So I finally made it to Ben Shewry's gastrotemple of the southeast. Mrs_G and I went on a Saturday night we booked a few months ago - I was going to move it as I was flying out the following morning but the Saturday booking time is about four months so we decided to take our existing booking. Attica and Quay are the only restaurants in the global Top 50 list. It has three hats as of this year in the GFG.
The restaurant is on a shopping strip in suburban Ripponlea, opposite a mens hairdresser and a bustling Indian dhaba and surrounded by froufrou clothes shops. A bit different from a few weeks ago at Quay. This is your first hint that it's all about the chef and the food.
It's 8 course degustation only on Friday and Saturday. On other nights, there's a shorter 5 course menu and Tuesday night is chef's tryout night. We got bread and drinks, and then a decision on food and wine - due to me driving, I decided for a couple of tastes of wine rather than the full matching.
Eight courses followed. It was quite shellfish heavy (three dishes) and Mrs_G, who doesn't eat shellfish, had more substitutions than usual. Some of them were more succesful than others. The dish introductions gave another insight into cheffyness: a starter of snow crab with horseradish snow was apparently inspired by a mountain in New Zealand, and a dessert by the Franz Josef glacier. Despite this pretension, the serving staff were friendly and polite - we liked our server.
All the courses were imaginative, and without listing them out most were good to very good. Standouts for me were the signature potato cooked in its own earth, and a dish of pork belly with pearl oyster meat. The worst course for both of us was a slightly bizarre dessert of Australian bush fruits, none of which I liked. As it was the last course, it stuck in my mind (and gullet). An abysmal dish. Wine pairings I tried were well selected.
Rating it is quite hard. It is definitely in the top handful of Victorian restaurants. It has touches of pretension and is obviously chef run. Service is smart, and its obviously an 'event' destination. The food price is pretty good for this level of food, but the wine match is very well priced. The location doesn't have much of a view, and the fitout is sleek but functional - it reminded me of Marque. But to me it didn't have the combined wow factor of Quay or Loam - I'm pleased I went, and enjoyed it, but it hasn't made my must return list.
I've eaten at both Attica and Marque this year
Attica was a highlight (as was Berowra Waters) - every single dish being amazing both in taste & presentation
Marque, by comparison, was utterly disappointing. At best, 3 memorable dishes out of 8
Courses for horses,....or perhaps even chefs like Mark Best have off nights
I haven't been to Marque for a while, and so its not really on my benchmark list.
I found Attica a hard review to write because it is so hyped. The problem is that a few others are doing similar styles of dishes, and Attica has lost its uniqueness. I thought both Royal Mail and Loam were better, but it might be more that they have the 'package' with a nice view etc. It may be that having eaten at both of these this year I didn't see any wow at Attica. I have been thinking some more about it over the last week and it tried a bit too hard to make every course a gasp moment - whereas I like the odd course to reflect the produce. And maybe this was a wrong expectation.
Mrs_G put Provenance in Beechworth above it, but she likes preoduce driven stuff more than I.
I did open by saying its definitely in the top handful in Melbourne.
I will write up my Attica visit tommorrow if I can - with pics. I loved it and rate it the best of 2011 so far (the Ledbury still to come so not over yet). I ate at the RM and Provenance last Christmas and really enjoyed both but Attica has it for me - my RM memory a year later is the wait between courses not the food. That said happy to return.
By luck we score a cancellation at Attica and we enjoyed a really spectacular meal. Great friendly service, a wonderful sommelier who made some great suggestions at the bottom of the list, and really superb, innovative food. Every dish was superb. Here is the menu which was A$160 a head, with plenty of good wine we pushed this to $250 a head:
1. Amuse Bouche
2. Snow Crab
3. Marron, Leek, Native Pepper
4. A simple dish of Potato cooked in the earth it was grown
5. Meat from the pearl oyster, pinctada maxima
6. Artichoke, salt baked celeriac, Pyengana
7. Beef Tongue, Vanila, Myrtus, Lettuce Stems
8. Apples and Leaves
9. The Franz Josef
10. Pukeko’s Eggs (caramel filled petit fours)