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Ela Carte climbs up into the Attica
Attica – 74 Glen Eira Road Ripponlea – www.attica.com.au
Well, I’m pretty slow off the mark, but there’s one experience I can now tick off the bucket list. After sampling some phenomenal European restaurants over winter, I felt lazy in a way for not having visited what is roundly agreed to be Melbourne’s best (and number 63 on the San Pellegrino world list).
Now all of this, of course, doesn’t make it the most affordable restaurant in town, but there are still ways to enjoy Attica without going for the full eight course menu at $175.
Perhaps the most inexpensive, and adventurous, way to do it is to book in for the regular Tuesday night “Chef’s Table” evenings, which gives you five courses at a much more pocket-pleasing $95.
Plus, it’s a way to experience chef and owner Ben Shrewy at his creative best – the Chef’s Table is all about the team trying new ideas with the most fresh seasonal produce to hand. It might be challenging at times, but it’s also wildly gratifying when they get it right. It’s certainly full of inspired ideas, the rough menu is written by Ben on Monday evening, then workshopped with the kitchen early on Tuesday. Generally it’s finalised by 3pm, and the front of house team is briefed by 6pm.
If it’s a really special occasion, you can take up matched wines for an extra $70 per person, and it’s well worth it for the quality of wines and care taken to match them to the unusual dishes on offer.
All of the dishes were thought-provoking, some were outstanding – and the brilliance starts with something as simple as the bread and condiments. It starts with house baked bread, but all the adulation was for the accompanying house-churned, uncultured butter (made from Jersey crème fraiche, thank you very much) with sea salt and the smoked olive oil emulsion. Full points for the never ending top of bread, butter and emulsion – plus you only had to finish a slice to have all three replaced.
The meal started with a light serving of Crystal Bay prawns accompanied with finger lime and wrapped in sorrel leaves. The prawns were dainty, the finger lime provided a great zing, the leaves themselves were pretty thick and a little confronting, but with a decent sweet wine or the perfectly matched sake it all came together.
The second dish was a revelation. Somewhat mysterious on first presentation, at the table the pretty assortment of frozen asparagus shards, society garlic flowers, goat’s curd and crunchy pistachios was covered with a combination of chilled cucumber and green tomato juice, with a hint of ginger and chilli – and it became the perfect summer dish. Seriously mindblowing, a perfect combination of flavours and textures, the crisp pistachios and brittle frozen asparagus, against the soft curd and pungent flowers.
The salad to follow featured matchsticks of white asparagus, shredded poached chicken, mounds of mud crab, bitey mustard greens and a simple chicken broth. An entirely subtle dish, with the slivers of mustard greens doing their bit to add a wasabi-like punch.
Next, thin slices of Stockyard-sourced F1 wagyu (the first cross between a black angus cow and wagyu cow) were oven roasted and sliced, the deep pink inside pairing beautifully with scarlet shavings of baby beetroot, and magenta quandong halves – I know, I had no idea what it was either, but it’s a native Australian fruit that they’ve pickled in red vinegar, and it’s as pretty as it is tastily tart. The finishing touch comes from leek ash – salty shavings of leek that have been chargrilled almost to the point of becoming charcoal – yum.
I didn’t hold out too much hope for an experimental dessert, but there was no better way to end the meal. Dessert was unforgettable – simply titled “Strawberry Ice”, it was made up of two different ice textures – a simple vanilla ice, covered with one made from chunky strawberry pulp. These sit over Meredith sheeps milk yoghurt that’s been studded with cherry tomatoes, peeled, and compressed in strawberry juice. Scattered over the lot is crunchy, sweet, caramelised white chocolate.
For a restaurant with such an esteemed reputation, Attica was distinctly lacking in pretension, the myriad of staff were friendly and decidedly unstuffy. Service was prompt but not rushed, and they even managed a birthday surprise for Mr Carte.
For an insight into the imagination of one of this country’s most creative and respected chefs, the Tuesday night Chef’s Tables at Attica can’t be beat. That said, they’re done for the year, with the remainder of this busy summer season reserved solely for 8 course diners, but it’s worth getting in now for next year and staking your place, the first available booking are for February.