Attica @ 74 Glen Eira Road, Ripponlea
26 June 2011
I first visited Attica in 2009 when it had already commenced its meteoric ascension into the highest ranks of Melbourne gastronomy. Since that time, Attica has continued to soar and it is now firmly entrenched amongst the world’s culinary elite. The San Pellegrino guide, a guide which has, on some accounts, usurped the almighty Michelin guide, lists Attica as the 53rd best restaurant in the world. Given the illustrious company that it keeps, attaining that ranking is quite an achievement.
Our recent visit was an opportunity for me to reassess my views on Attica. While my first visit was certainly a high quality one, the set tasting menu did not deliver the highlights that the critical hype had promised. Indeed, while the smoked trout broth and each of the “terrior” and “violet crumble” desserts captivated, the remaining dishes failed to unequivocally win me over.
The first dish of our 8 course tasting menu on this occasion was the “snow crab”. The subtle horseradish powder provided the backdrop to the interplay of flavours elicited from the sweet Western Australian crab meat, verjus granita, acidic barberries and saline salmon roe. The eclectic combination of ingredients worked surprisingly well. My only criticism was that texturally, the abundant use of the horseradish was not sufficiently offset by the “wet” ingredients and resulted in the dish having an unpleasantly dry and powdery consistency.
To follow was a dish of marron, leek wrapped egg yolk puree and lardo drizzled with a prosciutto broth. The marron meat was tender and moist and was delicately flavoured by the light prosciutto broth. It was a good dish.
Next to arrive was an Attica signature and the only repeated dish from our last visit – “a simple dish of potato cooked in the Earth it was grown”. As our waiter explained, the potato had been marinated with grape seed oil and was seasoned before being cooked for 13 hours in a Polynesian hungi – effectively a pit oven. The blimp shaped potato was served on a puddle of smoked goats curd which had been seasoned with coconut husk ash and coffee grounds and was accompanied by fried saltbush leaves. The base curd provided a well crafted combination of earthy flavours and the potato was pleasantly firm yet creamy. However, enjoyable as it was, why the dish is so widely lauded escapes me.
The Asian influenced dish of “shiitakes and meat from the pearl oyster” was bursting at the seams with umami. The pearl meat and oyster mushrooms were spot on in terms of texture, both working in sync with the refined consommé prepared with Otway Forest Shiitake mushrooms. While the chrysanthemum flowers added a nice touch to the finished product, the radish slices could easily have been dispensed with.
The dish of raw chestnut, salt baked celeriac and Pyengana was probably, the worst dish of the night, relatively speaking. The Pyengana cheddar infused cream and the velvety egg yolk combined to produce an intensely rich dish which had the potential to inspire but which was severely undermined by a heavy handed use of salt.
Our final savoury dish of the evening consisted of an unctuous piece of grilled beef tongue accompanied by a myrtus and herb mix, wafer thin jerky, pickled lettuce stems and a silky smooth parsnip puree. The centrepiece beef tongue possessed a beautiful depth of flavour, with the acidity in the vegetable components helping to alleviate the richness of the decadent tongue.
As was the case on our previous visit, Attica delivered two superb desserts to conclude our meal. The first was simply entitled “Winter Apples” and consisted of compressed pink lady apples served on cream that had been flavoured with Victorian apple brandy and Turkish apple tea. Complementing the apples were vine leaves - some cooked in beetroot syrup and the remainder cooked in fig leaf syrup - and an avocado oil gel. The apple pieces were crunchy and juicy and ruptured with sweetness while the other elements provided complexity and balance. For me, it was the highlight of the meal and perhaps the best dessert I have sampled this year.
The second dessert continued the fruit-centric theme, with an emphasis on mandarins. Honeydew honey infused freeze-dried mandarin pieces and fresh mandarin segments sat atop a base of caramelised Sauternes cream and fragrant mandarin oil. The flawless harmony of the mellow Sauternes cream with the syrupy mandarin components culminated to produce a well executed and innovative end product. It was an inspiring dish.
Our after dinner sweets comprised of two artistically crafted white chocolate eggs filled with salted caramel. Served in a nest of hay, the novel treat was inspired by Shewry’s connection with the New Zealand Pukeko bird.
Attica is a very capable restaurant that offers a very solid dining experience. Our recent experience reflected that fact. However, I still wonder about Attica’s reputation. While it is certainly an establishment that I will visit again, it is not, in my opinion, one of the top five in Melbourne, let alone the 53rd best in the world. Perhaps it will take a third visit to convince me otherwise.