Monster Kitchen and Bar – Canberra – Thursday 30 March 2017 – Dinner

“Striking” is a good way to describe more than one aspect of Monster Kitchen and Bar. In a way, it is aptly named because it is an absolute beast. It is not unlike stepping off the Millennium Falcon into a combination of the woods of Endor and one of the modern space cities.

It is impossible not to think of Jenga looking at the jumble of wood that is a theme throughout this new precinct that includes Hotel Hotel and its lobby restaurant, Monster. The reference to fun and youth continues, with our rhombus shaped table, which is surprisingly functional.

Heirloom tomatoes, peach, spiced feta, cumin oil, rose

It is at this stage as we are seated that the enormity of the space hits me. It is not the sole blame for slightly distracted service, but it must be a root cause. Floorstaff are not gliding as you often see in a restaurant of this calibre, but are almost trying to not loiter in any of the vast spaces. There were certainly some nice touches, but there were instances of amateur mistakes that you wouldn’t expect. Those mistakes had little impact on the meal as a whole.

We were eating as a group of four and eager to try a good number of dishes. Alice is a proper vegetarian, so it was important to select wisely, and she had done her research. One nice pick-up by our waitperson was the fact that one of the dishes with tofu actually contained a bonito (fish) based sauce, which was elegantly swapped with mirim.

38 hour pork neck bao, cucumber kimchi

Having ordered a serious selection of the menu, we were presented with our first taste, which was memorable. Michael, Catherine and I tried the 38 hour pork neck bao with cucumber kimchi, and it was seriously good. Then came a flurry of dishes containing a list of ingredients any farmer’s market would be satisfied with.

Honey roasted carrots, moghrabieh, harissa, almonds

Of the vegetarian dishes (tofu included), my easy favourite, and one of the better dishes I’ve tried this year, was the honey roasted carrots with moghrabieh, harissa, and almonds. The large cous cous style moghrabieh was so delightfully flavoured with harissa, and textured with almonds, that the carrots took a back seat. As often is the case with a lot of shared dishes, there are some left at the table never to be seen to again, but with this dish I went back for more until there was nothing left!

Fried tofu, pickled shitake, mirim soy, spring onion oil, sesame

The tofu dish was well constructed and pleasant; the heirloom tomatoes adequate; and the eggplant very good. The fact we had been discussing eggplant earlier at our friend’s house prior to dinner, and how difficult it could be, gave even more merit to this wonderful dish, accompanied by smoked goat’s cheese, katsuobushi, and sesame. It was about at this point where we had finished off a bottle of local Canberra chardonnay made by Mount Madura which was beautifully made, and paired well with the earlier dishes.

WA octopus, chorizo, corn, black garlic

Going on to a bottle of local Sangiovese from Lark Hill we began our journey of the non-vegetarian dishes, deciding after a lot of friendly debate on the octopus and duck. While the octopus was uninspiring, taking a back seat to the chorizo and blackened corn; the duck was very nicely cooked, bonding with the guanciale, fresh fig, and caremalised onion, to make for a terrific final savoury dish.

Pear, olive oil, lemon, thyme

It was at this point that a cleansing ale was needed, and the Moo Brew dark ale did a great job at that task, and worked fine with dessert too. We really didn’t need dessert, but after such a nice meal, we wanted to try! Michael and Alice shared the ”chocolate, sea salt, peanut, burnt butter ice cream” and we shared the “pear, olive oil, lemon, thyme”.

Chocolate, sea salt, peanut, burnt butter ice cream

The first thing that showed was the technique of the pastry chefs was clearly of a high quality. While I felt a bit of menu envy at the chocolate dish that had won praise, especially for the peanut caramel, I enjoyed the lighter tones of the pear and lemon.

Monster really hits you in a good way. Even the trip to the toilet is an adventure in design. It wasn’t until we left through a different entrance that we even realized we were eating in an open hotel lobby. There is nothing hotel-y in the feel at all and it is a quality package that is being offered in this unusual restaurant.

Monster Kitchen and Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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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