Attica – Ripponlea – Thursday 28 July 2016 – Dinner

Emu's Egg

Emu’s Egg

Expectations are one of the most important ingredients in any restaurant experience. Try as we might to lower them to a reasonable level, the more hype, and the longer the wait between booking and dining, the more difficult it is to not over inflate. For me, tonight’s dinner at Attica is the most prone to setting expectations to unreasonable levels, so I jotted them down in the hope of being objective.

Cook's Leaves

Cook’s Leaves

There are many obvious, and a few less obvious reasons, why I expect to have one of the best restaurant experiences of my life here. Of course, Attica is Melbourne’s highest ranked restaurant on any number of guides, over a number of years. The less obvious reason is that I already rank Ben Shewry’s temple as one of the top experiences I’ve had in Australia, and around the world. But that was five years ago. Now that it is mentioned in the same breath as some of the world’s greatest restaurants, you hope for the small (but important) improvements you’ve read a little about to take it to the next level.

Chicken Carrot

Chicken Carrot

As we walk out the back to the restaurant garden, to be greeted by one of the pastry chefs, and are offered tea and a home made mint slice biscuit (that is delicious), we get a chance to reflect on one of our great meals in the cold winter air. So far, in the lead up to dessert, we have tried twelve snacks, and four courses of savoury dishes. There are highlights; but there are no lowlights. It is hard to imagine being happier with a meal. Attica is putting an emphasis on native Australian ingredients, in a completely approachable manner, with hardly an ounce of pomp.

Catherine with her Cuppa Tea (post mint slice!)

Catherine with her Cuppa Tea (post mint slice!)

Personally I like challenging food that makes you think and take notice, and there are different ways to achieve wonder and awe. At Orana, which also has an Australiana focus, you are presented with ingredients like green ants that do taste great, but are challenging to approach. I think Attica is making you take notice in a different way, with more subtlety, and some familiarity in the flavour combinations.

Gazza's Vegemite Pie

Gazza’s Vegemite Pie

An example that has stuck in my mind for this past week is the saltbush fed lamb pie. Classical Australian presentation (resting on a brown paper bag), the pie has some manchego grated over it, and there is vegemite in the filling with the saltbush lamb. It is brilliant, absolutely brilliant, and I can’t stop thinking about it. There is some challenge in a few ingredients though.

Aged Santa Claus Melon

Aged Santa Claus Melon

To preface, I haven’t mentioned service yet, but our waitpersons use the perfect balance of professionalism and friendliness, along with genuine care. Towards the beginning we have a conversation about the meal ahead. It is the type of discussion that puts you at ease because you realise that your waitpersons are there to guide and improve your experience, and there doesn’t seem to be this overarching will of the chefs being pushed upon you, like some other fine dining establishments.

Salted Red Kangaroo and Bunya Bunya

Salted Red Kangaroo and Bunya Bunya

Our waitperson explains that one thing they need to confirm we are comfortable eating is the kangaroo tartare. Here we are talking about raw meat, and a particular meat that isn’t eaten often by most people. We are happy to try it as we trust the ability of the chefs and the quality of the ingredients. Catherine did hesitate though. As it turns out, our first savoury course is one that you really do not want to miss. Cleverly the raw roo is hidden under a beautifully presented collage of thinly sliced red carrots. Not only does the carrot work for presentation, it adds texture to the dish. The roo is beautifully seasoned and it seems this is a terrific way to eat this meat, which is always a difficult one to cook.

Smashed Avo on Toast

Smashed Avo on Toast

An ode to our breakfast culture comes in the form of “smashed avo on toast” with minced avocado, tiny mint, finger lime, and apple, on a crisp cracker. It evokes memories of the first time you tried this now staple café dish, and the intricacy pushes the boundaries of what is already a wonderful classic combination.

Marron, Lilly Pilly and Pearl

Marron, Lilly Pilly and Pearl

Alongside the playful, and the intriguing, is the classical. Glorious marron from my home state of Western Australia, is perfectly cooked, and comes with a lemon myrtle sauce, which is a feature ingredient of several dishes, including the equally sublime scallop snack. We were having wine by the glass off a reasonably priced and diverse list, and with this dish the elegant Domenica Roussanne Marsanne 2013 from Beechworth, worked beautifully.

Hand Dived Scallop

Hand Dived Scallop

There were some other wine highlights, starting with the 2008 Lark Hill Sparkling from Canberra, which had the versatility you need with several courses of snacks. The Pinot Meunier Pinot Noir 2011 from Iron Bay Pot in Tasmania was also particularly good with the kangaroo tartare.

