As a girl, whenever I visited my Nan she’d prepare my favourite crispy fried chicken on the countertop in her electric frying pan. And every time, as I washed it down with a plastic cup of milk, I’d beg her to tell me how she made it so yummy. In reply, and ruse, Nan confided that she knew The Colonel’s famous, top-secret Original Recipe. After my parents split up, my dad used to dish up white rice, butter and soy sauce for my brother and I, describing the intricacies of the meal in his pitch-perfect mimic of Grover from Sesame Street. It was love, not food, which made a simple meal, and a sad one, sentimental. At the age when everyone’s parents were separating, the thrill of tasting another mum’s weekly dinner rotation was dulled by that mum’s resentment at preparing those same meals week in, week out. Plates were dropped heavily in front of us; the normally raucous dinner table chatter muted. No one poured me a second glass of Fanta, and the apathetic mums and dads no longer made the generous offer of seconds when they saw what a ‘good eater’ I was. Cumulus Inc is one of those joints people call an institution; it’s been open more than three years, is still jammed Thursday – Sunday nights and regulars recommend it to interlopers with smug pride. It’s Saturday, and after forgetting Melbourne is the ‘foodie capital’ and being turned away from my first choice, we get lost in the laneways of the ‘laneway capital’, before arriving at our trusted fallback. We’re offered an hour-long wait and accept; the cold, the laneways and the over-population of restaurants in the vicinity have stymied our spirit. So we drink some. A dirty (filthy) martini for the gentleman, and a tiny-bit-too-sweet rhubarb-and-something-or-other mocktail for me. Within half an hour the maitre d’ has seated us at the bar in front of the open kitchen. We order Rangers Valley flank steak with wilted greens, panisse and Ortiz anchovy ($38), cracked wheat and freekah salad with preserved lemon and barberries ($12) and shaved cabbage salad with cumin yoghurt, dill and apple ($12), all to share. But just as resentment ruined another mum’s Bolognese, an open kitchen seething with the same sentiment spoiled Cumulus Inc. Where my Nan’s devoted preparation of flour, salt and pepper made her fried chicken killer, watching a chef repeatedly hurl food in a bin and bark orders to ‘start again’ made my flank steak chewy. Morale in the kitchen bottomed-out and was reflected both in the sombre mood of the diners at the bar and uncharacteristic neglect by the wait-staff. After waiting twenty-five minutes for a dessert menu that never came, and reluctant to wait the same again for our bill, we slipped unnoticed off our stools, slipped on our coats and paid at the door. Everyone has an off day, Cumulus Inc, but I wish you wouldn’t fight in front of the kids.