AtticaJune 25, 2016
74 Glen Eira Road, Ripponlea
When Attica was announced as number 33 at the World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards last week, I knew I had to write about my recent dinner there. Despite its ranking as the best restaurant in Australia, the food at Attica is humble and playful. Flavour and respect for ingredients are paramount, but the food here is not flashy. Sophisticated and incredibly smart, yes, but not flashy. This was as true when I ate there four years ago as it is today. Ben Shewry has a real knack for showing off native ingredients and opening our eyes to unconventional combinations without having to resort to using degustation regulars like foie gras, lobster and wagyu as centrepieces.
I ate at Attica a short while ago with my family and Mr N, to celebrate my birthday. I won’t go into too much detail about the service, except to say that it was friendly and knowledgeable without being intrusive. The staff have a clear passion for their work at the restaurant, and made sure our dinner was an excellent one. A bottle of champagne to begin and dinner took flight!
(Photo credits for this post go to my amazing brother Alex!)
Just as our champagne was being poured, the first of 12 small appetiser courses appeared – sorrel leaves with a house made sour cream and apple vinegar. Sorrel has a refreshingly tart, green apple taste that kickstarted our tastebuds when used to mop up the cream.
Shortly after, the smallest dab of whipped corn. I immediately got flashbacks to horrific creamed corn sandwiches that were forced upon me at school camp. Fortunately this was nothing like those jarred horrors – smooth, sweet and with a hit of basil, this was a revelation. I’ve seen corn with coriander and parsley, but never with basil.
We took a quick turn sea-ward to a pebble beach of Goolwa puppies, freshly steamed and served simply with a lick of seaweed butter.
This was another simple but clever dish of yellow tomato, tingly pineapple and some herb I couldn’t identify. Simple flavours, smart ideas.
Fresh Cheese and Honeycomb
A small bowl of freshly made cow’s milk cheese with honeycomb (served straight from the comb at the table) was a dish (of many) from the evening that really impressed me. Milky and sweet, this was a bowl of pure comfort.
Eggs and Pearl
After the fresh ricotta came another creamy, homely dish of crispy fried potato shells, pearl meat and creamy eggs. The combination of flavours reminded me of my Yiayia frying rounds of potato and serving them with a fried egg and some crumbled feta. The nostalgic nature of food has always been a huge draw for me, particularly when it pops up in the most unexpected places. I rarely eat pearl meat, certainly not with eggs in a potato crisp, and yet there was something about the smell and flavour of this dish that reminded me of myself, aged 10, eating fried potato with egg and feta.
By ‘Mum’s Pickles’ I don’t mean Ben Shewry’s Mum’s Pickles, I mean My Mum’s Pickles. Mum is allergic to egg so missed out on the Eggs and Pearl dish, but was served a cute dish of house made vegetable pickles as a substitute.
Wallaby Blood Pikelet
The wallaby blood pikelets had a surprisingly delicate flavour, and a light texture. They were finished with a dab of native plum jam and malt cream, and wouldn’t have been out of place in a high tea. Underneath the pikelets was a very cute hand written recipe for the pikelets.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this dish, but it certainly wasn’t a crunchy carrot taco with a delicious mix of crispy chicken skin, sorrel, tarragon and kale. Despite being a cold, crunchy and grassy dish, it reminded me of a roast chicken dinner. The crispy bits of chicken crackling were totally moreish!
My mum particularly loved the retro chicken-motif glass serving bowls. Very 50’s!
Lance Wiffin’s Mussels
I remember Lance Wiffin’s mussels from our last visit to Attica, so I was particularly pleased to see them still on the menu. Incredibly fresh, and fried in the lightest of sourdough batters, these Port Philip Bay mussels are a favourite of mine. As Mr N said, it’s the bar snack you wish you could get at your local.
Gazza’s Vegemite Pie
It’s a trick many Australians know – a touch of vegemite added to a pie, bolognese sauce or stew can make a world of difference in terms of flavour. True to form, Gazza’s (Shewry’s lamb man) vegemite, Dorset lamb and saltbush-pastry pies were fantastic. Such a great amount of flavour in such a tiny pie! Loved how they were presented on a crumpled paper bag, like you’d just bought them and ripped open the bag as a makeshift plate.
