Attica

74 Glen Eira Rd
Ripponlea, VIC 3185
03 9530 0111
www.attica.com.au

Prior to eating here and writing up this post, I’ve decided not to do any background homework about the place, its chef and what we should expect. Nowadays, I feel that I should consider going back to basics. If you look back at why I started this blog, you’ll see it’s quite a personal journey of tastes, I did not really plan to sound ‘pro’ or ‘in-the-know’, though I did secretly want to be widely read. Writing intuitively with feeling is probably the best facet of my blogging style. Now that I look back at some of my posts like Golden Fields, I cringe a little. Back then, I was trying to sound like I know about the food industry.
All I know about Attica is that cousin trouble really wanted to eat here when they visited Melbourne. And the chef behind the food is Ben Shewry from New Zealand. And the restaurant’s three hatted. Carolyn, fakegf and I chose to eat here to celebrate our collective birthdays. Last year, we did so at Cutler and Co. (my first degustation ever). This might well become our expensive yearly tradition.
/
It was a friday night. The girls came in together, while I drove thru pouring rain in peak hour traffic down Princes Hwy and Hotham St into Ripponlea to suddenly find a park right in front of the restaurant’s front door, where I quietly wound down the car windows and furtively snapped the picture above…
There’s a modicum of initial unease whenever I approach an eating place that I want to blog about. Beneath my usual merry exterior, I inwardly worry about being told off, or sensing discomfort or displeasure from waiting staff. I faced that a few weeks earlier at an upmarket joint in Singapore, where I read through the chef’s body language that he was clearly not particularly fond of bloggers but was forced to be civil towards me.
.
All that said, it turned out I had nothing to fear in Attica. The staff were wonderful about it. Professional, genuine, and helpful. To the point where they’d even patiently repeat the names of the dishes for us to note. Often at these degustation places, there’s no menu and the march of food arrives with the waiter giving a long and sensual prattle of its ingredients and how it was cooked. This leaves me scrambling to remember what the dish was so that I can write it up later with the respect it deserves. But that night, a few of the staff actually on occasion volunteered to help us recap what’s in our dishes. That’s truly good service, catering to all customers, pedantic food bloggers included.
The restaurant’s interior is pretty much free from decoration, it almost felt like the inside of a minimalist theatre. Black walls, black ceiling, black curtains, black chairs. And then the tables… smartly tucked-in with pressed whites, and brilliantly spot-lit from above. Perfect for pictures, and so different to the dimly lit atmospheres of most fine dining destinations. The focus here lies with what’s put in front of you on the table. And from the way the dishes were presented, it actually made me feel like we were eating edible artworks off a gallery canvas.
We started off nicely with a piece of really good bread and unusual butters to accompany it.
Sourdough rye
Jersey milk butter, Smoked olive oil emulsion w black truffle salt
Amuse bouche of Crystal Bay Prawn
/
With this appetiser, I instantly fell in love with the lily-pad like leaves. I confess I did do some homework here identifying the leaf. Initially tried googling ‘nurstachen’… ‘erstashen’… and kept coming up with diagrams of human ear canals (eustachian tubes). In the end, I posted a pic and asked twitter, and got my reply within a minute: they’re nasturtium leaves.
/
This dish was a beautiful start and primer for the palate. It contained white radish chips, raw mustard seed, and jerusalem artichoke juice. All the elements tasted light and gentle. Crunchy milky prawn flesh, a hint of lime, and a clear artichoke juice that manages to taste earthy yet cleanly botanical at the same time.
Snow Crab
inspired by Mt Taranaki in New Zealand
/
I had to take a few dozen pictures of this pile of snow before this acceptable snap turned up. My eyes widened a fair bit when the waiter described how it’s Queensland spanner crab, lightly steamed, with freeze dried coconut, barberry, salmon roe, verjuice, puffed rice, witlof, and sifted horseradish powder.
/
All the components, when spoken, seemed to not make sense. Yet the loose crumble of ‘snowflakes’ also teasingly beckons you to try and see for yourself. And by golly, the culinary madness worked, it was wonderful! We were collectively dumbfounded at why we loved this dish. Bursts of salty, tangy, fresh, crunchy, sweet, fluffy, wasabi, fruit, sea and earth… all of that scattered inside an unassuming mound of white. It brought us back to our Singaporeans selves, where one of us said in Singlish “it’s the dunno wat… but nice! How come?“.
So we started in a pond, with nasturtium leaves for lily pads. Then we visited a snow mountain. And now it seems almost as if a sea has been created on our plates. So what does chapter three have in store for us?
Marron, Leek, Native Pepper
Western Australia freshwater marron, poached, steamed baby leek, cold pressed mustard oil, native pepper, freshly foraged wild cabbage leaves and cabbage flower buds, mussel and prosciutto stock.
/
I really like the idea of chefs foraging for food items that will be unique to each evening’s meal. It’s gives that personal touch, knowing what’s on your plate was still in its natural habitat that very morning. And gathering food that’s in season and found locally feels so sincere.

Carolyn loved the marron. Fakegf loved the stock. And I loved everything in front of me. I mean… mussel and prosciutto stock… wow! And see how the iridescent nature of our plates caught the blue evening light from the windows? It created the effect of a still sea at dusk. Eating this gave me a sense of myth and fable, a freshness with nature, and a respect towards what’s growing around us. How often does eating food take you to such a place?

