In Melbourne, a city full of food and obsessed by coffee, I cook, I eat, I share the good news and the bad. essjay eats

Attica: an experience

On birthdays and special occasions we’ll often try to get to a “name” restaurant. We both like “dining out” and it gives us a chance to justify the “hang the expense” dining experience (and I get to overuse quotation marks). I suspect that habit will now change, and we will make Attica our destination of first choice anytime we can.

It was my birthday and it had been a pretty tough week. I really wasn’t looking forward to dining out, and probably would have been happy to cancel and stay in.

But I’d been wanting to go to Attica for a long time, and well, it was my birthday. Can we put the crap week behind us and enjoy ourselves? OK – it was a tough ask for the guys ‘n gals at Attica (if they had known what they were up against!) but I’m happy to say that from the moment we walked through the unassuming door in a slightly saggy strip of shops in Ripponlea, our minds were nowhere else but on the food experience.

I’ve had to think a lot about what I would say about Attica, I took no photos in deference to (a) my birthday and (b) the superb photos on the website. Go look > Gallery > Food images. I’ll wait.

We were seen to our table and coats taken promptly. I sat toward the kitchen so I could glimpse what was going on back there. Part way through the evening I was able to watch the cold larder move into full swing. Teeny space. It was a dance of desserts! (hah!)

We started with a glass of Jacquesson Avize Grand Cru Blanc De Blancs 2000, which true to the description was a “wine-y” variety of bubbles, rather than a yeasty one. Now I like yeasty, but this was no slouch.

We decided to go with the tasting menu (not difficult really) but we’ve had a few disappointments with matched wines (Jacques Raymond and Vue De Monde) so opted for a bottle. A quick consult with the sommelier and we were steered toward an 07 baudry les granges chinon cabernet franc.

But we were topped up with blanc de blancs to go with our first course, the snow crab. It was the matched wine and it was a nice generous touch.

So now .. the food. Seriously, I really, really enjoyed the food we ate. The dishes all push the boat out to varying degrees on presentation, flavours or both, but if you go with it – you’ll be in for a magnificent treat! I doubt I can do the food justice with my writing or vocabulary, so what follows is basically descriptive. The menu descriptions don’t do the experience justice either, so I will try to expand. If you want to know more – go! Seriously.

Starters: bread, with nibbles of Happy Fruit almonds, Mount Zero Olives, some house churned butter and carrot paste. Save some bread for later – you’ll want it to grab the last of some wonderful sauces.

Amuse Bouche: Crispy chicken thigh on parsnip puree with freeze dried balsamic. Can I have a bucket load to take away please?

1. Snow crab (or in my case cauliflower): a salad of crab, Yarra Valley trout roe, coconut, puffed rice and frozen verjuice, covered with a layer of “snow” made from horseradish mixed with egg white, and I think desiccated and shaved.

Wow – the rest of the menu has a lot to live up to. The “snow” was light, flavourful and a great textural accompaniment to the rest of the salad.

2. Smoked trout broth, crackling, basil seeds, fresh smoke. The signature dish at the moment and a bit of theatrics. JB isn’t usually taken in with these things, but he admitted that his mouth started watering at the smell of the smoke when it was released. The basil seeds looked like little frogs eggs with their mucilaginous coating (never let a scientist near an interesting food item), sitting in the gentle savoury broth which was poured over some small batons of cold smoked trout and pork crackling. The crackling “crackles” as the broth surrounds it. Smell, sight, sound and taste. Maybe we should eat it with our fingers? I’m not a real fish fan – and am allergic to crustaceans, and I found the trout a bit too much, but I loved the broth and the crackling.

3. Potato. Q: how do you make a potato taste more…potatoey? Cook it hangi style for 18 hours. I’m not sure how much difference using the “dirt it was grown in” made to the taste, but two of my favourite elements of the night were part of this dish. Smoked Goats Curd and fried saltbush leaves. Now I know why saltbush lamb tastes so lovely. There were other bits, including jerusalem artichoke dust which stained the curd black, and was it air dried tuna flakes?

