Gertrude Street has officially become the hottest place to take your chomping gear this summer. Not only has Andrew McConnell reintroduced the bar seats and an open kitchen to Cutler and Co, putting one-drink-and-a-snack eating back on the fine diner’s agenda, he’s turned the hitherto empty space next door into a pop-up preview for Supernormal Canteen – his next venture due to open for reals in Flinders Lane next March.
It’s a temporary set-up – you can only dine here till December 31 – but the McConnell team doesn’t do things by halves, which makes this somewhere you’ll want to put on your December dance card while you can.
The synth-pop and soul tunes are cranking, the walls glow red from the obligatory fluorescent artwork on the wall (the calling card of design team Projects of Imagination) and every surface that can be sat upon or leaned against is packed with punters.
He’s stuffed the bright white room with big communal tables and hundreds of lanterns and he’s slinging out Japanese/Chinese snacks and glasses of sake and Asahi (the good imported stuff) faster than you can say domo arigato.
If you arrive past 6.30pm you can expect a wait, but queuing here involves leaning against the sun-soaked walls or tables outside with a smoky-fresh highball of Japanese whisky, and freshly squeezed apple juice.
The menu represents some new and old ground for McConnell. You’ll find the lobster rolls from Golden Fields – the brioche, Kewpie mayo and crustacean stuffed buns that are potentially responsible for the slider craze – but then there’s also a fan of tender, chilled chicken breast given a mouth numbing zing with a sauce of black and white sesame paste and five spice, taken to a whole new fragrant world with a final dusting of Sichuan pepper. It’s a potent proposition and underlines the fact that this is the sort of place best attacked with a crew.
Order your posse some drunken prawns. The medium sized suckers are nutty and sweet with sesame oil and mirin and so soft in the shell you can eat them whole and suck the heads for extra staunch points. We’re big fans of the salty pickled baby cucumbers too. They come impaled on sticks and rolled in sesame seeds like paddle pops for pickle fans.
You're looking at a collection of great, booze-friendly eats from smoky rounds of charred octopus tentacles with a roasted chilli sauce and chilled slices of brisket in a zingy chilli oil, and we’ll actually be a little sad to see them move out of this space and into the busy end of Flinders Lane. Upper Gertrude Street is free from the elbowy crowds of the city, but has just enough buzz to make this a place you want to be on balmy nights. Get in while the getting is good.
Supernormal Canteen pop-up, 53 Gertrude St, Fitzroy until December 31.