On a lighter note, I was also trying to imagine chefs in Singapore attempting to forage. Oh dear, what a funny image… dispirited chefs bashing through our tropical jungle reserves, assailed by mozzies, millipedes and ants, and then getting entangled by the dastardly clingy belukar plants.

A simple dish of Potato cooked in the earth it was grown
Virginia Rose potato from McLaren Vale, cooked for 5 hours, smoked woodside goats curd, coconut husk ash, coffee grains, crispy salt bush
/
Ben Shewry takes us inland next, in fact we are taken underground, with a dish cooked the Hāngi way. Hāngi is a traditional New Zealand Māori way of cooking food beneath the earth. Baskets of food are placed over hot stones in a pit and then covered in earth for several hours.
/
Now that I look at it, that doesn’t sound like a simple dish. General consensus around the table was: it’s really really rich. The potato had an earthy steamed flavour with a dense yet buttery-soft texture. I struggled a little with the gamy scent of goats curd, but really enjoyed tasting hints of the outback with each nibble of salt bush crisp.
Meat from the Pearl Oyster
sauteed pearl oyster from Broome, brick of salted pigtail, shaved radish, dehydrated onion, pickled watermelon rind, broccolini, shiitake mushroom glaze
/
From here on, I stopped noticing landscape and geographical hints in the rest of our savoury courses, although this one was titled quite poetically. Our meal gains momentum, and with that, it loses a touch of its travel magic. However, the girls enjoyed this offering. The pearl meat reminded me of slices of soft abalone, while the shiitake glaze held gentle hints of Cantonese cooking. And nibbling into pickled watermelon rind elicited a sense of outlandishness.
Artichoke, salt baked Celeriac, Pyengana
globe artichoke, salt baked celeriac, almond and garlic brown butter chips, slow cooked egg, with the cream of a clothbound cheddar from Pyengana in North Tasmania
/
We weren’t as fond of this course. Watching the cheese sauce being poured into our plates, we could already smell how rich it was going to be. I think quite a number of people with Asian palates seem to struggle with creamy dishes and sauces. I also notice we usually love it when there’s some tang in our dishes. Either way, this dish was too rich for our liking, but we enjoyed the nibblets of fried garlic and almonds on top.
Beef Tongue, Vanilla, Parsnip, Lettuce Stems
Purebred Black Angus beef tongue, poached then hot smoked, parsnip purée, pickled cos lettuce stems, dehydrated Wagyu strips, topped with dill, chervil, parsley and freeze dried blackberries
/
While it may have looked quite unassuming when it arrived, the beef tongue quickly won our hearts with its tender and beautifully smoked flavour. Even the tuft of fresh herbs and fruit on top somehow worked so well with the meat. Carolyn thought this was one of this year’s best ‘wow!’ main dish. It’s the smokiness and then the herbs… together. Just perfect.
The Franz Josef
caramelised mangoes, eggless coconut meringue, avocado mint lemon purée, fromage ice cream, young coconut ash, freeze dried coconut, kiwi fruit ice
/
Our first dessert, named after a glacier in New Zealand, evoked a sense of beauty, perspective and sentimentality in me. From its title to the execution of its flavours, I could almost taste what the chef was trying to say. I won’t describe what we tasted, but let’s just say my mind was almost fooled into thinking it was eating candied rocks, fruit snow, and wind. Truly unforgettable.
Fakegf, cradling fragrant mango, glacier and coconut into her spoon
Native Fruits of Australia
Clockwise from left: poached quandong, lemon aspen, candied roselle, Munthari berries, native currants, desert lime (bottom), sprinkled with a crumble of buttered macadamia and apple blossom leaves
/
For the past seven courses, we have been taken on a taste pilgrimage across New Zealand. But our journey ends in the heart of Australia. Our last dish was a coral atoll of native Australian fruits that we have never seen or tasted before. And at its nucleus, an exquisite candied wattleseed custard, eucalypt sheepsmilk yoghurt, and native currant granita.

I thought it was an interesting tasting plate of things that we, as residents in Australia by choice, really ought to be familiar with. And I feel humbled that aside for wattleseeds and eucalypts, there is so much more about Australian fruit that I don’t recognise.

Even though I have done absolutely zero research on this restaurant or its chef, by the end of this meal, I could sense Ben Shewry’s mindful approach towards food. I don’t think he cooks to impress. Instead, I think he puts together dishes that’s inspired by nature, landscapes and what’s around us, such that there’s an almost palpable soul found within each dish. It’s cuisine that isn’t hollow. It’s cuisine with meaning and emotion. A style of food that resonates nicely with me. During this meal, it felt like we’ve been taken to places that’s beyond the physicality of taste buds and gut space.

Out of the blue, our waiter curiously handed us a card. It’s a depiction of the New Zealand Pukeko, painted by Ben’s father. It’s a connection to Ben’s memory of his home in New Zealand, where the Pukeko, a “confident, inquisitive and vociferous bird”, can be seen plowing the swamplands. A few minutes later, a nest of edible Pukeko eggs was placed on our table. So as diners, we walk out with a taste of where it all began, in the form of a Pukeko’s egg, from Ben Shewry’s home.

/
 
View Melbourne Food Story in a larger map
Attica on Urbanspoon