4. Kingfish, chorizo, almond, squid. Right, bet you think you know what this looks like right? wrong! (unless you did as I suggested earlier and looked at the gallery of food pictures on the web site). The kingfish is smeared with a chorizo paste and topped with couscous that has been soaked in squid ink, so it’s black. This sits on a small pile of rice cooked with small rice sized grains of squid, in crab stock (or vegie in my case). They didn’t make a fuss about this at all. The rice was delightfully strange, half rice textured, half squid textured. My poor confused brain. The highlight (and one of the reason’s you will want bread) was the smoked tomato broth that surrounded everything else. So scrummy!

5. Pork Loin, morcilla, fennel pollen. At the end of the night, we thought that perhaps a little less food would have made us happier campers (that or walking home, but really, it was a bit too far back to North Yarra, and a bit too late for a walk to the tram), but agreed strenuously that this dish would not be one we would swap, or reduce in size. A simple cylinder of the most delicious pork loin sat atop some celriac puree and shared a plate with a dark brooding walnut sized sphere of black pudding sitting on some apple, a blob of distilled apple juice (god! amazing!), a ring of nashi pear filled with pickled cucumbers and carrot leaves. The loin was garnished with a sprinkling of slightly aniseed-y fennel pollen.

6. Squab, celery, licorice, bitter onion So – a few pieces of ruby pigeon, served with “compressed” celery (basically celery juice forced into celery to make it more “celery-like”) smoked beetroot (yum!), onion rings and broccolini flowers. The meat was dusted with licorice powder (Darryl Lea or liquorice root? I suspect the former actually – was delicious). The bitter onion broth was poured around the dish at the table. I was feeling pretty full by now, but the licorice was very tasty. I made me want to eat more!

So, now to fill up the “dessert stomach”.

7. Terroir was a “bridging course” – not quite sweet, moving on from savoury. We changed to a dessert wine, an 02 pichot coteau de la biche moelleux vouvray.

The “dirt” was a small scoop of fromage frais gelato covered with beetroot cake crumbs (including cloves, cinnamon and black pepper) surrounded by cubes of golden kiwi jelly – layered with bright pink frozen strawberry and raspberry juice, shaved. This was topped with some bright green sorrel granita (my favourite herb at the moment) and garnished with clover leaves. I’m sure i used to suck on the stems of clover when I was a kid (what an idyllic childhood I must have had), the grassy green-ness was tart, a food shock, and nostalgic. I loved this dish.

8. violet crumble Think you know what this looks like? Think you know what it tastes like? Wrong. Oh I love violet flavoured desserts, much like I love lavender and orange flowers and rose water. But violet flavoured is exotic, and this was a lovely play on words. Fromage sorbet, flavoured with violets, in a stem-less wine glass with butterscotch stickiness, crumbles of honeycomb and freeze dried chocolate. Freeze dried chocolate is brilliant, a taste and aroma of chocolate, but without the cloying sweetness.

9. Petit Four…grapefruit jelly.

How much would you pay for all this? $410 for two not including tram tickets.

Worth it? Every cent. We are already planning a return to the Chef’s Table on Tuesday nights.

The service was easy but professional, with our questions readily answered. They are a good team. The restaurant runs smoothly, but not like clockwork. There is room within the service for a chat about the cold larder, the smoke, Happy Fruit Almonds (get them at Slow Food Farmer’s markets) and New Zealand cooking methods.

In a word…terrific.


3 thoughts on “Attica: an experience

  • Oh deary me. After reading that I know where I’ll be going for my birthday dinner in a months time. I love Attica.

    Comment from: M*

  • Ahh Danny, on the weekend, the weekend saver ticket is $2.50 and covers all day, all zones. Pakenham to Broady … all are mine!

    Thank you for being the first “official’ comment on the new site.

    Comment from: admin

  • How much would you pay for all this? $410 for two not including tram tickets. Tram Tickets? A two hour train ticket on the Sandringham line is $2.20, though might be more as I have caught a tram/train in over a decade. Love the thought that life starts and stops at the front door of a perfect dinning experience. Great experience thank you for sharing it.

    Comment from: Daniel

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