Is there a secret formula to obtaining buzz about a restaurant opening? I couldn’t be sure, but I would bet that marketing / restaurant consultants swear by it. How ever it might come about, there is a definite buzz around Atlas Dining.
I’ve seen it in The Age’s Epicure liftout on a Tuesday; I’ve heard friends randomly mention it; and I’ve seen it come up on Instagram. One of those friends said his mate had been once a month since opening! Little to question on that score when purely studying the prices, which allow you to get out of the restaurant at less than $100 per person for 4 courses, matching wines, some unlimited sparkling and a tea or coffee!
Short story is that the head chef and owner has worked everywhere, spanning several countries, and somehow has a restaurant on Commercial Road in South Yarra at the age of 22! The question is has he jumped in the deep end too early? Having chosen the 6 course option with matching wines, we sip our champagne while enjoying the combined bread and amuse which is served charred with a duck parfait drizzled with honey that is delicious. First course in the form of octopus is confirmation that Charlie Carrington and his chefs can cook.
Actually, while all the dishes are great, the octopus dish is my favourite. It is beautifully charred, and the accompaniments lift it even further. The vinegar from the pickled diakon and the acid of the pomelo, is softened by the slightly spicy and deeply flavoured puree of sweet potato. All together it is an inspired dish, and the first of six that pay homage to Vietnam. Did I mention that every four months, Atlas Dining, will change its cultural theme, the next instalment being from the Middle East.
The next dish, features chopped asparagus, a warm slow cooked egg, iceberg lettuce, and a delightful butter sauce. Again the combination is terrific, with some classic flavours combining through excellent technique. Our third course is mackerel, the strength of this fish being exhibited in all its glory; but it is not for everyone. It is a generous serve, sleekly presented, and I enjoy it with the pickled diakon and carrot, but it doesn’t have the punch of the previous dishes.
We are back on a winner with the wagyu tartare which is more deconstructed than traditional tartare which normally combines the ingredients until they are almost indistinguishable. Here you have just slightly cooked wagyu, the slow cooked egg similar to the second course, spicy crackers, onion, herbs and spices, coming together with a reduced pho as the sauce. Again the presentation met the flavour, with the cracker shavings over the black plate having a great visual impact.
There is an easy flow to service, which is excellent across the board. There is a consistency in the feel which is casual and approachable; there is belief. Our waitperson in particular, and the sommelier, do a fine job, and some dishes being brought out by the chefs is a nice touch.
The wine list is on point with the theme, offering diverse and interesting options. While we could have happily had the Geoff Weaver Chardonnay, we decided to do the matching, and we were pleased we did. There were some interesting (and delicious) wines early in the night. The best was a subtle German wine from Baden in a White Burgundy style, that opened up beautifully with the octopus. However, my favourite glass was a Chilean pinot noir by Montsecano that really hit it off with the wagyu tartare.
Our first dessert was a refreshing grilled cucumber and cucumber and lychee granita. Nicely presented, it was really more an entree into our second dessert, which showed the restraint you often associate with Asian sweets, but with wonderful balance. White peach served both grilled, and julienne, with a buffalo curd infused with coriander. Again, a few ingredients, in a combination that seems simple but is actually deceiving, showing that the chefs know how to use technique without demonstrating the complications to the customer.
Even without knowing the back story it is hard not to get swept up by Atlas Dining. The challenge of the restaurant business is being met by a young chef and a professional outfit head on. It is a business though, and the test only becomes more challenging (but also rewarding) over time. The ingredients are certainly there for our fantastic experience to be repeated over a lengthy period, and I’m looking forward to seeing Charlie’s take on the Middle East.