Stemware by Zalto

Stemware by Zalto

The famous potato cooked in its own soil has been replaced by an equally gorgeous “all parts of the pumpkin” dish that is a familiar concept having seen a similar focus at O.My recently. Texture from the seeds; richness from the flesh; and complexity from the sour beer cream infused with juice from the skin. It comes together in a dish that makes you feel like Shewry could turn his restaurant vegetarian tomorrow, and it would still be just as good.

All Part of the Pumpkin

All Parts of the Pumpkin

There is little theatrics, but a lot of novelty done in an intelligent way. The wallaby blood pikelet sits atop a playful recipe that is not so much a recipe, but a larrikin’s tale. The crumbed mussels have some extra crunch from the pig face succulent topping, but are not as intriguing as the painted mussel shell. The carrot, which curls when put in freezing water, is presented in a hollow rooster dish, but the flavour of the chicken minced with sorrel, kale and tarragon, is impeccable, far outshadowing any of the fun presentation.

Wallaby Blood Pikelet

Wallaby Blood Pikelet

The other dish that stands out from earlier is the plainly presented pork neck. This is meat that sings. Astounded by the flavour I have to ask how it is done and learn that there is a combination of different cooking techniques over a 24 hour period, including smoking and grilling, to get to the depth of flavour that you only get a small but memorable taste of. We finish our chat outside, cut a tulip for our first dessert course, hand it to the chef, and resume our seats.

Smoked Pork

Smoked Pork

We are at the back of the restaurant in a smaller slightly separated room, laden with black curtains that do a good job to reduce noise levels. You feel a world away from Glen Eira Road outside, and it is a good looking restaurant, without that aspect being a particularly topical feature. It is more about minimising distraction from the food, and the good lighting is an example of the focus.

Tulips DIY

Tulips DIY

Our Tulips DIY comes out as our first dessert. We have just been told that there are only five edible tulip varieties in the world and the rest are very poisonous! Luckily these are edible and the fruit and cream cheese inside is delicious. If we thought that was a pretty dish, the next was almost as pretty, and definitely intricate.

Byron Sunrise and Fresh Coconut Cream

Byron Sunrise and Fresh Coconut Cream

Three thimbles of apple, sitting in coconut cream, make for a more savoury dessert, but one that is still very nice. Crying out for something a bit sweeter, our prayers were answered with a decadent chocolate sponge, soaked in chocolate sauce with a yoghurt ice cream to soften the richness.

Cheftales

Cheftales

Finishing with another playful, and delicious taste, our “cheftales” are another ode to an Aussie classic, but again the take by Attica is better than the original, and comes with a “Who am I?” related to one of Australia’s numerous great chefs. There really has been absolutely nothing that didn’t work tonight. Quality through and through.

Lance Wiffin's Mussel

Lance Wiffin’s Mussel

We go to restaurants for many reasons and we bring our expectations with us. All of my lofty expectations were realised, or even exceeded tonight, and that is no mean feat when you are off to one of the world’s great restaurants. With some good measuring sticks to compare some of the native Australian ingredients and their use (namely Orana and Igni) I can see the subtle reasons why Attica is rated at the top of the pile.
Attica Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Advertisements

Orana – Adelaide, City – Saturday 1 August 2015 – Dinner

Crab & Yoghurt sorbet, codium & sea purslane

Crab & Yoghurt sorbet, codium & sea purslane

Noma’s Executive Chef, Rene Redzepi, recently contacted his peer at Orana, Jock Zonfrillo, to discuss Jock’s take on “Australian” cuisine. It is fitting that I was reading about this on the way to Adelaide, and our eventual date with Orana. It must be quite an honour considering Orana is undoubtedly taking more than a pinch of inspiration from what Noma is doing with Nordic ingredients.

When I am going to a new restaurant I rarely read any reviews, or even look at the menu, because the less expectation, the better. However, whilst doing preliminary research, and making a booking, there is still a certain amount of information you take in, as well as when speaking to others about your future visits. At one Adelaide Hill’s winery, the owner mentioned that some people try thirty new ingredients when dining at Orana. I found that incredibly exciting.

Alexander palm heart, native honey & green ants

Alexander palm heart, native honey & green ants

Orana is not the only restaurant in Adelaide making huge waves. It is located around the corner from another trendsetter in Africolo, and there are a host of other new names. Upstairs from popular sister eatery, Street ADL, the space is in a word, tiny. Small enough that Catherine and I counted twenty-six chairs, nicely spaced, facing the middle of the room, and the largest table of six. Oddly, everyone facing inwards towards one table seems to work out, especially given there is no decent view outside. The space is simply furnished with some smart fittings that are both stylish and noise reducing. The tables are also simply adorned, making room for some artistic decanters later on.
IMG_4063_2
Once seated we are given an explanation of the tasting menu to come. Amazingly we are told we will start with fifteen “snacks”, before going on to four savoury mains, and then dessert, which again includes several snacks. One thing I did research, but can’t remember being specifically told, is the price of the tasting menu ($175). Equally, when asked about whether we wanted to take the option of matching wines, the price ($120) does not come up. This happened at Vue de Monde too, but I’d prefer to know or at least be given an overview when booking (which was on Dimmi) or when the restaurant confirms. All the same, we are eager to get into the food and with a couple of small requests for change on the wine matching, which the sommerlier agrees to, we decide on the wine matching too.

