transparent and the evening milieu unfolds to the curious eyes of onlookers. It is at this time that the discreet Cutler & Co flashing neon light becomes somewhat of a homing beacon for the design-conscious gourmand.

Cutler & Co is the latest venture by Andrew McConnell, his wife Pascale Gomes-McNabb and Frank van Haandel and they have captured the mood of the times and created an establishment that has an understated elegance and quiet reserve. This is the fifth restaurant that McConnell and Gomes-McNabb have developed together –– McConnell constructing the menu and delivering his award-winning food, his architecture trained wife translating the menu into a complementary design statement. Two years in the planning, this restaurant was to be all about fine dining, smooth service and an atmosphere of refined comfort and good taste. Gomes-McNabb’’s design talent is evident; the years she spent honing her skills working in London for architect Peter Clash then Hernan Zanghellini in Hong Kong have obviously been a fine training ground.

Originally, in the 1950s, Cutler & Co was the premises of metal makers, primarily flatware, and the character of the building has been retained albeit dressed for modern sensitivities. The 80-metre depth of the property has been divided into three areas: a front bar, the main dining room and a quiet zone for more intimate dining and private parties. The colour palette of subdued shades of browns, slate grey and black work in harmony to create an atmosphere of casual elegance–– you can be comfortable here in jeans or an Armani suit.

Entering the restaurant through the front glass door is to transcend from one world to another. Patrons gather around a monolith of steel that sits front and centre. The bar, made by Robert Hooks, is an island of blue gun steel that has been sandblasted, heat-treated then waxed to soften the harshness of the colour. Attached vertically at one side of the bar is a metal canopy; a forest motif has been punched into an eye-catching scene of trunks and leaves. Gomes-McNabb likes to think of this as “bringing the trees back” to green-challenged Fitzroy. It’s functional too, delineating the service walkway area that leads to the offices, kitchen and bathrooms, away from the baying bar crowd.

Shards of horizontal bronzed mirror have been hung in a random pattern on the main brick wall and reflect snatches of images of patrons in repose. Thonet stools and chairs, American oak tables and small glass cylinder lights that hang from black steel rods complete the picture. Is this a café in a Godard movie or a bar in New York’’s trendy meat-packing district? Hard to say, but it does feel good.

An inherited brick wall runs the length of the restaurant and brings with it a casual feeling with a modern edge. The white clay patina was serendipitously achieved when the painters washed the aged plaster wall. As the veneer fell away an indiscriminate covering of plaster was left, amazingly the perfect colour and texture for the interior design.

Banquet seating rings the perimeter of the main dining area and also extends into the bar. Custom-made by McConnell’’s uncle, the seats have the luxurious feel of a Bentley car and the comfort of a slipper. And no wonder, Tony McConnell is a craftsman who tailor-makes upholstery for vintage cars as his day job.

The main dining room, with a capacity to seat 80, is separated from the bar by waiters’ stations and bottle storage units. In this area American oak tables, sans tablecloths, are placed in a formation that allows diners to relax in comfort, assured of discretion from the ears of inquisitive neighbours. To one side of the area is a private mirrored booth that can seat eight comfortably. Brilliant for the intimate party, it has the best vantage point in the restaurant with splendid views of all areas. In a short time this has become a firm favourite with patrons who, tongue-in-cheek, now call to book the ‘Scarface Booth’. The main feature of the dining room and the knockout attraction in the restaurant are the pendant lights. Christened Cloud by Gomes-McNabb, collaborators Julian Featherston and Vic Tu from Two Feathers created these frothy balls of cream coloured silk loosely wrapped in black aluminium mesh that sit like 12 ballet tutus suspended in mid-air. They add a touch of theatre and more than a little humour to the minimalism of the dining area.

Situated on a raised platform and separated by a gauzy sheer curtain, the back area of the restaurant is quiet and low-key. The original loading bay wooden slide door has been retained and painted complementing the continuation of the exposed brick wall that extends to encircle the diners. Large smooth pebbles fill a metre-wide ‘garden’ bed between the back wall and the edge of the parquetry flooring offering a small, Zen moment in downtown Fitzroy. Four Robert Owen sculptures, much loved by the owners, defy gravity as they sit on the vertical wall with no visible means of support. This is a special space for special occasions.

From the subdued almost sombre décor of the main dining areas Gomes-McNabb has packaged the utilitarian spaces in an explosion of colour. Walk through the sliding glass doors of the unisex bathrooms papered with black and white custom-made wallpaper into a riot of red and lime green Bisazza tiles. No subtlety here, just effective use of colour to enhance small spaces. Unlike the theatre kitchens that seem to be fashionable these days, Cutler & Co has tucked its away. Glimpsed through swing doors, the area has been painted a bright and breezy yellow, the galley area designed for serviceability and the serious business of making excellent food.

All in all Cutler & Co is a refined gem in the midst of a bustling inner city suburb. The winning combination of fine food aligned with a design statement executed with style should see a discerning clientele make Cutler & Co a home away from home.

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