Dinner 14 January, 2016
Just as the cheeky, tenacious Pukeko, has survived by adapting to its natural habitat, like all top restaurants, Attica has evolved with a narrative that draws on its past and present environment.
Attica is defined as a balance of childhood stories mixed with a large handful of respect for locally sourced ingredients, a generous pinch of indigenous flavours and more than your standard pour of humility.
Island people often punch above their weight and Ben Shewry, whose childhood was spent on the remote and rugged west coast of the North Island of New Zealand, is no exception. Now calling Melbourne home, he been adopted as one of our own and Australia can stand proud, Attica has made us worthy of a place in the top 50 restaurants of the world.
A man who wears his heart on his sleeve, Ben has come a long way from the lasagna he cooked at a local cafe at age 14 and the confused Thai influenced and copycat menu of yesteryear, to emerge with cooking that reflects who he is and where he has come from. His inspired menu draws on memories from the volcano, river, ocean, and native bush that make up Taranaki as well as his current Australian surroundings. His menu is a mature reflection of the contemporary Australian culinary environment.
Chef: Ben Shewry
74 Glen Eira Rd,
Ripponlea, Vic 3185
+61 3 9530 0111
The Worlds 50 Best Restaurants: Number 32 in 2015, number 32 in 2014, Best Restaurant in Australasia 2015
Gourmet Traveller: Restaurant of the year 2015, The Age Good Food guide: 3 Hats 18/10
Vibe: Inspired Modernistic Australian with indigenous flavour
You can be forgiven double-checking that you heading in the right direction as you cross the railway line and find yourself in the middle of suburbia, 7 km from the Melbourne CBD. However you are soon reassured as there isn’t a fast food franchise in sight, Attica stands opposite a row of Edwardian shop fronts, some past their prime and housed in a understated classic, red brick building. Across the road, the beautiful, restored old chemist shop now housing a florist is worth a look before dinner, there’s not many grand old Edwardian dames like her left. With Eshel’s fine Kosher catering shop down the road and Miss Rueben’s Delicatessen next door you are reminded that Ripponlea, is home to a substantial Jewish population.
As you enter the restaurant, you receive the authentic Aussie welcome you expect, no stuffy front of staff here. You may be lucky enough to have Hee Won, assistant manager overseeing your visit, a picture of sophistication and cool in a well cut Zara suit and Eva, a fountain of wine knowledge, will guide you through the wine pairing. The understated elegance of the chef is apparent, charcoal grey walls, black and white paintings, the tables seem close together but when you sit down just like any top restaurant you will notice that they are perfectly spaced. The light shines exactly on the centre of the each table that are placed just right distance apart such that you are not aware of even shrieks of laughter from the next table.
Your first impression is that this will be a refined affair, the simple white linen table clothes, a stylish centrepiece that could double as your posh aunt’s Spring Carnival hat is decorated with emu feathers and filled with Chinese checker kernel pieces from the native peach, Quandong. You will notice the detail that has gone into the plating of each dish.
A memory from your youthful sporting days, you ask if the half time oranges are on the menu. In January, renovations have closed the herb garden usually visited at intermission, so sadly no oranges. You are relieved in a way as it means you won’t have to have that difficult conversation you were planning to have with Ben whose family means so much to him. You have watched him bare his soul on Netflix’s Chefs Table; you can’t help but worry about him. Unlike most top chefs, he doesn’t embrace the rock star persona. You want to reassure him that like many celebrated chefs, delegation is survival, he has the right people, and its ok if he isn’t always there, after all shouldn’t he be home tonight in Ocean Grove to coach Kobe’s basketball team?
Why not start with a house cocktail? Both look tempting and no doubt will set the scene for the extended tasting menu of 12 appetisers and 6 courses. A wine pairing with an emphasis n natural wines, is offered as well as an extensive wine list. There is a vegetarian tasting menu available and paired juices if you are that way inclined.
Myrtle Blossom: Lemon myrtle vodka, sweet citrus, soda water
Boulevardier: Bourbon whiskey, Campari and Victorian sweet vermouth
Let the appetisers begin
Cycle a few minutes down the road to the Ripponlea estate and you will find the Attica plot filled with a veritable harvest hand picked daily. Sorrel and rainbow chard leaves so fresh; paddock to plate is measured in minutes. Served in an elegant, ceramic vessel, the leaves are standing tall ready to be plunged into their companion, home made sour cream, emulsified with caramelised apple balsamic and olive oil.
You won’t think of corn in the same way again, whipped fermented corn juice garnished with basil leaves will prove to be the perfect contrast to the more starter leaves. Just a minute it’s not just a smoothie there is a welcome crunch of popcorn from dehydrated BBQed corn kernels.
