Attica Loves Melbourne: Epic Revisit
Our second visit to Attica in a couple of months was even more impressive than the last time; with every single dish being a showcasing and triumph of native Australian cuisine. Sometimes playful, sometime humorous, and with a great deal of theatre, Ben Shewry and team take us to places that are only unique to Australia. Check out our Best Restaurants in Melbourne.
Rated 32nd restaurant in the world in San Pellegrino World Top 50, Attica continues to shine bright as a heart bed of innovation, theatre, surprise and ingenuity. Natural ingredients are highlighted in a new light. Revelation of Australian native ingredients is at the fore; who knew the mussels in Port Phillip Bay could feature in a world class restaurant. We enjoyed a full dining experience with Jeffrey Merrihue CEO of foodiehub.tv and his wife Maria, along with Kristy of Queen of Bad Timing from Perth (Perth expert for foodiehub.tv).
Upon arrival we were greeted with a kind gesture; as Ben Shewry was on holidays and was keen to meet Jeffrey he arranged for a bottle of Nicolas Maillart Premier Cru French champagne on the house for our table. Waiters recalled conversations and details from my last visit, which was super impressive.
Jeffrey was keen to order the Giaconda, an epic Chardonnay with strong vanilla and burned butter tones and amazing depth, the 2005 vintage being the wine of choice. This has to be one of the best Chardonnays to come out of Australia. Elegant but a huge wine; Giaconda is an Anaconda!
The menu shows the ground taken by Ben Shewry and team; it includes saltbush but takes Australian native cuisine way beyond innovative use of saltbush into a myriad and plethora of Australian native tastes, textures and thrilling combinations.
Straight to the Appetisers; a series of imaginative and diverse small dish culinary experiences. Cook's Leaves (above) was a simple dish but a revelation. Here we were wishing we would start growing Sorrel leaves at home. A herbaceous hit. But use the leaves to mop up the house made sour cream and sweet vinegar.
Whipped corn is a simple title but there was plenty going on.
Bringing back childhood memories of the pristine beaches in South Australia, the Goolwa Pippies was a delightful dish with pippies infused with seaweed butter and lemon juice.
A Mouthful of Green was again a simple title, but the hit of flavour was wonderful; peas, asparagus and walnut puree. Creamy, crunchy and a taste of the land.
Attica brings a sense of theatre with several chefs visiting the table to herald and describe the courses they've cooked for us. The Fresh Cheese and Honeycomb dish came with honeycomb served at the table in a way that was entertaining as well as exciting food.
Eggs and Pearl was an exotic dish; featuring Paspaley pearl off Broome in the remote Kimberleys in Western Australia. The pearl meat from some of the finest pearls in the world is topped with creamy scrambled egg. The dish has subtle nuances as you get a hit of the sea with the pearl meat amid creamy egg. There is the legend of Nicholas Paspaley and rare pearls.
Have you ever enjoyed Orange wine? Jeffrey was enamoured with the Orange wine selections on the Attica Wine List. Upon recommendation we settled for Ducks in A Row "Pandora's Amphora" naturally fermented wine left on the skins - the skins and seeds not separated form the juice - in the amphora. Grapes were hand picked from the Charmers Vineyard in Heathcote. The Amphora is a vessel used by the Greeks and the Romans and is a terracotta container of between 400 and 600 litres. This was an elegant wine; you may think fermentation with skins and seeds would make it wild and unbalanced but the process has delivered a silky smooth wine. Aromatics on the nose and peaches and nectarines across the palate.
Attica excelled with the Wallaby Blood Pikelet. After all we love black pudding and this seemed to be an Aussie version. This was served with native Davidsonia plum jam on top, garnished with Basil flower. The pikelet was dainty and light; served with a humorous hand written recipe. Presentation once again, came with a sense of theatre.
