Numero Uno – Attica Melbourne Review
74 Glen Eira Road Ripponlea, Victoria
Chef: Ben Shewry
Awards: 3 Hats, #33 World’s Best Restaurants, #1 Best Australiasian Restaurant
Three months of crossing fingers and two weeks of a frenetic Australian, Thai and Cambodian dining tour culminated in a secured reservation at Australia’s #1, Australiasia’s #1 and the World’s #33 restaurant, Attica. My love affair with Australian cuisine started with Attica. Chef Ben Shewry’s passion for using locally grown, native ingredients and showcasing in clever ways has truly put him and Attica on the world map of cuisine.
I’ve often wax lyrical about what ‘Australian cuisine’ really means and on this visit to Attica, I am closer to knowing than ever before. Chef Ben Shewry and his group of merry men and women in the kitchen are pioneering a playful, innovative menu that takes you on a journey through native fruits, berries, spices, herbs, flesh and on one occasion, flowers (did someone say edible tulips?).
Ironically Shewry is from our friendly neighbour, New Zealand. Perhaps it is his inquisitive nature and willingness to explore a new terrain that brought him to Ripponlea to showcase the unique flavours of his adopted homeland. Regardless it is one of the best degustation menu’s in Australia and clearly cutting through on the world stage.
On this cold Melbourne night, we ventured through Attica’s darkened doorway into its dining cocoon for a full 4 hours of supping pleasure. A quick nod, a friendly chat and we were on our way with a plethora of snacks that left us breathless with its cleverness, smirking at its irony and silent in awe. The snacks ebbed and flowed with a gentle hand (Hand dived scallop) which in the next turn shook us awake (Wallaby blood pikelet, complete with hilarious recipe). There was a tip-of-the-hat to the clichéd with ‘Gazza’s Vegemite Pie’ and a more eclectic inclusion of ‘Lance Wiffin’s Mussel’. It was all cleverly balanced in the visual and visceral resulting in endless chatter at the table.
Ben Shewry had command of the kitchen and the dining room as he moved through presenting and discussing the stories behind some of the snacks. He was personable, passionate and focused on making the experience tactile for the memory including personally working a section of a beautiful honeycomb from his bees onto our plates (Fresh cheese and honeycomb). This was just the start.
From the rapid fire snacks, the meal moved to a more detailed menu that showcased the finest produce and uniquely Australian flavours (Bunya Bunya, Wattleseed, Lilly Pilly). The stand-out dishes were the ‘All Parts of the Pumpkin’ which would make even the staunchest meat-lover cry in humility. The layers and textures of pumpkin were a symphony of deliciousness that lingered on the palette long after the last lickable flavour left the plate. The ‘Emu’s Egg’ was memorable for its use of the egg shell which kept the aroma of the scrambled egg alive as we consumed the creamy, salty egg inside.
We were led away from the table to the backyard kitchen garden, to become part of the dining process. Not satisfied with just feeding us, Attica let us explore the garden, imbibe the aroma of the greenery and talk to the chefs. Of course we were rewarded with a ‘cuppa and a mint slice’ for our small efforts of which we felt weirdly proud. The finale of the kitchen garden was replete with petal picking from one of the rare edible tulip plants which became our next dish ‘DIY Tulips’ – a magnificently delicate dish with a bespoke airy cream filling inside the beautiful tulip petals hand-picked from the garden.
This dining experience was on equal footing with some of the best degustation restaurants in the world including Azurmendi (Spain), Gaggan (Bangkok) and The Ledbury (London). It was akin to discovering your own backyard and realising that amazing flavours are not always borne out of ingredients like garlic, onion or ginger but of saltbush, bush tomato, lemon myrtle, pepperberry and finger lime.
Attica Restaurant is a dining destination that any food lover worth their weight should try and visit at least once. It is an immersive, educational and at times hilarious experience that will resonate with your parochialism and feed a penchant for unique fine dining. 10/10.