Sunday, October 23, 2011

Attica - Ripponlea, Melbourne

Today is Tim's birthday, so last night, I took him to dinner at Attica, in Ripponlea.  Attica is a "big deal" place to eat - not only is it a fine dining restaurant, but was awarded Restaurant of the Year in the 2012 Age Good Food Guide, and also was awarded three hats by the same publication.  It is also currently ranked 53rd on the San Pellegrino World's Best Restaurants list.  (This explains the four month wait to get a table.) Chef Ben Shewry originally hails from New Zealand, and his dishes are inspired by the natural wonders of his homeland.  Interestingly, Ben forages for edible wild plants to include in his dishes.

On Saturday nights, the only option is the 8 course tasting menu, at $160 per head, or $270 per head if served with matching wines.  We opted to make our own wine selection.

On arrival, after ordering a glass of bubbly each (Oakdene Matilda Blanc de Noirs from Macedon in Victoria), we are served with wattleseed bread, golden house-cured butter, and a smoked olive oil emulsion topped with black sea salt.  The bread is absolutely devine - soft, with a chewy, slightly salty crust, and a slight hint of coffee from the wattle seed, which also adds crunch.  The olive oil emulsion was smooth and creamy, reminiscent of creme fraiche in flavour, and my favourite topping for the bread.

We were then served an amuse bouche of crystal prawn, white radish and mustard seeds.  It was delightfully tingly on the palate and hinted promisingly of things to come.

To accompany our tastings, we selected (with assistance from one of the lovely front of house staff) a half bottle of Valminor Albarino from Rias Baixas, Spain.  It was a fresh, fruity white wine - and no, I do not know how it is pronounced. 

The first dish served from the tasting menu was the Snow Crab.  This dish has been a constant for a number of years, and many others have blogged about it.  However, here is my take on it: 

The snow crab is inspired by the appearance of Mount Taranaki in New Zealand.   A mixture of crab meat, salmon roe, horseradish, barberries, puffed rice and verjuice granita is topped by a fluffy white pile of freeze dried coconut.  The most curious thing about this dish is that it is warm on the outside and cold in the middle - like a mountain warmed by the sun perhaps.  The horseradish added some much needed kick to the other ingredients.  This was our favourite dish of the night.  

The next dish was as pretty as a garden - marron with caramelised leeks, native pepper, broth and cabbage flowers and leaves.  The dish was quite subtly flavoured on the whole, but visually gorgeous and quite delicious.

Next came a dish named "a simple dish of potato cooked in the earth it was grown".  This is another constant on the tasting menu, and there have been mixed reactions among bloggers about it.  However, Tim and I both enjoyed it a great deal.  The dish comprises a potato baked until it is soft, smooth and creamy, served atop a bed of smoked goats curd sprinkled with coffee grounds and dried salt bush leaves.  The tang of the goats curd complemented the silky creaminess of the potato perfectly - a lovely dish, and certainly unlike any other potato I have ever tried.

Our next dish was meat from a pearl oyster (Paspaley pearl oysters nonetheless, we were informed by our waiter), served with pork tail, radish (cut into a flower), broccolini stems and a shitake broth.  Despite being named after the oyster meat, the standout and dominant feature of this dish was the pork tail - the tail had been deboned, compressed into a square patty, and deep fried.  It was superb!

The next dish was a total contrast to what had gone before, and although tasty, was the least impressive dish of the evening for me.  It comprised artichoke shavings, triangles of salt baked celeriac, Pyengana cheddar (perhaps in the cream sauce?), spiced almonds, organic egg yolk and a cream sauce.   The flavours blended well, and the creamy, salty edge of the sauce was pleasant, but it was not as spectacular as the other dishes.

The last of the savoury dishes was beef tongue, vanilla, myrtus and lettuce stems.  The tongue had been shredded and compressed into a tasty, moist beef patty, and perched atop it was a mix of chervil, dill and myrtus.  As well as the lettuce stems, there were baby pickled lettuce hearts, a parsnip puree and dried beef shards.  I particularly enjoyed the concentrated saltiness of the dried beef.

It was then onto my favourite course - dessert!  Our first dessert was entitled Apples and Leaves.  This simple name belies the complexity of the dish, comprised of slices of pink lady apple soaked in granny smith apple juice, atop dollops of cream infused with Turkish apple tea and apple brandy, interspersed by avocado (or was it apple?) jelly, and decorated by dried vine leaves sprinkled with freeze dried apple.  I could not get enough of this dessert - simply devine!  The smooth, sweet jelly contrasted nicely with the crisp tartness of the apple and the crunchiness of the vine leaves.

Finally, we were served a dessert called the Franz Josef.  The  Franz Josef is a glacier in New Zealand, and this dish invoked the glacier in appearance and experience.  An avocado and mint puree served as a base for sweet snowy meringue, out of which jutted rocks of lemon sorbet and the glacial peaks of caramelised kiwi fruit.  The Franz Josef was topped with powdery freeze dried coconut, like snow, and coconut ash (the black stuff).  Just like a glacier, the contrasting textures at one minute soothed and the next took your breathe away like an icy gust of wind.  

To complete our meal, were were provided with a print by Ben Shewry's father, Robert, of pukekos, a native New Zealand bird, accompanied by white chocolate pukeko "eggs" served atop a grass nest.

The association between the pukeko and Attica was explained on the back of the print - like pukekos, Ben Shewry forages in roadside ditches for sustenance, and just like birds building a nest, chefs take on ideas from other cuisines to make their own unique cuisine.  (I am seriously paraphrasing here, so apologies to Ben if this potted summary is not quite what he meant to convey.)

The white chocolate egg shells, complete with brown spots to mimic the appearance of pukeko eggs, are filled with salted caramel - seriously delish!

The service at Attica was friendly and attentive throughout our three hour experience (we did the earlier 6.30pm sitting, although there is a second sitting at 8.30).  The various wait and front of house staff all served us at some stage.  They even dug my umbrella out of the umbrella holder on the way out (it was a shocking night weather-wise), and knew which one was mine was without asking.

Our Attica experience was thoroughly enjoyable, and made the occasion of Tim's birthday what it should be - special.

74 Glen Eira Road
Ripponlea VIC 3185
+61 3 9530 0111


Anonymous said...

Everything looks so fantastic! Looks like a great meal. Though, I had to "forget" the restaurant's name for just a bit because Attica is also the name of a prison in New York!

Elaine said...

Oh, my goodness! You just make me want to get on a plane and fly to Melbourne just to eat at that restaurant. What a truly special evening you had! Every course looks divine and I wish I could taste every one of them. The finale of the white chocolate eggs served in the grass nest is exquisite! Happy Birthday to Tim!

Anonymous said...

What a fabulous looking dinner, and such a great thing to do for a celebration. Thanks for sharing it with us!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

The food there is very special isn't it! I like the fact that everything looks very different from when we went there (as in they're changing their menu) :)

The Blonde Duck said...

It sounds lovely!

Unknown said...

What a lovely birthday treat to go to such a lovely restaurant. Happy birthday to Tim!
*kisses* HH

Megan said...

Wow, each of those courses look delicious - and now I seriously want one of those eggs!

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