Who would have thought that eating King George whiting fish bait could be so delicious? Pippies will be served floating on beach pebbles in a knotted box, made from the trunk of a small New Zealand native, the Yellow wood tree. Fresh from under your toes in the sand at Goolwa in South Australia, these delicate morsels, steamed and served with seaweed butter and grapefruit are a delight. You will be instructed to use the empty shallot pink shell as a handle and eat with your fingers.
A Mouthful of Green
Want a mouthful made in heaven? Try a combination of perfectly cooked baby fresh garden peas, asparagus and walnut puree.
Fresh Cheese and Honeycomb
Freshness abounds, house made, 24-hour old jersey cow milk cheese, is paired with cold pressed hazelnut oil and garnished with lavender petals. Crunchy honeycomb from a large rectangular beehive frame will be scraped onto the cheese at the table. The honey is local of course; from Avenel Honey farm in the foothills of the Strathboogie ranges, north of Seymour. The honey is flavoured with local River Gum and wild blackberry pollen.
Eggs and Pearl
Anyone who has looked longingly at a Paspaley pearl will not be a stranger to this famous indigenous variety from Broome in the Kimberleys, Western Australia. The pearl meat, abalonian in texture is the large muscle that keeps the pearl firmly in its grip until harvested ready for the display cases at the Paris end of Collins St. Topped with a light creamy scrambled egg, concentrate, you will need to have your wits about you as the abalone flavour is subtle and the sliver of pearl meat so tender it will dissolve in your mouth within seconds.
Wallaby Blood Pikelet
Don’t be put off by black pudding; getting these pikelets made is not for the faint hearted. Not withstanding finding a 1953 Sunbeam frypan to do the job, the recipe requires blood from 10 -15 wallabies, an egg from a small emu, and ¾ cup of milk from any unsuspecting marsupial, (other than the Tasmanian devil) to get them to the table. Worth all the trouble, you bet, packed with flavour and topped with the deep burgundy, Davidsonia that bloody sour native plum jam, cream whisked with malt vinegar and garnished with a basil flower. If you have a hankering to make them at home, My Recipes will arrive with hand written notes so you can impress your guests at your next high tea.
And She’ll be Right maaate
Call the amber or green glass chicken dish kitsch? No way, straight from your grandmother’s sideboard it proves to be the perfect vessel for the next course. Great way to get you to eat your vegetables, finely sliced crispy carrot, a taco shell of sorts filled with a tasty, well balanced salty mixture of blitzed marinated chicken thigh, kale and sorrel, flavoured with Murray salt flakes and tarragon. You will all want more of this table pleaser.
Gazza’s Lamb Pie
Any Aussie worth their weight will tell you given the choice between fancy food and a meat pie, the pie wins hands down every time. Attica makes the choice easy, the local butcher; Gazza’s version fits both bills. Served on crumpled butchers paper, the crispy short saltbush flavoured pastry crust, jammed full with saltbush fed South Australian Dorset lamb and sprinkled with ewe milk cheese makes the Four and Twenty version pale into insignificance. You will be hoping someone on your table is a fancy pants and lets you have another.
Lance Wiffins Mussels
This iconic dish should be renamed The Lifesaver, anyone who is familiar with the openness of Ben Shewry’s life journey will be aware that Lance Wiffin is more than a mussel fisherman to him, rather the mentor that steered Ben’s life away from Black Dog Reef in another direction at a time when he was at cross roads.
Your breath will be taken away by the beauty of this dish, hand painted, traditional shell art plays homage to Lance as he proudly stands guard over delicious fresh blue lip mussels from Port Philip Bay, lightly cooked in a crust of potato rice, garnished with the familiar Australian seaside succulent, pig face.
Beef on the Bone
Thankfully there’s some more meat to get your teeth into, the meat pie was a teaser, after all you didn’t choose the vegetarian option. And finally Tasmania gets a look in, 8 week aged Cape Grim beef, cooked on the bone in spiced oil and served with macadamia nut salt, lip smacking good. You want more? Alas only one of Adam’s ribs per diner.
Aromatic Ripponlea broth
Pretty as a picture, but buyers beware, not that the collection of various leaves from Ripponlea’s plot is full of defects, but they are not all of iceberg lettuce texture. Don’t just plunge in; you should make sure the chicken broth is used for what it meant for. The leaves are fresh, some salad texture others herbaceous and sticky. Allow the leaves to soak up the most delicate and translucent chicken broth and mix with the cucumber and coriander seed oil dressing. That’s how Attica intended you to eat this botanical taste.
