Attica’s bookings are pretty ballsy, however, being ranked 21st in the world I guess you can be pretty ballsy in your approach. They open up sittings at 9am each morning for exactly 3 months in advance and no further, and there’s no point asking for 2 months and 27 days as they will be fully booked. After calling every morning for a week I finally got through to book the missus and I in for her birthday; unfortunately I was told that you can only book tables of 4, anyway, I decided with a couple of seats up for grabs at the most talked about restaurant in town I’d be the most popular kid on the block.
3 months is a long time to debate and salivate over a meal with anyone who will listen and there’s only so much urbanspoon-ing you can do. I still walked into Attica without much of an idea of what to expect. My favourite restaurant in Melbourne is undoubtably Jacques Reymond, no nonsense French food done immaculately, on the other hand I enjoyed Vue De Monde, however, felt the theatre and spectacle outweighed the quality of food, I was hoping the experience would be more Jacques than VDM.
On arrival at Attica the restaurant is nothing overly fancy, black decor, immaculately white tablecloths with spotlights shining bright light down on to the food. Although we chose our own wine, we’re given the option of matching wines or for the more health conscious or junior, matching juices. The wine list was refreshing to see as it’s open to all wine lovers at all price ranges and it was nice to see about 10-15 bottles of wine in the $50-75 per bottle range.
We’re given 4 Amuse Bouche before starting the menu, first up was a new addition to the Attica menu, a plate with whipped goats curd is placed in front of us, the chef then brings out a whole honeycomb and layers honey on top of it, a nice start and as much theatre as you should expect; no grinding of nitrogen frozen herbs in a pestle and mortar or kopi luwak hand delivered by elves on unicorn back. This was a nice start, the honey bringing sweetness across the goats curd; a combination of flavours that were simple but effective.
Next up was Mushroom leaf from the garden with a fermented corn with forest anise dip. The waitress explained that the mushroom leaf originates in Papua New Guinea and only 1 in 4 people get an intense mushroom flavour, none of us got the mushroom flavour (not sure on their statistics, however, the leaf was delicious when dipped into the fermented corn.
Next up we were given mussels from Port Phillip Bay, something I expect Ben (the head chef) had ‘foraged’ on his way into work this morning. Quite an achievement as had I foraged mussels from St Kilda through the array of needles and backpacker vomit there might have been a slightly different outcome the next morning. The mussels however were lightly crumbed and flash fried, cooked perfectly, crunchy, yet soft and tender in the middle.
Finally we’d hit the actual menu and we were pretty excited after the initial warm-up rounds. Snow crab wrapped in sorrel leaves with verjuice, mandarin puree and dried buckwheat was first up. On first inspection the dish looked pretty ordinary until I took a peak under the sorrel leaf to discover delicately placed flowers and hand picked snow crab. The crab was juicy and meaty with a hint of vinegar to soften and the crunch of the buckwheat topped it off.
I was least looking forward to the next course which was Russian tomatoes, red wine vinegar gel, dried beetroot with 10 different varieties of basil. This dish blew me away and had me smiling with each mouthful as it was unlike any dish i’d tasted before. There was sweetness from the tomatoes and beetroot, sourness from the vinegar and a huge smack of flavour from the basil, an extraordinary dish that I could eat over and over.
Next was the marron and tarragon with pork fat & onion jus, this was a dish that I enjoyed but didn’t love (personal preference). The marron was again cooked to perfection, sweet and juicy which was awesome with the onion and pork fat jus, however, I’m not a huge fan of tarragon, so nothing against the dish, but it wasn’t to my taste.
To back up the marron was another vegetarian dish which was sourced entirely from the Attica garden, cucumber with a chardonnay and cheddar cream, holy flax and peas. This was a refreshing course and I’ve not eaten holy flax before. I found it slightly unusual which brought a bitterness to the plate which was different, but different in a good way, not different in the way Tony Abbott’s ears are different.
King George Whiting in bark and cooked with paspaley pearl meat, lemon myrtle and butter was another highlight, potentially the best of the night. The whiting had been wrapped in bark and cooked traditionally over coals for 3 minutes giving it incredible moisture and refined flavours that were incredibly subtle but celebrated the fish. The taste of the earthiness of the bark and then a hint of the lemon myrtle was a party to behold in the mouth; the paspaley pearl meat is the muscle within an oyster which has an abalone flavour. I could literally have eaten this all night and I felt the urge to lick the bark; something thats not socially accepted in even the most common restaurants.
Finally the last of the savoury courses arrived, red wallaby with quandong fruits and herbs picked from the garden which had a dressing of honey and macadamia oil and lavendar. Again this was a sterling dish, the wallaby was tender and tasty, however, the real winner were the herbs (tended by the hands of the cooks) and macadamia oil which had great taste and depth.
We were then invited to take a tour out into the garden where we could see where some of the herbs were grown (the rest in Ripponlea House gardens), and were treated to raspberry ice cream rolled in freeze dried raspberries.
Dessert came out next, blueberries macerated in apple balsamic vinegar with sheep’s milk curd ice cream rolled in chrysanthemum petals. Again, this wasn’t really to my taste as I’m not a huge fan of the taste of the chrysanthemum petals. We were then given the raw strawberry jam on meringue with dried berries. The technique in this dish was incredible, the jam hadn’t had any sugar added, just pulped and brought through a vacuum at around 30degrees for about 6 hours resulting in beautifully natural sweetness.
Finally just as we thought it was all over, the waitress brought us a beautiful pukeko eggwhich is a native bird from New Zealand along with an explanation about Ben’s father. The egg is made up from white chocolate, decorated to look like the pukeko’s egg and then filled with salted caramel. As far as petit fours these were up there with the best!
Frankly I wouldn’t bother going to Attica if you love the showy theatre of restaurants because frankly you’d be better off elsewhere, however, Attica took us through a journey of traditional cooking methods, using the most fresh and available, native produce and what I can only imagine is a very kiwi philosophy to food. On the way outside you can see Ben Shewry at the pass, his enthusiasm and passion there to see, he has managed to create a restaurant that celebrates food rather than appealing to the modern day ‘foodie.’
Price – 8
Quality of food – 9
Atmosphere – 8