With crimpled butchers paper turning upwards, the Attica version of the Aussie meat pie was enchanting; Gazza's Lamb Pie. These pies are designed to be eaten in a single bite (like many of the Attica smaller dishes). Saltbush short pastry had required crisp crust; and the lamb was saltbush fed South Australian Dorset Lamb (we are not unfamiliar with this lamb from our days in South Australia). The pie is sprinkled with Ewe milk cheese. Personally this was a highlight dish for The World Loves Melbourne, a fancy Aussie meat pie.
Unobtrusive but impressive was the Chicken carrots dish. Presented in a large thin peeled slice of carrot, like a taco, the marinated chicken thigh with sorrel and kale was an intense flavour hit. Murray salt flakes and tarragon ensured it was pleasantly seasoned. Check out the 70s style dish it was served in.
Another highlight was the Lance Wiffin's Mussels; the romance being in the significance of Lance Wiffin the legendary mussel fisherman and his formative relationship with Ben Shewry helping him through a bout of depression in the early days. Hand painted art on a large shell is stunning if not slightly haunting. Dramatic effect. In terms of indigenous ingredients who would have thought these mussels were from nearby Port Phillip Bay? Lightly cooked in a crust of potato rice, the mussels are a triumph. A garnish with another indigenous ingredient, Pigface, makes this a highly artistic and delicious native dish. Lance Wiffin had helped Ben Shewry out of his depression and it led to Ben making wholesale changes to the culture in his restaurant. He won't employ anyone who is not "positive" in outlook.
Beef on the Bone showcases some of the best beef in the world; 8 week aged Cape Grim Beef from the pristine wilderness of Tasmania. (The World Loves Melbourne is a huge fan of Cape Grim Beef as world best beef). The dish is cooked on the bone with macadamia nut salt; one rib per diner. Admittedly we were screaming for more.
Attica changes it up like a Novak Djokovic game plan. From world class beef we are given the thrills of Attica's famous Ripponlea Garden in a broth. The Aromatic Ripponlea Broth is a treasure, that is plain sexy. I felt like quoting Wordsworth and his poem Daffodils but an Australian poet may be more appropriate. This is a chicken broth with leaves of various textures and tastes. A cucumber and coriander seed oil also combine, with the broth, to soak intense flavour into the already tasty leaves. Suffice to say Attica has two famous gardens; it's garden out the back of the restaurant, and then a massive garden just down the road at Ripponlea Estate.
It was almost like a mini break in the meal when we enjoyed Wattleseed Bread to dip in this Jersey cow creamed milk butter and the Macadamia nut paste and crispy Saltbush. Even the bread here is exceptional. Again, this is a triumph of native Australian cuisine.
The dining experience here is truly an odyssey; already we have taken on a wonderful journey, but there were still 8 courses to come.
A visit by sous chef extraordinaire and one of the finest young chefs in the world (S. Pellegrino Asia Pacific Young Chef of the Year 2015) was engaging and inspiring.
By now it was time for red wine; and it was to an iconic Margaret River Western Australian wine we turned; the Cullen "Vanya" 2012. James Halliday calls it "Extraordinary wine...99 points". One of the iconic wines of Australia, a sublime cabernet and cacophony of dark fruit.
Salted Red Kangaroo and Bunya Bunya was arguably the best dish of the night for The World Loves Melbourne (with plenty of highlights from which to choose). Ben Shewry brings Bangkok to Melbourne here with this Thai influenced dish. Uluru Red Kangaroo fillet with peppery sauce is accompanied by purple carrot, native currants, fermented cabbage and Basil. Depth of flavour is enhanced with Bunya Bunya (native tree of Queensland) nut puree. We found this dish to be delicious; akin to a Red Kangaroo spicy peppery tartare. Brilliant.
The table agreed the favourite dish of the night was the Marron with Sweet and Sour Pumpkin Seeds. Lux Western Australian freshwater crayfish has a mesmerising texture and sweetness. The head removed, presentation was spectacular with elegant and elongated crayfish draped across the plate. The Ovens pumpkin seeds provided welcome crunch, with a tantalising sweet and sour dressing. Something simple showcased to perfection with understated brilliance. (Image below: Jeffrey Merrihue).
