My visit to Attica has been a long time coming. Every year for the past 3 years I’ve wanted to go to Attica for my birthday but circumstances have always gotten in the way. Finally, this year I had managed to secure a reservation. Before going to Attica I was already giddy with excitement and in high hopes.
Attica needs little introduction. It is the only Australian restaurant to place in San Pellegrino’s best 50 restaurants of the world. It has been featured in the Netflix documentary Chef’s table and won numerous accolades Australia wide. It was finally time for me to experience Attica for myself.
Although I already knew that this world-renowned restaurant was located in a pokey suburban shopping strip, visiting it was another matter entirely. In some ways, it makes Attica’s rise to fame even more incredible. If someone had told me that there was a world class dining experience just a short stroll away from Ripponlea train station I would have been somewhat dubious. However, there we were at a restaurant that has people traveling from much further afield to experience.
The restaurant itself is similar in that there’s not much to look at. The interior is dark, a little dimmed and full of stairs and partitions that hint at the building’s previous residential life. Once seated there are few extraneous details in the dining room. Instead, the other diner’s, their dishes, the wait staff and most importantly our dining table became the central focus for the night.
A series of small bites started off the night. Cook’s Leaves showcased not only the focus on local and unusual ingredients but also the irreverent sense of humour that would punctuate the night. As the name and picture suggest, this was dish revolved around leaves that were grown in the Attica garden. I was particularly intrigued by the mustard green leaf, as I had only ever had it as a pickled Chinese dish. A sour cream and caramelised apple sauce served as a dipping sauce. The slightly bitter vegetal tastes of the leaves were offset by the creaminess of the sauce. Actually, the sauce was so good that I was tempted to lick the plate clean!
Aged Santa Claus Melon with goji berries and sour plum dust. As a family of adventurous fruit buyers, I have actually eaten Santa Claus Melon many times. The taste closely resembles that of a honeydew in my opinion. The most striking thing about this perfect wedge of melon was just how translucent it was. The melon itself did not have a very strong taste, it was lightly sweet and a little bit sour thanks to the sprinkle of plum dust. This dish was the very definition of the word refreshing getting us ready for the feast that was to come.
Let’s not forget the drinks. I had a gimlet that was a refreshing and fruity. Exactly the sort of thing I like to drink. I believe this had lime cordial which made it so easy to down. Ryan ordered his usual gin and tonic. The gin in question was from Washington. Instead of the light floral botanical taste that you usually get from gin it had a distinctly oaky taste.
Hand Dived Scallop with lemon myrtle butter. When I opened the shell I started salivating. The scallop appeared to be swimming in the most fragrant pool of butter. We were instructed to have this all in once bite, with the juices, much like an oyster. This was everything that I thought it would be and more. The sweet scallop, touch of lemon and butter blended together in a seamless mouthful. I finished it wishing that I could have another!
Smashed Avo on Toast. Thus far we had been treated to unique Australian ingredients. Instead, this was a delightful nod to Melbourne brunch culture. This classic brunch dish was made more delicate and refined with finger lime, various types of mint and intricately sliced avocado. Despite all the added complexity, the quintessential balance of flavours and textures of a good avo on toast remained.
Fresh cheese with lavender and honeycomb from Victoria. This arrived at the table not entirely plated up. A gorgeous sheet of honeycomb was also ferried out to complete the dish. When it came to eating this, it was utterly dreamy. This was a combination of a lot of my favourite things: lavender, honey and cheese. Eating it just reminded me of wandering through lavender fields and country afternoon teas.
Smoked pork with apple skin vinegarette. When the waitstaff described this dish I expected something fatty and salty. Instead, I was surprised by how subtle the smoked flavour in the pork was. It felt a bit odd to be eating this with my hands, but at the same time it was delightful and playful.
Wallaby blood pikelet. I’m not usually one for savoury pancakes, but this made me change my mind. The pikelet was soft and wholesome tasting, no doubt thanks to the wallaby blood! The recipe card this was served with made me laugh a little. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much Australian slang printed in one place before!
