No Flowers in the Attica

Attica was on our list waiting patiently to be ticked off for some time but it never seemed to materialise until San Pellegrino announced its Top 100 World’s Best Restaurants List for 2011.  Not only did Attica make it to the 53rd place, they were also the only Victorian restaurant on the list.  Further to that, The Good Food Guide 2012 awarded Attica Restaurant of the Year with a score of 18/20; 3 Chef’s Hats.
No Flowers in the Attica

We didn’t need much more cajoling to put all else on hold until we secured a table for a Tuesday night; Attica’s Chef’s Table Five Course Menu.  Ben Shewry and his team have been putting on their creative cap to produce one off meals once a week for the last four years.  It seems there are many eager experimental subjects willing to fork out $95 to be served boundless ideas dictated only by the seasons.  With such solid achievements and acknowledgement from the culinary world, we were certain our big bubble wouldn’t pop.
Located in a rather quiet and inconspicuous Southern suburb of Ripponlea, Attica takes residence at an old bank.  We chose the earlier 6.30pm seating instead of 8.30pm so off street parking was abundant.  We were greeted with a big smile at the entrance and ushered to our table in no time.  The warm lighting and dark moody interior immediately scored a big plus from me along with the contrasting chalk white tablecloths starched to the hilt.  Before us sat a little bowl of what appeared to look like mini walnuts.  We weren’t sure if we were meant to eat them so we asked the staff and we were told they were Quandong kernels; native Australian red fruits that are an important food source for Australian Aborigines.  Instead of flowers, the kernels are used as table ornaments at Attica.  The bread basket came around and we were served warm organic sourdough rye with wattleseeds teamed with little dishes of creamy smooth butter, whipped olive oil with a whiff of smokiness and pink lake salt from Mount Zero.  We didn’t have to ask for seconds as the basket reappeared just before the first course; Poached Squid with Lentils in Squid Ink.  The presentation was clean and pretty with a sprinkling of garlic flowers.  The trio were a perfect amalgamation of ingredients; a flawless starter indeed.
The second course was a Shiitake based clear Soup with julienned Asparagus.  We struggled to see the innovation in this dish as the flavours were nothing new and the floating strips of raw asparagus were rather pointless and tasteless at the same time.  The third course was Poached Marron with Baby Leeks served with a warm consommé.  It was a very pretty assembly topped with precious self picked forages Ben is so famous for.  It was a well cooked dish with very subtle taste sensations throughout; again we saw no breakthrough with techniques or flavours.
Our disappointment was quite visible at this stage and we just wanted the meal to be over and done with but we still grasped onto a strand of hope that perhaps the main course and the dessert could somehow compensate immensely for the earlier humdrumness.  Surprisingly, the place was only 70% full at this stage.  The main course took nearly half an hour to appear and we were getting quite peevish as we were still hungry.  Our big bubble finally popped when we were presented with two skinny cuts of rib eye with sides of half a spring onion stalk and a quarter of a lettuce heart, grilled over open wood fire.  Visually it was boring, the choice of ingredients were poor and extremely safe.  To put it nicely, the chef made good use of Spring ingredients and focused on highlighting the natural flavours with minimal seasoning.
The dessert however scored full marks for creativity, presentation and taste.  Out of five dishes, this was the only dish we thought worthy to be served on a Tuesday night.  After all, it is an experimental night where Ben and his team can pretty much concoct anything under the sun.  It was a refreshing granita of Quandongs, pinenuts and two other native bush fruits, Riberry and Rosella atop a slight mount of creamy crème anglaise. There are not often times we get surprised by new ingredients and to end up loving it is very rare so we must make it known that we had a very strong appreciation for this extraodinary dish.
After reflecting on the entire meal, we all agreed the size of the serves could have been a little more generous and the ingredients and flavours more daring.  Surely restaurants that only have degustation menus as an option must know that their creations have to be outstanding each and every time.  Well, we walked away feeling rather dissatisfied and cheated hence another booking was made at another restaurant for a second dinner.  I cannot speak for the rest but I do still want to try Attica’s weekend eight course menu so until then it’s two hits and three misses.

Leave a Comment