Jeffrey Merrihue rated this Marron dish as among his 6 best things he has eaten in Australia, and he has been to nearly all of the top restaurants. Check foodiehub.tv for articles by Jeffrey Merrihue and experts from around the world.
Which brings us to the next wine; a cracking Clonakilla Shiraz-Viognier 2006 from Yarra Valley Victoria. Ripe blackberry and full bodied Shiraz. Wine maestro James Halliday describes this as "an icon wine. One of the best in Australia." Jeremy Oliver lists it in his "Perfect 1's." Wall street Journal adds "Some argue this is Australia's greatest red wine." The 2006 was rated by Max Allen as "Wine of the Year" in the Australian.
We also enjoyed the Yarra Yarra Syrah-Viognier from Yarra Valley; an elegant wine with spicy peppery tones.
Yeasty potatoes showcases the best about humble potatoes; Chat Nadine potatoes from Trentham are local and cooked to perfection and served with yeast infused butter . We enjoyed the theatre of pouring Attica house honey mustard and thyme creamy sauce of melted The Mountain Man washed rind cheese from L’Artisan French cheese makers at Timboon. The cheese is made out of pasteurised milk, is surprisingly complex in taste and soft in texture and is made to reflect the harsh climate of the Great Ocean Road’s shipwreck coast.
The hits kept coming with 142 Days on Earth; 142 days from seed to plate for a red cabbage brought to our table with ceremony. The waiter has told us the "Cabbage" dish was spectacular; but how can a "cabbage" dish reach any heights?
It becomes a chart topper when the outer leaf is blanched for crunch, and the succulent poached heart layered on a bed of eggplant with tamarind paste is dusted with dry wattle seed. The cabbage on the plate looks impressive but soon the heart is filled with a saucy filling of diced emu fillet, bush tomatoes, Davidsonia plums, native pepper berry, beetroot juice and Rosella hibiscus. Who thinks of this? Davidsonia bush plums bring a depth more than "normal" plums, as do bush tomatoes. This is a rustic style of dish with amazing complexity and balance. Emu and cabbage are celebrated here, and who knew they could come together in such harmony.
Hearty, rustic pleasure; and enhanced with a top notch wine.
Before dessert we were given a charming tour of the Attica Garden (with tennis mock up display at the time)...
Halftime Oranges (orange sorbet and lemon myrtle served out by the garden during our tour) and Maria's Green Apple were refreshing dishes; with the apple dish named after Maria Smith the founder of the Granny Smith apple, Australia's famous cooking apple. This is a fun dish with long coil of apple served in three cone shapes; with buck wheat for crunch and cream cheese infused lemon myrtle and rhubarb and chamomile sauce for a highly sophisticated dessert.
Lois' Jelly Whip is the Attica take on the iconic Aussie favourite Aeroplane Jelly; which Ben Shewry enjoyed during his childhood. Attica showing it's innovation and playful side again. Liquid nitrogen, mango sorbet, passionfruit jam, honey, and pineapple jelly combine with condensed milk. The topping is mandarin, sorrel and coconut. Creamy and delicious. Cue the song.
The final course was the famous Pukeko’s Egg, which came with a picture of a painting from Ben Shewry’s father and a description from Ben Shewry. The dish pays homage to Ben Shewry’s New Zealand roots and is a delicate rich dessert with salted caramel and chocolate. You have to get inside the ethos and emotion here; and imbibe the hit of salted caramel and chocolate. Served with notes, and a filter coffee of note.
What do you expect from a World 50 Best restaurant? According to Jeffrey Merrihue, "Agree with experts this is Australia's best restaurant combining quality, freshness, expertise and theatre." Kristy the Queen of Bad Timing from Perth described it as an "epic dinner". Thanks to foodiehub.tv and Jeffrey Merrihue, as well as Attica, for a fabulous world class evening. Simply spectacular.