Potato damper, lamb butter; Emu in background with wild plum & mountain pepper

Potato damper, lamb butter; Emu in background with wild plum & mountain pepper

The snacks are brought out by head chef, Shannon Flemming, in what is a trend for the rest of the evening. I like the chefs having an opportunity to present their dish to you, and explain what ingredients are used, along with any story about the creation of the dish. For the first snack, damper, Shannon asks us to grab the tongs and turn it over in the hot coals that have been placed on the table. In one minute we can grab the damper off the hot coals and dip in the lamb butter to begin an evening of gorgeous combinations of local and Australian ingredients; invention abounding, and discovery similar to the road trip we have enjoyed from Melbourne via Mildura.

Without detailing each and every snack, which could go on for pages, I’d like to focus on a few of the new ingredients we tried, and some of the more inventive, or delicious bites we tried. It’s hard not to first mention the Alexander palm heart with native honey and green ants which I enjoyed two serves of! The ants are clearly sitting atop the delicately chopped palm heart and my curiosity needs to try one on their own. Surprisingly, they taste of fruit, berry like, with a burst of flavour as you crunch into them. The small spoonful of a dish works as a combination, purposely quite sweet to provide balance to the other savoury bites.

Prawn & Davidson plum

Prawn & Davidson plum

The red dust of the Davidson plum on the barely cooked prawns is spicy. The absolutely beautiful emu is gently seared with wild plum inside oozing out in your single bite. The lamb in kohlrabi is bursting in flavour. The macadamia cream drunk from a cup is a pure expression of the impeccable nut from Queensland. Never off the menu to date, the thinly sliced pumpkin again demonstrates the ability of the chefs to harness and accentuate a single ingredient.

Roast beef & pumpkin

Roast beef & pumpkin

One of my favourite snacks was towards then end where the last few were slightly larger. The crab and yoghurt sorbet is creamy and slightly sweet, on a bed of codium and sea purslane, which both are found in or near the sea. Reminiscent of the oyster ice cream at Brae, you will see sorbets and ice creams of seafood more and more, because somehow it just works.

Settling into the main dishes, a spelt dish starts us off. It is soft and generous, but not as exciting as the other mains. Next we have the first of three impeccable savoury courses. The kangaroo is encased in thinly sliced beetroot, along with many other accompanying ingredients including grasses and wild garlic. The roo itself is softly cooked, separated into bite sized tastes, almost pulled, and just tastes amazing. Whether combined with the other ingredients or on its own, it is beautiful, which is not easy to do with kangaroo.

Charred kangaroo, beetroot, grasses & wild garlic

Charred kangaroo, beetroot, grasses & wild garlic

The fish course is one of Catherine’s favourites. Mullet is again lightly touched, showing off its unctuous goodness. It comes with an ingredient we only first tried two nights back at Penfolds Magill Estate where several of the staff here have worked. The ice plant is a succulent used here that you will see more in mainstream restaurants in years to come because it has an inviting but unique flavour.

Coorong mullet, lentils, walnut & ice plant

Coorong mullet, lentils, walnut & ice plant

My favourite dish of the night is the Angus beef, served aside ox tongue. When combined with the caramelised leaks, and soft smoked potato, it has nothing of the flavour you would expect from what is often just another meat dish at the end of a tasting to make sure you are full and satisfied. This is a very adult version. Strong flavours in balance, to be eaten in small bites and not devoured.

Coorong Angus beef, smoked potato & leek

Coorong Angus beef, smoked potato & leek

Each dish was well explained by the chefs or floor staff who were serving us, and service was the highest quality, balancing attentiveness with absence for conversation. The sommelier did a terrific job too. We had started with a versatile blanc de blancs from Champagne producer Jose Dhondt (topped up without our beckoning by the sommelier to see us through the fifteen snacks), and went on to a 2012 Chablis by Patrick Piuze (as requested) with the spelt. The kangaroo was theatrically presented inside a large bowled Riedel glass which was full of smoke. Once lifted and wafted in your direction, the glass is filled with a local South Australian Amber Ale beer by Robe Town. Not a huge beer fan, Catherine requested a wine to be matched instead and got to try a great red from producer “Head”.

Pocky sticks!

Pocky sticks!