Királyudvar Furmint Sec 2011 – Tokaj, Hungary
Fondo Antico “Memorie” Sicilia, Italy
Wattle seed bread
Bread is always welcome; house made and, accompanied by jersey cow creamed milk butter, churned daily, macadamia nut paste and crispy grey saltbush.
After a breath taking start, you are not being let off that lightly, let the next six courses begin
Salted Red Kangaroo and Bunya Bunya
An ode to days long past and Ben’s time at Nahm, ask the front of house staff, if Thai’s on the menu, they will reply that only 0.8% of the menu is Thai influenced. Thai food nearly ruined him, but given the flavour explosion of this exquisitely balanced dish be thankful it hasn’t completed disappeared off the menu, as the subtle taste of Bangkok is incredible. Served more elegantly than the photo depicts, in an echidna-like mound covered with rounds of fresh purple carrot, over shreds of Uluru Red Kangaroo fillet flavoured with a peppery sauce, native currants, finely diced fermented Kimchi style cabbage and Thai basil. And if that’s not enough, dig deeper to discover a the co-hero of the dish, Bunya Bunya nut puree, the chestnut flavoured nut from the Bunya tree a native of Queensland.
Every mouthful is different, robust and spicy, but with a delicate acidity and balance, manna from heaven never tasted this good.
Domaine Rolet ‘Pinot’ 2005 – Arbois, France
Marron with Sweet and Sour Pumpkin Seeds
Luxurious Western Australian fresh water crayfish known as marron never disappoints, cooked perfectly, the head removed for ease of eating and combined with crunchy Ovens pumpkin seeds with a sweet and sour dressing. On a frosty night you will want to take the heated plates home, like a hot water bottle the marble retains heat and the plates are still toasty and warm at the completion of the dish.
Borja ‘Bela’ 2013 – Vipavska Dolina, Slovenia
There’s a little bit of Irish in all of us, and a potato dish needs simple descriptors, you will find this little bit of Irish, delicious and moorish. Chat Nadine potatoes from the home of the famous Spudfest, Trentham, are known for their firm white quality. Cooked perfectly, just before they become gluggy and served with yeast infused butter, 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.
Cascina Ebreo ‘Sinche’ 2006 – Piemonte, Italy
142 Days on earth
One hundred and forty two days from seed to plate deserves a little pomp and glory. A whole red cabbage will be brought to the table by an army of servers. The blanched outer leaf provides the all important crunch, removed first then the succulent poached heart layered on a bed of eggplant tamarind paste dusted with dry wattle seed. The heart is filled with a rich medley of diced emu fillet, bush tomatoes, Davidsonia plums, native pepper berry, beetroot juice and Rosella hibiscus. Perfectly balanced, packed with flavour, you will never quite look at cabbage and emu in the same way again.
Thousand Candles 2013 – Yarra Valley, Victoria
Maria’s green apple
Named after Maria Smith, the founder of the Granny Smith apple, Australia’s favourite cooking apple this iconic and whimsical dish will have you in giggles as the table will try and outdo each other to see who can unwind the longest apple strip. The apple is shaved into ribbons, arranged into three fluorescent, green conical shapes filled with buck wheat crunch and cream cheese infused with lemon myrtle and topped with a rich rhubarb and chamomile sauce to complete a perfect 10/10 dessert. A refreshing plate cleanser and absolutely incredible.
Can’t imagine how the ribbons could possibly have be done by hand, surely a machine or device of some sort is recruited for such fine work to produce such long continuous, translucent ribbons without breaking?
Mark Angeli ‘Rosé d’un jour’ 2013
Lois’ jelly whip
A blast from the past, who doesn’t like Aeroplane jelly, Aeroplane jelly for me. Lois’ jelly whip is a sophisticated version of a favourite after school snack of aeroplane jelly and condensed milk that Ben enjoyed during his childhood. The bowls are frozen with liquid nitrogen before serving, layered with mango sorbet, passionfruit jam, honey then a whip of pineapple jelly blended with condensed milk. Topped with sorrel, mandarin and coconut. Light and refreshing and so good it will make you want to burst into song.
Georg Breuer ‘Berg Rostland’ Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel 2007 – Rheingau, Germany
You will be well and truly satiated and the egg will be a fitting end to a truly unique experience. Hand painted white chocolate Pukeko’s egg is served nestled amongst meadow grass and filled with a delicious sticky, salted yolk like caramel. You will not be left wondering, a note with colourful Pukeko birds painted by Ben’s father on one side and the story on the other.
The coffee is not quite Melbourne, no coffee machine, single origin, a 10-hour drip coffee served at room temperature, wets the mouth but if you are a coffee aficionado, then it may take a little time to be converted.
If your life’s quest is to seek out the very best, then any visit to Melbourne is not complete without an Attica experience.