With the opening of restaurant Moon Under Water, Andrew McConnell’s reinvention of the Builders Arms is complete. Cutler and Co’s chef-restaurateur took the name from a George Orwell essay describing his ideal pub. We haven’t checked if Asprin is available, or if they’ll let you use the phone as Orwell proscribed, but overall, they have created a pretty impressive package.
You can prop up the still relatively pub-ish front bar with a Carlton Draught and Melbourne’s best cheese roll; dig in for a little mid-week triple cooked corned duck at the bistro, or pass through the saloon to the winter garden that is the restaurant, Moon.
We thought the bistro was white. This room is a scene from the afterlife. Linens, flowers, cabinets and floors are fifty shades of snow. Even the waiters ghost around in bleached pinnies. Were not sure if it’s beautiful or creepy, only that we want to whisper and not-drink-red.
You’ll want to book. The restaurant holds a humble 40, and with a short form Culter style offering at $75 a head, we reckon those seats will fill faster than you can wrestle your credit card out.
They’re doing a set-menu only. It’s four courses with vegetarian option and bonus dishes available, but if that seems limiting to you, consider this. Chef Josh Murphy is at the grill (he was previously head pan-basher at Cumulus) and McConnell himself is making the odd cameo. That’s a lot of skill zeroing in on your dinner, so while you’ll probably start with a simple cheesy biscuit of Gruyere and Parmesan rendered into a flaky butter-rich disc, and maybe tiny chive flavoured puffs filled with sweet spanner crab, they’re a cut above. They are also just the free pre-snacks, so don’t panic. But do lift up the wooden platform they arrive on. Beneath is a surprise box of fresh radishes, unsalted butter and warm rye bread. We wonder what happens if you’re too polite to dismantle your table settings?
The real show may kick off with Rottnest Island scallops, served raw and glistening, followed by multicoloured carrots roasted with Sauternes (that sweet French wine) and arranged teepee-style over gently poached medallions of chicken breast in a silky pine-nut cream and jus.
Eat it and weep, friends. Each menu has the life span of a week, with Murphy and sommelier Campbell Burton conspiring on menus that will ride for five days only. Which is good or bad news depending on how attached you get to the likes of the beef short rib.
Here, spoonable meat gets a panko crumb crust, its fattiness cut through by a lightly pickled finger of cucumber, wilted chard and a daub of gentleman’s relish – sort of like a HP sauce made from prunes, Worcestershire and anchovies.
It’s as good a dish as we’ve had at any McConnell restaurant, but at an approachable price point that will keep us coming back.
Speaking of, you’d be a fool not to take the $55 wine match. Even if you’re picky, they allow for half pours, sub-ins and you can skip courses entirely if you’d rather tackle your dessert sans sticky. Ours is a soft meringue slathered with tangy vanilla-flecked sheep yoghurt, crunchy rhubarb granita and jelly, all under a blizzard of individually separated pink grapefruit juice vesicles. It looks a little like a pink angora sweater, and is a texture-flavour triumph.
Barely two weeks old and the operation runs like it’s on greased rails. We say go now, or join the queue and don’t say we didn’t warn you.