Beef on the Bone
In yet another beautifully presented dish, Cape Grim sirloin has been flash grilled to perfection before being skewered on a rib bone with a dusting of macadamia salt. The beef was very tender and good fun when eaten straight off the bone!
Aromatic Ripponlea Broth
The last of our small courses was a cleansing chicken broth punctuated with a host of herbs and leaves from Attica’s gardens (both the backyard herb plot and the larger garden in the nearby Ripponlea gardens). We had a lot of fun picking out and tasting individual leaves. Some were bitter, some peppery, others incredibly sweet. It’s quite amazing to think there can be such variety in a bowl of leaves.
Wattleseed Bread and Butter
I won’t spend too long on the wattleseed bread and house-churned butter (amazing though they were), because I just wanted to pause and mention the macadamia puree with smoked grey leaf. A creamy, nutty and sweet spread, this matched beautifully with the bread.
Salted Red Kangaroo and Bunya Bunya
Of the larger dishes, this was my favourite from the evening. Rare kangaroo was hidden beneath a blanket of purple carrots. In addition to the bunya bunya puree and native currants, there was a lemongrass-type flavour that married very well with the gamey kangaroo. The overall effect was something like an Asian flavoured kangaroo tartare – spicy, sweet and tangy.
Marron with Sweet and Sour Pumpkin Seeds
Hats off to Shewry for this marron dish because it demonstrated a completely new flavour combination for the sweet native crustacean. The marron (perfectly cooked) was topped with an addictive topping of crispy, crunchy pumpkin seeds and herbs. The sweet and sour seeds worked incredibly well with the buttery flesh of the marron. A really top dish.
The first time I ate at Attica, my mind was absolutely blown away by a dish of potato cooked in the earth. It was hands down my favourite dish from that evening. Naturally, I was crossing my fingers and toes that there would be another potato dish this time around. Well, I wasn’t disappointed.
The potatoes were cooked medium raw (and no, that’s not a mistake. You could also describe them as ‘al dente’). They had a slight bite, a slight crispness to them. I might have said they were slightly underdone if they didn’t taste so good. The potatoes were served with thyme, house made mustard and a sensational cheesy, buttery sauce.
142 Days on Earth
This dish had the most theatre by far. Two (possibly three) waiters arrived, one carrying the most enormous purple cabbage, leaves splaying everywhere messily. Peeling back the outer layers of this 142 day-old cabbage, they placed a lightly blanched cabbage leaf on top of some eggplant puree in the centre of each plate, followed by a soft, slightly charred piece of the cabbage heart. Then came a tumble of diced emu fillet, and a bright red bush tomato sauce.
I think this was a challenging dish to eat, partly because of the visual element of cubed bits of meat and the bright red sauce, but also because of the cabbage-y smell that is hard to avoid when cooking with brassicas. It tasted pretty good – a bit like a gamey bolognese – but wasn’t a standout for me.
During the garden visit, a segment of orange with a tangy lemon myrtle sorbet worked wonders at cleansing our palates. It was a nice way to break up the dinner, stretch our legs, and also to marvel at the variety of herbs being grown in suburban Ripponlea!
Maria’s Green Apple
This was an utter delight of a dessert. Green apples had been shaved into thin, long ribbons. You just had to catch the end of one ribbon and the whole thing could be unwound onto your fork like fettuccine. Within each little mound of shaved apple was a dab of cream cheese, and they were covered in a tangy rhubarb and camomile dressing. This was not only delicious but also fun to eat!
Lois’ Jelly Whip
We ended on a high with a dish of whipped milk mousse, mango jelly, passionfruit gel and sheep’s milk sorbet. This cloud-like dessert was topped with shaved sorrel and coconut. This was incredibly refreshing and tart, and an excellent way to end the formal part of our meal.
To finish, and because we were celebrating a birthday, a miniature daintree chocolate cake with warm chocolate sauce and jellybean ice-cream as a final birthday send-off, and a couple of rounds of ANZAC marshmallows. A dinner at Attica is a surprise and a delight. The food is some of the best you’ll eat, and you’ll be talking about some of the best dishes for days afterwards! Oh, what a night!
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