Attica, Melbourne

Attica was ranked #53 in the San Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurant 2011 (comparatively Amber in Hong Kong which I tried earlier in May this year was ranked #37).  However I was blown away by Attica’s unique dining experience. Their tasting menu was exemplary and exquisite.

Strangely for such a high calibre restaurant, Attica is not located in the city centre of Melbourne. Its located in Ripponlea – south eastern suburbs of Melbourne. The red brick masonry facade welcomed us and behind the black wooden door, we enjoyed an amazing 8-course tasting menu dinner which took us close to 4.5 hours to finish (or rather to savour).

The settings in the restaurant was very simple. Dark (almost black) walls surrounded us, with dim ambient lighting and a simple spotlight focusing on each table – seemingly to imply that the stars of the night would be the amazing dishes.

As there’s no BYO policy at Attica, we ordered a Chardonnay by YarraLoch (from Yarra Valley) to go with our dinner. Started with the amuse bouche, which is Raw Prawn. The raw prawn tasted refreshing with the simple looking ingredients (Jerusalem artichokes and mustard seeds).

First up is the legendary “Snow Crab” inspired by the volcano Mount Taranaki in New Zealand, the country which the chef – Ben Shewry grew up in.  Its legendary because I couldn’t find any picture as to what is buried under that pile of snow-like fine powder. Its even more legendary after tasting it, as I’ve not tasted anything close to the texture of the white powdery substance!!!  Turns out, the “snow” effect was created using freeze dried coconut (a tropical fruit commonly available in Southeast Asia). And buried under the “snow” is mixture of crab and salmon roe. After feeling the “snow” melt in your mouth, you’ll feel the salmon roe pop. Fantastic texture.  Its a pity that the taste of the crab is slightly masked by the other ingredients fighting for attention. But it definitely left me pondering “How did the chef invented this dish?!” Brilliant.

The second dish was the “Marron, Leek, Egg York“. Marron is a species of crayfish in Western Australia, similar in taste to lobster – considered to be a luxury product highly prized by chefs. We were left wondering whether we are to eat the leek and marron together or separately??? In any case, I liked how the chef handled the leek. The trick lies in the addition of leek ash on top of the leek, it resulted in a complex taste. Because by reflex the brain would associate the smell of  “ash” to burnt or overcooked food; but the leek drizzled with egg yolk tasted crisp and crunchy – playing a trick on our brain =)

The next dish “A simple dish of potato cooked in the earth it was grown” is notably the signature dish by Chef Ben Shewry. To call this a “simple dish” is an oxymoron as apparently the potato was cooked for at least 5 hours( ?!) to attain its rich, creamy texture. The smoked goat curd and fried salt-bush leaves gave this dish its “earthy” taste.

“Meat from the Pearl Oyster” was next. Pearl meat is said to be rare and prized seafood, it is harvested in a short two-month season from July to August. Like any oyster meat, its said to have aphrodisiac qualities. The pearl meat’s texture is similar to that of scallop and abalone, chewy and meaty.

Other than the standard dish in the menu “Raw Chestnuts, salt baked Celeriac, Pyengana” we had an alternate dish (as someone don’t eat raw chestnuts…so it was replaced) which was a collection of “Seaweed”.

During the period of our visit, there was a special – top up A$20 per pax for addition of fresh black truffles to the raw chestnuts. Of cos we can’t give up this opportunity!!! The aroma of the truffle filled our senses almost immediately when the assistant chef shaved it onto the dish.  The cheese and salt baked Celeriac combination made the dish rather salty and slightly jelard.

My main dish was “Beef Tongue, Vanilla, Myrtus, Lettuce Stems” while the rest had the beef tongue replaced with normal beef. I’ve eaten pig tongue before, hence I was half-guessing that the beef tongue would taste similar (chewy and rubbery?). Turns out the beef tongue tasted like an extremely tender beef cut and it melts slightly in your mouth. Compare the colour difference between the beef tongue – redder (pix above) and normal beef – darker red (shown in the pix below).

Finally we reached our last 2 courses – the desserts. Both are fruit-based which is not exactly my fav…I would have prefer if I could end the meal with chocolate-based desserts =(

“Winter Apples” was not my cup of tea….as I don’t like the taste of preserved apples – sour taste…thou there is the sweet jellied avocado to balance the taste…it was still *ahem* kinda hard for me to swollow…but its just me…I’m sure the others enjoyed the dessert since they volunteered to help me finish mine =)

“Mandarin and Honeydew Honey” was more acceptable to me. Mixture of fresh and freeze dried mandarin with the sweet caramelised sauce.

Lastly, they presented the white chocolate, moulded into shape of Pukeko egg (inside is filled with salted caramel) placed in a heap of hay! Excellent presentation! The Pukeko bird is a native of New Zealand, chosen by chef Ben Shewry which I think serves to pay tribute to his connection to his origin country and a reflection that his inspirations for the fantastic dishes arose out of his personal experience and life in NZ.

Dining in Attica is a memorable experience not only due to the skills of the chefs in delivering perfect dishes, but more importantly I feel the spirit and motivation that drives Chef Ben Shewry in his relentless persuit to push boundaries and challenge his own limits.

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