Attica – Melbourne
Bianca: In terms of fine dining around the world I have a ways to go, Alex and Vanessa have both made it a point to visit a few Michelin starred restaurants on their travels. I’ve yet to have the pleasure but I have made a decent crack in the Australian fine-dining scene. But at the top of our Australian list had been ATTICA. Cue a moment in time we all sat around our computers, with a date, months out, we secured a booking and began the slow countdown.
We had essentially blown this meal up to epic proportions in our heads but that notion obviously isn’t without merit and basis. Having secured the number 33rd spot on the World’s best 50 restaurants – http://www.theworlds50best.com/ and the best restaurant in Australasia we knew we were in for a treat.
For such a well decorated restaurant it really is out-of-place, smack bam in a suburban Melbourne street in Rippon Lea. It’s a simple, brick façade but if you weren’t an avid foodie you’d walk past and be none the wiser. If you’re expecting an opulently furnished restaurant you’re going to be disappointed, the room is simple and understated with prominent blacks and simple white tablecloths.
We were warmly greeted at 7pm, coats taken and shown to our tables. The atmosphere at the beginning of the evening was a little stuffy and the lack of music really did reinforce this. But once everyone in the restaurant settled into their meal the vibe became very jovial and bustling. Service was consistently top-notch and Alana our main server was fabulous. There is an element of staff being rehearsed but at this level, similarly to Vue De Monde. It’s expected.
We started our epic 4 and a half hour slog with Cook’s Leaves. A mixture of Red Sorrel and Broadbean leaves with a sour cream and vinegar dip. There was a mild bitterness from some of the leaves and the combination of the sour cream with the vinegar was an interesting mix of sweet and acidic.
We got a little tongue-tied when Ben Shrewy made his first appearance in the dining room. We saw him consistently for a good two hour window running plates and describing dishes to tables. Which was a really lovely touch. It’s always nice to see the face behind the food and he was very friendly and humble. The Aged Santa Claus Melon was both sweet and sour. The dried Davidson plum powder had an interesting pop rock texture but besides watermelon I’m not a fan of any of the Melon family.
The snacks dipped from the sometimes confronting to the downright comforting, read on.
I have started to embrace seafood these days and Alex and I both have a love for scallops. Attica’s Hand Dived Scallop were plump citrusy morsels. Served in the shell in a rich buttery sauce.
We were perplexed when this traditional café favourite was placed before us. Smashed Avo on Toast pretty much makes an appearance on every café menu. And despite Bernard Salt’s recent harsh words, we continue to order it every single time! With mint and little bursts of freshness from the finger lime. A soft crisp from the wafer thin cracker and a slight fishiness from the salmon roe. Something so simple, refined to the nines.
The Fresh Cheese and Honeycomb made from Jersey milk cows and locally sourced honey was an unassuming yet tasty dish. With a similar texture and consistency to that of ricotta, on its own it wasn’t anything mind-blowing. But mixed with the thick honeycomb (scraped directly from the honeycomb block in front of us) it changed the flavour spectrum completely.
Tender juicy ribbons of Smoked Pork neck with shaved apple skin vinegar tasted like a dressed up Christmas ham with a pastrami like outer crumb/pepper.
And the one that concerned us the most, particularly Ness as we kind of forced her into this one. The Wallaby Blood Pikelet went down in one bite you could easily fool yourself into thinking you had taken a bite of a sausage roll, the taste was uncanny.
The Chicken Carrot was easily one of my least memorable ‘snacks’. A thin slither of carrot acting as a ‘taco’ shell. Filled with chicken thigh, tarragon and sorrel. Laden with fresh herbs, the flavour was a little to grass clippings(ish) for me. We were each taken with the glass chicken serving ware, so clever and added just that extra touch of theatricality.
As an homage to MasterChef judge Gary Mehigan, Gazza’s Vegemite Pie with vegemite pastry, ewes milk cheese and a thick lamb mixture. The vegemite pastry wasn’t noticeable whatsoever, which is fine for this lady, I’m not a huge fan.
And probably one of Attica’s most photogenic dishes – Lance Wiffin’s Mussel. Attica’s mussel supplier is immortalized with his face on the shells exterior. The mussels were enclosed within a tempura like batter that exploded in the mouth.
