Melbourne: Attica

Ranked #21 on the San Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurant in 2013 and winner of The Age Good Food Guide 2014 Restaurant of the Year, Attica was a huge decider on why we chose Melbourne for our weekend away. The restaurant’s head chef, Ben Shewry, a talented culinary genius, born and raised in North Taranaki draws inspiration from his childhood to the dishes that he creates. 

Being over prepared, I made reservations as soon as they became available and we were lucky enough to secure a table on Saturday night.

On the menu, the degustation is comprise of a total of eight dishes, but in actual fact, it was more than that. Upon arriving, the lovely waiters brought over freshly baked rye bread with creamy churned butter and whipped macadamia oil. While we were enjoying the bread, we were presented with several different amuse bouche. The first was a complete surprise and it came in the form of mustard leaves (attached to its stem) with a fermented cottage cheese dipping sauce. Despite looking rather suspicious (we had to check with the waiter on how to go about eating this), it was strangely nice. The sauce provided most of the taste and the salty cheesy flavour was addictive. This came with a side of pickled baby carrots which was sharp with a slight hint of honey, a great way to increase our appetite. Sadly, I was too overwhelmed with the food and I had forgotten to a photo.

Our meal then moved on to another free offering from Attica. The wallaby black pudding pikelets was surprisingly airy and not what you would expect from wallaby blood. A perfect bite size, it was topped with a light foam and decorated with edible flower petals.

You would think that two different amuse bouche was enough to amuse us, but I guess Attica just keeps giving. The deep fried mussels, cooked in exactly 35 seconds are nothing like the typical ones in New Zealand. Being an Australian species, these mussels were small and because they were flash fried, it was delicate on the outside and soft on the inside. Unike the rubbery/chewy deep fried mussels that you find in Auckland!

Our degustation finally started (after a sublime beginning) with the first dish on the menu, the snow crab with sour leaves. Hidden under moist tangy sorrel leaves was a mixture of juicy sweet crab meat and mandarin gel. The citrusy ingredient did not mask the natural flavours of the crab, instead it gave a nice fruity note and the sprinkling of pepper berries added a spicy feature.

We were rather disappointed when the staff told us that Ben Shewry’s signature ‘Potato cooked in the earth it was grown in’ dish was replaced with the flavours of St Joseph’s wort, but we were assured that this dish was just as good. They were not wrong, this light salad of black Russian tomatoes and ten different types of basil was fabulous. These peeled tomatoes sat on top of a generous dollop of yoghurt made from sheep milk and garnished with a beetroot puree.

Our third course was a seafood dish which was made up of half a poached marron tail with kale and tarragon greens. This sat on top of a creamy pork fat and white onion sauce which had a distinctive meaty taste. It would have been perfect if there was slightly less salt in the sauce, but this was easily rectified as I avoided lavishing the crayfish with the sauce.

The next vegetable dish was one of my favourite during the night. Segments of lightly cooked cucumber, seasoned and served with peas and holy flax from the garden and accompanied by a bean and trout cream was a good demonstration of balancing something light like the crunchy cucumber with a creamy rich sauce. In my opinion, the best savoury dish from the menu!

Our King George Whiting, cooked and presented in paper bark was a nice surprise when we lifted the charred bark. Hidden inside was a juicy fish fillet topped with diced pearl oyster and butter. The bones on the fish is really fine, so it is safe to eat. We hardly noticed it when we devoured this dish.

I highly anticipated the seared red kangaroo as I’ve never eaten this meat before. Served with segments of tangy quangdongs, a native Austrlian fruit and a mixed herb salad, this was our last savoury dish for the night. The kangaroo meat was surprisingly lean and a small portion is enough as it was rather filling. The quangdongs were also a first for me and they were quite sour, perfect for my taste! The mixed herb salad was the only let down from our entire meal. Some of the leaves were bitter and sharp and at one point it was like chewing on a thick stem. A rather unusual accompaniment, we left most of this untouched.

Part of the dining experience at Attica was a tour of one of their herb gardens behind the kitchen. Welcomed by a lovely staff who offered us a pleasant chilled apple tea to cleanse our palate, we were given another freebie, a delicious berry gelato served in a tiny waffle cone and coated in velvety chocolate ganache. The temperature was still on the warm side, so these cold refreshments were a welcomed treat.

After taking a break from all the delicious courses, we came back to our table and anticipated for desserts. The first to arrive was made up of blueberries, cheese and vinegar, a combination that worked oh-so-well. The blueberries which came in both dehydrated and fresh form were hidden under a luscious scoop of mascarpone ice cream, the crysthamin petals was more like a decoration component and didn’t taste like much. Although you can’t see it at first, at the bottom of the dish is a small pool of tangy apple vinegar that gave an intense taste and countered the richness of the ice cream. We finished this in minutes and despite being rather full, we wanted more!

The last dessert from the menu was my personal favourite, despite looking simple and plain, this ‘raw strawberry jam’ was anything but! Layers of strawberry jam, soured cream, meringue, berry ice and fresh strawberries, this was heavenly. They make the strawberry jam in house and it has a tart after taste which is rather refreshing. There is a complexity of tastes and texture and I particularly liked the combination of soured cream with fresh strawberries.

Of course, our meal didn’t just end there. To finish off our night, we received another free dish from Attica. Presented as Pukeko eggs in a grassy nest, these caramel filled chocolate eggs were hard to resist. We left the restaurant with a overly filled belly and dresses that were close to busting at the seams.

Charging $190AUD per person for an eight course degustation menu, we went in expecting to be blown away with the food and we were! At one point, we felt like that we had to find a flaw (side of herbs from the kangaroo dish) as the meal was too perfect to be true. Shewry’s emphasis on natural ingredients and how the produce takes centre stage meant that the dishes were not overwhelmed by foam, soil or any unnecessary component. Everything had its place and each ingredient was combined to create the perfect dish.

The service was immaculate and precise, they even timed it so that our two waiters were synchronised. This attention to detail can be hard to find and Attica nailed it.

Attica is worth every dollar, if you’re in Melbourne and could secure a reservation, this is a MUST try. 

Date: Saturday 1 February, 2014 | Location: 74 Glen Eira Road, Ripponlea | Food: Degustation