With the oily Mullet fish, we tried an equally inventive wine. Oddly Cabernet Sauvignon from the Adelaide Hills is combined with Sauvignon Blanc and Petit Verdot from the same block in an experimental vineyard. While the team at Domaine Lucci understand there is more Cab Sav in the blend, the actual proportions are not known as all the grapes are combined in the winemaking process. The result is offputtingly delicious for a traditionalist like myself, and the combination with the fish is superb. More traditional but equally delicious, the SOS 2014 Sangiovese from the Yarra Valley finished our savoury courses off, combining gracefully with the beef.

Bunya tubers & Davidson plum molases

Bunya tubers & Davidson plum molases

Going into our dessert snacks the Australian theme did not subside at all. We tried marshmallows tasting of bush lemon and dusted with mountain berries. Cinnamon jam doughnuts featured too, only the jam was made from riberry bush berries, and pocky sticks came in flavours of dark chocolate with local porcini mushrooms, white chocolate with quandong, and Spruce pine. To match we had a glass of Joseph Riesling Traminer by Primo Estate which is a Botrytis dessert wine that I’ve liked for many years.

The first of our main desserts is Davidson plum molasses over Bunya tubers in the form of ice cream. It is the sweeter of the two desserts and is followed by the only other dish besides the pumpkin that has stayed the distance on the menu (though I did suggest they might want to think about keeping the beef on!) It is not overly sweet, and is one of those dishes that works far better in combination than tasting the ingredients separately. Set buttermilk is surrounded by a strawberry juice with eucalyptus oils dispersed. It seems simple but it isn’t.

Set buttermilk, strawberry & eucalyptus

Set buttermilk, strawberry & eucalyptus

Even the petit four with our tea and coffee was imaginative, looking like a normal chocolate truffle, but tasting just like your classic chocolate crackle from the local bake stall at the fete!

We had an extraordinary time at Orana. With ingredients coming from far and wide, across our beautiful country, many of them indigenous to Australia, it was a journey. The floorstaff and chefs guided us with care and humour through the experience, and I can see why Rene Redzepi is taking lessons from Jock on his venture into what is Australian. Orana is Adelaide’s dining Fringe Festival, and it promises to be just as successful.

Click to add a blog post for Orana on Zomato

My 100th post – reflections on ten months of restaurant reviews

Opera cake

Opera cake at Bouchon, Las Vegas

What a fun ten months it has been writing this blog. Looking back I thought it would be good to think about my favourite experiences in Australia and overseas; at flagship fine diners and everyday venues.

The ten months has taken me across to Perth several times, to the USA twice, Brazil, Hong Kong, and also up to Sydney. I’ve dined around Victoria in Daylesford, Kyneton, Geelong, Birregurra, Healesville and Emerald, and thoroughly blitzed through Richmond amongst many other Melbourne suburbs in this remarkable city. It goes to show that Gourmet Traveller is well named as a magazine; the two so intertwined.

There are several themes. Kimchi popped up many times along with American barbeque, and Andrew McConnell seems to dominate from a chef/owner perspective. The other theme which has come across to a few friends and colleagues is that I am not a hard marker. I like food and I try to choose places I’ll enjoy or that I’ve been recommended. As a result I am probably not going to be providing my readers with the big “scoop” but hopefully my direction is found to be accurate.

It is extremely difficult to choose my favourites from the past nine months so I’m taking a different angle. I’m going to list the restaurants that first come to mind (without looking at the list of restaurants I’ve been to) and for some categories choose one or two as the experience I most want again and/or one I couldn’t imagine not having had.

Australian fine diners – Momofuku Seiobo, Brae, Cutler & Co., Saint Crispin, Lakehouse. Brae again (please!) and Momofuku Seiobo as a treasured memory.

Overseas fine diners – Chez Panisse (Bay Area, California), Eleven Madison Park (New York), Oleana (Boston), Lung King Heen (Hong Kong). Eleven Madison Park again (and again!) and Chez Panisse as a treasured memory.

Australian casual dining – Supernormal, Luxembourg, Tonka, Supermaxi, Lalla Rookh, Pastuso. Too hard to choose just one!

Overseas casual dining – Saxon + Parole (New York), Union Square Cafe (New York), Bouchon (Las Vegas). Saxon + Parole again but all are amazing.

Australian cafe or cheap and cheerful – there are so many but General Food Store, Low Key Chow House, Kong BBQ, and Crabapple Kitchen spring to mind along with old favourites like Pope Joan. It really is too hard to decide on one, but to see the kimchi epidemic in full swing try Kong BBQ or Low Key Chow House (Perth).

It’s been an incredible first ten months on this blog. Thanks to anyone who takes an interest in reading my reviews, and to those who I’ve shared these meals with along the way!