74 Glen Eira Rd
Ripponlea VIC 3185
+61 3 9530 0111
I turned 25 over the weekend. Yep, no longer will I be ticking the 18-24 box when it comes to filling out surveys and no longer will I be able to honestly tell people that I’m in my early twenties. Welcome to the the Quarter Life, Miss Libby. Sigh. And so my foray into the mid-twenties started off with a long morning in bed, nursing a cold that had been plaguing me all week. Yes, the cold. While I may have used it as an excuse to put away my books for the week and to avoid doing any sort of housework, no cold was going to stop me from indulging in Attica‘s eight course degustation dinner that night, nosiree!
A birthday gift from my darling Adam, this was one dinner that I had been looking forward to for quite some time. I mean, who cannot be excited at the thought of dining at a restaurant that was given the title of Best Restaurant by The Age Good Food Guide last year as well as being ranked the 73rd Best Restaurant in the world according to the San Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurants List? Hells no. So never mind my cold, I thought as we walked to the not-overly-flashy brick building on Glen Eira Rd at 6:30pm on Saturday night which was warm and cozy inside. I happily sat down on the cushy booth towards the back of the restaurant as I anticipated the many, wonderful things that I would get to try from Ben Shewry’s $140 per head eight course degustation (which is the only thing available on Saturday nights).
Being sick meant that I could not order a glass of wine to sip with my meal. And I had to totally restrain myself from crying as Adam devilishly sipped his Trumer Pils from a funky beer glass in front of me. Bastard.
We were presented with warm bread from Dench’s bakery (a choice between seed and sourdough), shaped like mini sharks’ fins. Along with a small tub of house-cured better and Murray River sea salt, we were also given a small container filled with an olive oil emulsion which tasted like a cross between tzatziki and deli-bought taramosalata. It wasn’t bad, but I did prefer the boring butter + salt on bread combo over this brew.
Our amuse bouche was a simple medley of heirloom carrots with a carrot juice and a sprinkling of goat’s cheese. Nothing to excite my tongue, really (I mean, it WAS only carrot).
The first course was simply called ‘snow crab,’ a strange but wonderfully intricate creation that looked like it came from a lab rather than a restaurant. At first glance, the dish looked like a pile of well, snow but take one mouthful and you will discover delicate shreds of fresh crab meat, puffed rice, barberries and salmon roe hidden underneath the ‘snow’ which is made out of frozen verjuice, egg white and horseradish. What I loved about this dish was that each forkful of ‘snow’ gave you an almost-brain freeze before the chill simply vanished, leaving the tongue to savour the crab and the salmon roe. A dish that certainly tickled my senses.
You’d think that nothing could top what had been a stunner of a first course but the second course did just that in the form of an obviously Asian-inspired osmanthus & chrysanthemum broth with abalone and cuttlefish. It was a delicate, herby broth which brought out the flavours of the abalone and confit chicken pieces. So perfect on a cold Autumn’s night and so delicious that I could eat it all day long.
The third dish was bizarrely named “a simple dish of potato cooked in the earth it was grown.” This dish is a nod to Shewry’s New Zealand heritage and the hangi, a method of cooking that involves cooking meat or vegetables underground. Here, it kind of looked like they simply dug a potato out of the ground and plonked it on our plate which I thought was pretty cool. The waitress explained that it had been cooked for 13 hours, which explained why it was the most tender piece of potato I had ever had in my life (the most accurate way to describe it would to be call it a solid mashed potato). The smoked goats curd and fried salt-bush leaves made the potato taste more ‘earthy’ as per its name, and both the Jerusalem artichoke dust and dried tuna flakes gave the dish a not-really-needed-but-more-than-welcome level of extra tastiness.
The ‘bass gropher, almonds and rosemary‘ fish dish was just as exquisite as the first two courses. It was the epitome of a perfectly-cooked fish, beautifully tender and silky, with the insides still raw yet on the verge of being cooked with the crunchy almonds giving this dish an interest textural contrast. The lemon confit gave this dish a slight tang but was well-balanced by the aromatic garlic chips and a sprinkling of rosemary flowers.
Our next two courses were the slightly heavier meat ones which excited Adam to a great degree. And while they were good (nothing consumed at Attica that night could be considered ‘terribly bad’ in my opinion), they did not match up to the excitement that the first few courses ignited. Take the lamb, tubers, mushrooms roast over wood and smoke, for example. Like the fish, the lamb was beautifully – no, PERFECTLY – cooked. Like how it should be. It was so juicy, so tender, so flavoursome, so everything the best piece of lamb can be. The problem I felt with this dish though, was that I felt that the mushrooms and tubers seemed kind of … disjointed from the rest of the dish. I normally love mushrooms but eating these mushrooms was a bit like a chore to me as they did not really mesh well with the dish. Even more annoyingly, the fact that everything was too bloody smoky probably ruined the whole thing for me. But damn, that lamb really was very good…
The beef, seagrass and white cabbage was just as disjointed as the previous dish. It goes without saying that the beef rump squares were beautifully cooked, with the right amount of pinkness. However, the seemingly on purpose burnt ‘chips’ on the side just looked and seemed gimicky along with the sticks of wombok while the lump of dried black sea grass and black sesame added nothing to the dish as it was not only tasteless but awkward. The fact that these two dishes took forever to come to our table probably compounded our inability to enjoy the meat dishes fully. The service did start off swiftly and friendly at the start but as the restaurant got busier, the waitresses spent less time chatting with us about the food and focused on the people who were clearly willing to splurge on bottles of vintage.
Thankfully things DID perk up when the ‘bridging course’ was introduced as means to sway the tongue away from the savoury and onto the sweet. This dish, the terroir (which reminded me of Jan’s chocolate parfait at Embrasse), was mindblowingly fantastic. The ‘soil’ was a cool mixture of dehydrated beetroot crumbs and berries woven with an intricate mixture of spices, including cinnamon, clove and nutmeg. The ‘soil’ was then garnished with a sorrel and clover granita. Digging into the dish, one would then uncover a mound made of fromage frais sorbet combined with bits of kiwi fruit and avocado oil jelly. Phew!
Our final course was Attica’s take on the humble apple crumble, ‘apple, olive, warm shredded wheat,’ a fantastic way to finish off the night. It looked like a pile of, well, warmed shredded wheat but dig deeper and you will find…
… a warm filling of apples and celery held together by an olive oil emulsion. I was eww-ing over having to eat celery in a dessert course but strangely enough, it worked. Shrugs. A fantastic way to finish off a four-hour dinner and the appropriate send-off before we walked out of the restaurant and into the cold Melbourne night.
Oh wait, there’s more! Petit fours in the form of a warm chocolate fudge while Adam handed over his money! Funnily enough, Adam thought this was the best thing he ate all night (!!). Okay, I admit that these were some pretty damn good chocolate fudge but you’d have to be nuts to choose them over the snow crab. Or the broth. Or the fish. Or the terroir.
Well, what an eye-opening experience. Naturally, it didn’t come cheap and whether it was worth the $140 price-tag is something that will depend on the individual. We were both satisfied, but not 100% full. Then again, you go to Attica to be rewarded with an experience that will thrill not only your taste buds but the rest of your senses rather than be stuffed (this is what all-you-can-eat buffet restaurants are for). I thought that all of the dishes were amazing except for the two meat dishes which, while not bad, were not up to the standard as the other dishes on offer. Still, I’d say that Attica definitely deserves its two hats although I would have to hope that they had better meat dishes on the menu during Summer to warrant the place in the San Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurants List!