CumulusIt was really a treat, after the busy list of what needs doing to get to Christmas Day, to jump on a plane and head to Melbourne for New Year to celebrate a couple of birthdays - one a milestone age - and catch up with other friends we see far too infrequently, one of whom is facing health issues.

Melbourne is such a lovely city and late bookings for New Years Eve meant we ended up at Cumulus for lunch and then Cutler & Co for dinner - both of which belong to chef Andrew McConnell.

Cumulus is great endorser of Ortiz anchovies, with a big stack of tins on display and on the menu. It was packed out with a line of people waiting for tables as they became free. I don't think this is unusual here.

Open from early in the morning it does what it should do extremely well, with a tasty fixed menu for this day meaning we had a reasonably heavy meal, starting with almonds and olives, then nice local cured meats, followed by good oysters and delicious slow baked shoulder of lamb (at this point I did suffer a few nationalist qualms at being impressed with their local product), accompanied by a raw onion condiment I later checked out the recipe for whilst browsing McConnell's book in that iconic bookshop Hill of Content and must make. From memory it involved putting some salt on sliced raw red onion and leaving it to cure, then adding some lemon juice, olive oil and sumac. Worth repeating. Thankfully a light fruit salad was served as dessert. Simple and delicious.

porkDinner, later the same evening, at the larger and very attractive Cutler & Co, was just alright.

Good meat stayed prominent on our personal menu when the next day at friends we enjoyed a huge shoulder of slow roasted pork and potatoes in duck fat. Melbourne the city of fine meat!

As one of the birthday couple is studying for her Master of Wine, we hired a car and headed to Gippsland to meet a youngish winemaker by the name of William Downie, who had been named 'Young Winemaker of the Year 2006' by Australian Gourmet Traveller. We had the delightful opportunity to try his fine Pinot selection whilst enjoying hearing his philosophy on wine and life - and the company of his extremely cute, intelligent four year old daughter, Martha. I thought she was at least seven, so self assured and knowledgeable was she. Then I found out we shared the same birthday so all became clear (hehe!).

William DownieWilliam Downie's fine drops are available here through Glengarry who are likely to host him sometime this year. Not much is produced and it disappears quickly.

We finished our day and trip with a meal at Rockpool. It was great. A wide and interesting menu and wine list - good service - accompanied by food which delivered on flavour. Not surprising when you sight familiar products they use stored in their hallway display.

I loved their steak tartare and also the cabbage salad I remembered from our one previous visit about ten years ago, which is a tower of finely shredded cabbage tossed with finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano and a delicious dressing which I think used the Forvm Cabernet Sauvignon vinegar.

So that was that, a whistle stop visit. Must go back!