Most of my friends are pretty keen foodies, and amongst my closest posse we’ve developed a tradition to spend an inordinate amount of money on birthday dinners*. Kind of a gift for the birthday boy/girl that gifts our appetites at the same time.
To continue the tradition we made a birthday date to sample the $140 degustation at Attica ($130 on weeknights, $75 for experimentation Tuesdays). Attica is in an interesting locale – Ripponlea is hardly the hot spot for fine dining in Melbourne and the restaurant is part of an unremarkable strip of high street shops on Glen Eira Road. The sleek but understated décor inside also belies the inventive, highly technical and often surprising food coming out of Ben Shewry’s kitchen.
To start, an amuse bouche of….oh dear, for the life of me I can’t remember what this was, maybe prawn? Unfortunately the photo makes it look very unappetising. Moving quickly along….
Some springy bread, excellent butter, olives, a neat lineup of surprisingly flavoursome almonds and a demitasse of smoked whipped olive oil. The last of these was deceptive – I slathered it on my bread like pate but it quickly dissolved into the warm bread, so then I slathered on some more until I remembered that it was all oil (albeit with irresistible smokey flavours).
And now, our dishes in order plus the jury’s verdict on each of them.
Snow crab. A fabulous dish of surprises which contained bursts of hot and cold in each mouthful. The wisps of horseradish dissolved into nothingness on the tongue, leaving just the burn and flavour. In T’s view the horseradish was overpowering and he thought the chef was obsessed with the ingredient as it appeared in multiple dishes on the night. I happen to like horseradish and disagree with his view.
Young peas, grains and natural juices. For me the miniature peas skimming the puddle of green liquid tasted like a wheat grass shot solidified into pellets. Frankly we wondered at the effort to outcome ratio – it seemed like a lot of effort for a dish that none of us particularly liked.
A simple dish of potato cooked in the earth it was grown. We were quite impressed when we were informed that the innocuous looking potato presented before us had been cooked for thirteen hours in a manner similar to a Polynesian hungi – so it was a combination of a roasted and steamed potato. Well, what can I say, it was a perfectly cooked potato but nothing miraculous. If you’d told me that you’d wrapped it in aluminium foil and bunged it in the oven I probably wouldn’t have noticed the difference. You can put that down to my unrefined, uneducated palate for thirteen hour potatoes. The dish was accompanied by crispy saltbush leaves and a sprinkling of coconut husk ash which T disliked, saying ‘I don’t think I approve of charcoal as an ingredient – no matter what it comes from.’
Bass groper, chorizo, smoked jasmine flowers. The dish was delicate and meaty at the same time and I particularly liked the fact that you could still smell the delicate fragrance of jasmine through the heady waft of smokiness. Dish of the night for 1 of our 5 panellists.
Beef, sour milk jam, dandelion salt, asparagus. An absolutely melt in your mouth cut of wagyu beef accompanied by an imperceptible salt flavoured with dandelion.
Pork loin, morcilla, wild fennel pollen. This was the first time I’d ever had morcilla (black pudding) – congealed blood is not high on my list of eating desires. However, this version was covered in black sesame seeds which lent a crunch to the rich and full-flavoured morcilla (and actually made the flavour of the pork pale in comparison). I can’t say I’m completely won over by morcilla but if you hadn’t told me what it was then I would have been happily eating more.
Almond rice cream, mango, sesame, raspberries. Dish of the night for 2 of our 5 panellists. I actually can’t remember too much about it!
Violet crumble. A deconstructed childhood favourite – smoothly pastel violet fromage frais, chocolate dust, honeycomb bedded together by a slick of caramel in a stemless Riedel wineglass. Dish of the night for 2 of our 5 panellists.
To finish, some pretty jewelled little pineapple jellies.
The panel’s overall conclusion? We were all glad we tried Attica once and some of dishes were outstanding while others, such as the potato, had us wondering what higher meaning we were missing. We all agreed that for around the same price we preferred the not-a-false-note degustation at Cutler & Co. In fact, our perfect fine dining meal in Melbourne would be savoury dishes of Cutler & Co and the desserts and more affordable wine list of Attica.
*If you’re interested, here are some write-ups of our previous Extremely Expensive Birthday Meals at The Fat Duck, Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley (formerly Petrus), The Ledbury and The Greenhouse. Lots of Michelin stars!