Chicken carrot with fried chicken kale and tarragon. The plate? Bowl? This was served in was one of the most charming and kitsch things I have ever seen. The waiter playfully described the dish as a chicken taco. Whilst the shape was fairly taco like that’s where the resemblance ended. This somehow managed to be fresh and crisp with every bite. If I had the delicate hand required I would be eating these for taco night instead of a regular taco.
Gazza’s vegemite pie with raw goats cheese. This was another riff on popular Australian cuisine. After taking a bite the lamb taste just flooded my mouth. It was juicy and just the right amount of salty thanks to the well incorporated vegemite. I honestly can not think of a better way to try vegemite. Dare I say if this had been my first introduction to the famous Australian spread I would have been in love. Even the parcels of crinkly paper this was served on gave rise to a surge of nostalgia, reminding me of school yard canteen lunches.
Lance Wiffin’s Mussel. This is actually the only dish that we were served on the night which I recognised from blog posts and media reviews. Somehow it felt oddly reassuring to see Lance Wiffin’s painted face looking at me as I ate the local mussels. This was another perfect combination of textures. The soft and juicy mussels paired perfectly with the fried crumb.
Cape Grim Sirloin on the bone with burnt macadamia salt. It felt positively carnivorous to be picking up these bone skewers. It was impossible not to eat this all in one bite. Perhaps this was the most conventional dish out of all the snacks. In spite of this, it was flawless. The meat was perfectly cooked and the macadamia salt added just enough interest whilst still allowing the good quality meat to shine.
Aromatic Ripponlea Broth: 25 herbs and flowers in a light chicken broth. The flowers and herbs swimming around in the almost clear broth were visually stunning. It looked like the garden from which this assortment was plucked. To my mind, soup is always hot, so I was a bit taken aback at how this was served cold as. However, the broth helped to tone down some of the more bitter flavours of the leaves but it was still gentle enough to retain their original taste. I was particularly fond of the sweet and slightly peppery taste of some of the flowers.
Now that we were nearing the mains another group of drinks was now in order. I had a vodka-based cocktail that was warm and spiced and almost too sweet. This time Ryan opted for an earl grey flavoured IPA from New Zealand. Although I am not usually too fond of IPAs due to their bitter taste, but somehow the earl grey matched perfectly with the IPA.
Wattleseed sourdough with in house butter and macadamia puree. House made bread is always a real delight. The seeded texture and smooth macadamia puree made it so difficult to stop at just one piece. I forgot to take photos because I get unreasonbly excited about bread!
Salted red kangaroo and Bunya Bunya. Although it was difficult to photograph this dish was an incredibly vibrant red colour. Whereas kangaroo tends to be a bit stringy and gamey if not done right, this raw iteration was free from all of that. The native kimchi in the dish was an ingredient that I could really do with more of in other places! Perhaps it was the bunya bunya but there was a peppery taste to the whole dish that gradually built up as I kept eating.
All Parts of the Pumpkin. To me this dish was a dish in technical mastery. I almost could not believe that each component of the dish was made from the same core ingredient. The pureed pumpkin was light, fluffy and cloud like. The roasted pumpkin was more conventional but excellent none the less. It was sweet with just enough salt. The nuts added some crunch. The whole dish just made me fall in love with pumpkin a little bit more.
Yabby, Lilly Pilly and Pearl. Although I have fished for yabbies before, this was my first time eating one. We were invited to suck their heads and crack open the claws in search of more delicious yabby meat. The sour lilly pilly fruit provided a contrast to the decadent creamy sauce.
Jumbuck, Waxflower Oil and Desert Oak. I must confess that I was starting to wane at this point as I hadn’t had much sleep in the weeks leading up to this dinner. I was surprised by just how tender the Jumbuck was, considering that it is an older meat than lamb. Other than that, I can’t say too much about this dish.
