Saturday, February 18, 2017

Attica (Melbourne, AUSTRALIA) ★★★☆☆

A foodie's trip to Melbourne is not complete without visiting Attica, the city's multi-award winning restaurant in Ripponlea. Attica is one of the least kept secrets in Melbourne which explains why it's virtually impossible to get a table without advance booking. They have this online booking system which allows diners to reserve their tables three months in advance and I decided to try my luck exactly three months prior to our Aussie trip. True to the rumors, all the tables were gone in just 3 minutes but I was fortunate enough to get a table on one of the two nights we were in Melbourne. That was definitely worth the effort of waking up at 5AM in the morning.

I have heard a lot about owner-chef Ben Shewy's fruit and vegetable driven menu before. It's a very unique concept and for such an extensive degustation menu (15-18 courses), it's really not easy to deliver without some serious planning.

Our evening started with what they called the Cook’s Leaves, a mixture of red sorrel and other types of leaves which I forgot the exact names of and it was served with a plate of sour cream, olive oil and vinegar dip. A pretty interesting start.

Almost at the same time, we were offered a dish of aged sweet and sour Santa Claus melon. This was just one of the many ingredients which I have never heard of before from this meal. I thought the texture of the Santa Claus melon was fairly nice and the idea of sprinkling plum powder on top provided an interesting twist.

Next up was a dish called "Pick the Tomatoes"...

With this dish, we were asked to find the fresh tomatoes hidden under the leaves. Luckily, there weren't that many of them there.

After three "interesting" nibbles, things finally started to heat up first with a plate of smashed avocado on toast. This came with a hint of mint from the mint leaves and a burst of acidity from the finger lime. It had to be one of my early favorites but yes, it's still early coz we have another 12 or so dishes to go.

I thought this was one of the best dish of the evening. Slices of smoked pork neck with apple vinegar were juicy and flavorful.

The next dish, "An Imperfect History of Ripponlea as Told by Tarts" had a rather unusually long name for a starter, or any dish for that matters.

The trio of tarts quietly told the story of Ripponlea, the land where Attica is housed.

The "black pudding" tart (Top) was an inspiration from the Rippon Lea estate (Ripponlea was named after the estate) created by the Sargood family, exemplifying the lifestyle of wealthy British families living in Australia at the time. It's a sign of the British influence in Ripponlea. The “chicken soup and matzah ball tart” (Right), featuring a playful chicken soup jelly told the story (sort of) of Jewish immigrants moving to the area after world war. Last but not least, the "pepper leaves, riberries and blood lime" tart (Left) represented the cooking of the Kulin nations and influence of the aboriginals in the area. That's a very nice 3-minute crash course to the history of Ripponlea right there.

The Vegemite Pie with vegemite pastry, milk cheese and minced lamb meat continued our streak of small bites. The filling, I thought, was a little thick for my liking.

Chewy carrots slow cooked over smoked pepper leaves had this "funny" texture to it. 

It was served with a pretty intense guacamole dip.

At this point in time, everything was eaten with our bare hands and here we have one of Attica’s most photographed dishes – Lance Wiffin’s Mussel. Sitting next to the thin-battered, deep-fried mussels was a shell painted with the face of Attica's mussel supplier on it.

This had to be one of the most enjoyable dishes in our 4-hour culinary journey. The mussels were really fresh and sweet working well with the thin batter. 

For the first time, we were offered a little spoon to get ourselves prepared for the Aromatic Ripponlea broth which was cooked using 25 herbs and flower petals in a light consommé.

"Beef on the Bone" was a pretty intensely flavored morsel served on a long rib bone. Pretty decent.

This was my third time having kangaroo tartare and they have a pretty good one here thanks to the purple carrot chips, cherry and bunya atop giving the dish a well-balanced acidity and sweetness and of course, some slightly different textures.

As a big fan of pumpkin, I was really excited about this dish called "All Parts of the Pumpkin". The slow roasted pumpkin was topped nicely with whipped cream, small pieces of pumpkin skins and toasted pumpkin seeds. The contrasting textures and temperatures were quite a special treat.

Our seafood dish was marron, served in its shell with a bit of citrusy cream. There was a bit of acidity from the sauce to go with the cress and cherry on top. Again pretty decent but it didn't blow me away like I thought it would.

The last savory dish was slow-cooked lamb with jumbuck, waxflower oil and desert oak (I had to look these up from my dictionary again!). This was a pretty complex dish with a fair amount of acidic and sweet flavors (mostly fruity) coming from different ingredients. The lamb, I thought was fairly tender (think pulled pork) but like the previous dish, I didn't stun me by any stretch of imagination.

Before dessert was served, we were offered a quick tour to the restaurant's garden at the backyard. Well, after sitting in the dining room for almost 3 hours, it was definitely time to stretch ourselves.

Time for a quick drink before we headed back to our table!

We walked past the dessert counter before and after our tour to the "secret" garden. Looks like the crew was having fun behind the scene.

There was more acidity to come with our first dessert. Thin ribbons of granny smith apples were curled into small cones and served in a lightly fermented pineapple juice with anise myrtle oil and finger limes. Despite not being a fan of dishes with strong acidity, I was pretty happy with the different degrees of acidity there working nicely with the sweetness of sorbet-like cream underneath the coil of apple.

Our second and final dessert was Emu's Egg served in an emu's eggshell.

This had a good mix of chocolate ice-cream and peach. A refreshing end of our 4-hour marathon.

Petit four was a jovial take on the Fantales lolly. Very nice container!

Service was excellent throughout the night and considering the number of dishes and amount of different ingredients involved, the staff really did a fine job explaining them in full details. But unlike the service here, I was less happy with its vegetable and fruit driven menu. While I'm sure this is right up the alley for vegetable and fruit lovers, it just didn't work for me. In fact, it started to lose me after the seventh or eight dish because things are starting to get a little one-dimensional. As a big fan of haute cuisine, I was expecting a lot more textures, combination of flavors and contrasting temperatures than just acidity and sweetness.

Food Rating: 6/10
Price: $$$$$
Address: 74 Glen Eira Road, Ripponlea, Victoria, Australia
Tel: +61 3-9530-0111
S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants: 32nd (2017)

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