Far too long between visits
A lot has happened between now and the time I last visited Attica. It's gone from having the AGFG "Dish of the year" to being 73rd best restaurant in the world in 2010, to being the 53rd best in the world (according to the San Pellegrino restaurant awards). I've changed a lot too, I've eaten at award winning restaurants in Melbourne and around the world, including most of Melbourne's two hatted establishments and even some Michelin starred restaurants in the USA. Through all of this, Attica has sat comfortably atop my list of favourite meals, never looking threatened. With this in mind it was the obvious choice for where to go to celebrate (finally) completing my PhD, to see if what I remembered was really what I remembered.
The intimate and relatively dark dining room was just as I recalled, although this time I noticed how blogger friendly the lighting is, allowing for some pretty good sneaky food photography. On a Friday night there's a compulsory 8 course degustation ($160) and as this was a celebration we couldn't very well overlook the matched wines ($90), especially with offerings such as Sake, a few Spanish wines, and even the daring but inspired choice of a rich nut-brown ale in the middle of the meal.
We began with oysters topped with various seaweeds (some of which were picked locally by the chef himself) followed by an amuse bouche of raw prawn with mustard seeds and oil. Next came the first listed course. The Snow Crab. I suggest that it's difficult for anyone to describe this dish accurately. It has such a complex array of textures and flavours, from the crab meat, salmon roe, freeze dried coconut and who knows how many other things I couldn’t identify, all working together in such an amazing way. This, while not my favourite dish at Attica, is one I will always remember. Thinking back to my first visit, the Snow Crab was what I called an "epiphany dish". This is the dish that solidified me into committing to this blog, to describe myself as a "foodie", to start thinking of food as being an actual "hobby" more than just an "interest".
The following Marron, Leek, and Egg Yolk was wonderful, particularly the hollowed leek filled with the soft bright egg yolk, combining perfectly with the subtle sweetness of the marron meat. Next came the eagerly anticipated “Potato” a seemingly simple dish of Potato cooked in the earth in which it was grown. This, while being just a spud (albeit sitting on a bed of goat's curd), still makes many "top 10 dish" lists when the Melbourne food critics do their annual roundups. It's not hard to see why either. Potato is a side dish, it takes a brave restaurant and an excellent chef to make it a course in its own right. Here it surpasses all expectations, even after having sampled an earlier rendition of this dish on our last visit.
Next came the Shiitakes and Meat from the Pearl Oyster (wonderful even for someone who doesn't generally go for seafood), followed by the Raw Chestnuts, salt baked Celeriac, Pyengana. This was the course that came paired with a Nut-brown Ale from the North of England. Again the sign of a restaurant constantly willing to innovate and experiment, nowhere else can I imagine a beer being not only on the matched wine list, but in the middle of the meal. This was probably the standout of the evening, impressive for a vegetarian dish. At the start of the evening our waiter flagged to us that the menu contained a dish of Beef Tongue (Beef Tongue, Vanilla, Myrtus, Lettuce Stems)as it seems some people object to the idea of tongue. I really want to know who these people are, as after having this course, someone needs to track them down and explain to them why they're wrong.
The two/three/four desserts (depending on how you want to count these things) were simply referred to as Winter Apples (one type of apple poached in the liquid of a different apple) , Mandarin and Honeydew Honey (a honey where the bees collect nectar extruded from another insect which took the nectar from the sap of the trees, in this case New Zealand Beech trees - another nod to Ben Shewry's NZ upbringing). An Afghan Biscuit (a deconstructed version of New Zealand's equivalent of our ANZAC biscuits, made with cornflakes, chocolate, and almonds). And finally, Pukeko Eggs (thin, white chocolate eggs, containing caramel - like the best easter eggs you can imagine).
The names given to the dishes, including "Snow crab, Raw Chestnuts, Winter apples" really don’t do justice to the complexity of what appears on the plate. After each dish we would try and identify the various components, it became a kind of table game throughout the night. And just when you think you've got a handle on what might appear next BAM, something out of left field. I'm generally not a fan of surprises, but I can't think of a better place to be surprised than Attica.
Attica started the evening at the top of my list of favourite meals, and from tonight's effort it's not going anywhere.