Cuppa Tea and mint slice in the garden. Just before dessert comes one of the highlights of the Attica visit. I wanted to enjoy this little sojourn to the garden as much as possible so I chose not to take photos. We were served tea and a mint slice to accompany the explanation of the garden. The tea was made with more native ingredients. It had a faint honey taste and if I could I would have bought boxes of it to take home. The mint slice was something else altogether. The fresh mint and crisp chocolate biscuit made for one of the most incredible biscuits I had ever eaten. It definitely tasted like the essence of a mint slice, but in the most sublime and refined way possible. This walk was a welcome respite from sitting down for so long and slowly becoming more and more stupefied by all the incredible food that was being put in front of us.
Pineapple and Anise Myrtle. These delicate cones of sour Granny Smith Apple hid the smoothest and creamiest curd. The sauce was incredibly sour by itself but after each pucker I kept going back for more. Maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for sour things but this hit all the right spots. It shocked my appetite just enough to get me pumped for more dessert. Eaten together the curd smoothed out the tart sauce.
Whipped Emu Egg with Sugar Bag. We had eyed this emu eggs off in the kitchen while we had been going to the garden. We couldn’t help but wonder what this would contain. I bet chocolate and Ryan bet moose. In the end, we were both right. The whipped component hid a chocolatey centre. The whipped egg component was light, providing the perfect bed for the stronger chocolate flavour.
I ordered a tea to finish off my drinks for the night. Ryan also had a coffee. Interestingly they only had one tea and a single filter coffee on the menu. I was hoping that it would be the same tea that they had in the garden, but instead it was softer, a touch sweeter and more relaxing. It was also brewed perfectly. Ryan thought that his filter coffee was excellent, which is something that I trust his judgment on. He said that it was unique and on par with some of the best filter coffees served in cafes elsewhere. Often, where such premium dining experiences are let down is in their hot beverages. So to have such excellent tea and coffee was a real surprise. It’s really commendable that Attica has chosen such a limited range of hot drinks, so that they can serve it at a quality that is befitting of the food.
Chocolate cake with jelly bean ice cream. At this point I was more than ready to pass out from fullness. When this was placed in front of me I almost groaned. At any other time the dark chocolate glaze would have looked incredibly inviting, but at that moment this looked more like a challenge than anything else. Thankfully despite how it looked the cake was actually surprisingly light and fluffy. The chocolate flavour was present but not too cloying. The jelly bean ice cream was something else altogether. Studded in the ice cream were pieces of actual jellybean. Even though they got stuck in my teeth I couldn’t help going back for more and more!
After a stunning 20 something courses that was the end of our epic dinner. Somehow, there was not a single dish that I disliked which is unusual of such a lengthy and experimental degustation. There were dishes that stood out more than others but none that I wouldn’t go back to for more. I suppose the greatest flaw of having such an extensive tasting menu is that it is very easy to get fatigued. After all this time it is difficult to remember all the dishes that were served and what they all tasted like.
When people ask what Australian cuisine is, I’m often at a loss. It feels a bit like cheating to say that it’s a mix of foods from all different cultures, even though to a certain extent that is true thanks to the eclectic Melbourne dining scene. That’s why it’s so incredible to say that Attica feels like a uniquely Australian experience. It is the first fine dining institution which I’ve been to in Melbourne that doesn’t feel like it could be found anywhere else in the world. Sure, at times its Australian identity might feel a little gimmicky or forced but that’s only as an Australian looking in. I’m sure that an overseas visitor would find the use of ocker Australian on the pikelet recipe absolutely charming instead of equal parts cringe worthy and hilarious like I did. Simply, it’s impossible not to be at least a little touched by the food in front of you when it is so personal. Its focus on Ben’s childhood and discovery of the country is something that all of us can connect with. Although it tells the tale of the chef and the kitchen, it was so easy to relate to my own memories of growing up Australian.
I thought that I would leave satisfied with having finally visited Attica at least once. However, now I’m excited to see how Attica will keep innovating. It is clear that it is not a restaurant that is content resting on its laurels. I can’t wait to see what it will have in store when I eventually visit again.
Postscript. I dined at Attica in October 2016. I’m a few months behind the posting this due, so I’m not sure how much of the menu is the same.