Beef on the Bone was a rather bleakly served morsel, an intense smokey smell as soon as you lifted it towards your face. With a burnt macadamia salt that accented the beefs robust flavour. I hope they scrub those ribs though.
And the last of the snacks and the one that would induce the most amount of chuckles and looks of bewilderment when we explain our degustation to anyone. The Aromatic Ripponlea Broth with 25 herbs and flower petals in a light consommé. Serving the consommé cold was the only thing that left me a little puzzled but what a truly magnificent and interactive dish. Having been instructed to each petal/herb individually.
Mind you, we were 12 dishes in and had only used cutlery twice.
My favourite part of any meal is the bread and butter. And the Wattleseed bread was worth the wait. The house churned butter w/sea salt had equal billing alongside the Macadamia puree, with cold smoked macadamia oil and fried saltbush. Alex and I couldn’t down an offer of a second slice and I’m pretty sure that cost us down the track.
Vanessa opted for an alternative to the next course but Alex and I steamrolled ahead with the Salted Red Kangaroo & Bunya Bunya. Hands down my favourite dish of the evening. And one that was most unexpected. A flavour explosion with each and every bite. With a predominantly acidic note that was accented by the bunya bunya. A nut classified as a ‘bushfood’. The kangaroo was served similarly to a tartare, exceptionally tender and melt in the mouth. The purple carrots were cut with a precision that almost took your breath away. Each bite was different from the last. Ness had her kangaroo substituted for eggplant.
A very close second but a favourite with Alex and Ness was All Parts of the Pumpkin. What a way to celebrate such a regular run of the mill vegetable. A slow roasted pumpkin topped with whipped cream and orange (served from a hollowed out pumpkin) and toasted pumpkin seeds. With contrasting temperatures and textures. I wasn’t a fan of the cream but it did aid to cut through the richness of the roasted pumpkin.
An imposing sight, the Marron, Lilly Pilly and Pearl served in its shell were a plump few bites of luscious tender marron with a delicate flavour accented by citrus notes. Dotted on the plate was a sauce similar to a lemon curd.
We were on struggle street big time by this point. I don’t think any of us were anticipating the sheer amount of food. We also couldn’t help but sticky beak around the room. Particularly at a female diner behind Ness. She had the voms face big time, we also had a little side bet as to whether she released herself during a little bathroom break. Suffice to say we didn’t ask her to find out.
Thankfully we were at the last of the savoury. Finishing with Jumbuck, waxflower oil and dessert Oak. Essentially an infant lamb. A little heavy-handed in taste and not exactly the most enjoyable to finish on. We were far too full to appreciate such a bold flavoured and heavy dish. The lamb was delicious and the verjuice vinaigrette was useful to lighten the dish. Probably one I would have enjoyed 6 courses earlier…
We were given a slight reprieve when we were given a tour of the gardens. A little segment they call Cuppa Tea & Mint Slice in the Garden. Which is pretty much what is written. One of the chefs details all the herbs and flowers in the outside showy garden while we sipped billy tea and ate an Attica mint slice.
Stomach rejuvenation is totally a thing when it comes to dessert. And after stretching the legs we were ready for sweets. Easing into desserts with the Pineapple and Anise Myrtyle. Long thin ribbons of shaved apple were moulded into little domes and filled with cream. Which produced a flavour similar to a splice ice-cream, you know exactly what we mean! On the whole it was sour and acidic yet refreshing, the pearls of buckwheat were divisive but I enjoyed them.
And finally, Whipped Emu Egg with Sugar Bag. Perhaps confronting for some, similar to that of a zabaglione with a chocolate mousse hidden below. The jelly like crunchy bits really added to the texture. A most enjoyable way to end this marathon meal.
With four hours under our belt, we were finally brought Attica Cheftales a riff on the famous Allens Fantales. Complete with chef trivia.
What more is there to say about ATTICA than go, go now! A truly fantastical meal that takes you on a journey with each and every dish. A meal that will stay with me for some time.
Photos by Alex (sorry about the photos! It was extremely dark in there!)