Friday, 13 April 2012

The Moon - Part Two (Attica)

74 Glen Eira Road, Ripponlea VIC
We arrived back in Melbourne for one final Moon dinner at Attica. I’d been awaiting this dinner with great anticipation for two reasons: firstly, I’d read a great deal of favourable press and secondly because a friend I met over a decade ago, the very talented Banjo Harris Plane is the sommelier and restaurant manager at Attica. I knew Attica must be very special as he’d left Sydney to take up the role (Banjo formerly worked at Est of the Hemmes Group fame, and at Quay, home of the snow egg!).  Follow his musings here
In short, the experience lived up to my very high expectations. What is so special about Attica is that diners are challenged through the invention of dishes and flavour combinations, rather than by bizarre cooking methods. There is no foam or reconstructed molecularly modified ingredients. No ipod playing through a shell as you eat your meal (Heston’s Fat Duck style) or scented smoke rising from your dish. In some ways, this dinner is the antithesis to decadent frivolity but maintains an air of sustainable-luxe. Who know eating things found on St Kilda beach would ever be sexy? But that is exactly what Ben Shrewy is doing, collecting weird and wonderful things from around Ripponlea, the Bellarine Penninsula and who knows where else,  and adding them to his dishes.
Ben’s profile on the Attica website explains his belief that food can have a deeper meaning than just  being another item to consume. For Ben, it’s “important to have respect and empathy for animals and plants and a connection with the past, or an emotion felt through a memory of an event or culture experienced”.   He draws inspiration from his native Kiwi-land which is prevalent in a number of the dishes we had.  For the sceptics, I agree this all sounds airy-fairy, but his connection and feelings for food really shows through the dishes.
For those wanting more of this Willy-Wonka like chef, his cookbook will be out later this year and can be pre-ordered at Books for Cooks (233-235 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy online here) Not sure if you can pre order online, but a great site regardless.
Also check out this rather sweet short film entitled ‘Kobe and the Sea’ in which Ben takes his son, Kobe, gathering for ingredients! Kobe and the Sea
Our Attica Tasting Menu
·         The Walnut in its Shell & Sea Bounty Mussels - Billecart Salmon Brut NV – Mareuil-sur-Ay, France

There were two “starters” the first was a walnut puree you ate out of the walnut shell. At this point I was too excited to actually listen to what other ingredients were in it, but it was delicious!). Secondly was a raw mussel that was deep fried in a lovely light crisp batter, which in turn cooked the mussel during the deep frying process. A nice “New Zealandly” touch of a hand painted shell garnished the dish. This starter was not surprisingly, very “seafoody”, which was less to the Husband’s liking.

·         Tomato, Smoked Seasame, Eleven Basils - Equipo Navazos La Bota No. 27 Fino – Jerez, Spain.
This dish was accompanied by probably the most pleasant sherry I’ve tried. Sherry is an interesting choice but dry and sweet enough to be a good accompaniment to the smokiness of the seasame and the freshness of the basils. Who know that there were eleven types of basil you could grow in Australia? Well it’s in the Attica kitchen garden!

·         A simple dish of Potato cooked in the earth it was grown - Moss Anjou 2010 - Anjou, France
The cooking process of the potato resembled that of a New Zealand ‘Hangi’ (hey bro!) whereby the potato is packed into the earth and slow cooked in it. The potato arrived like a glossy-golden egg nestled on a bed of crispy sage leaves and a smoked anchovy/olivey white cream.

·         Meat from the Pearl Oyster - Castagna ‘Allegro’ Rose 2010 – Beechwoth, Victoria
I’m well used to wearing pearls, but who knew you could eat Pearl meat? Attica source this pearl meat from Paspaley pearls none the less. The texture is reminiscent of a scallop, but perhaps slightly denser but with a subtle-oyster like flavour. The rose worked beautifully, it was the light pink/sunset colour rose rather than type that resembles red cordial.

·         Flinders Island Wallaby, Bunya Pine, Native Currant - Guiseppe Travesa ‘Sori Ciabot’ Barbaresoc 2006 from Piedmont, Italy and Cuvee Ripponlea Syrah 2011 – Heathcote, Victoria.

Wallaby meat was very succulent, like a cross between venison and kangaroo, but without the pungent taste of kangaroo. Worked well with the bunya pine which again was sourced locally. The wallaby was literally hunted down on Flinders Island and presumably shot down with a bow and arrow Hunger Games style.  Accompanied with wine made by Banjo and a couple of his mates(the Ripponlea Syrah) which is now stocked exclusively at Attica.
·         Raisins Whey & Hazelnut – Knoll Gruner Veltliner Beerenauslese 2007 – Wachau, Austria, Man O’ War ‘Ironclad’ Cabernet Blend 2008 – Waiheke Island New Zealand, New Zealand),
·         Afghan Biscuit  - Equipo Navazos ‘Casa del Inca’ Pedro Ximenez – Jerez, Spain (As drank at FermentAsian!) and Holgate ‘Temptress’ Chocolate Porter – Macedon, Victoria
·         The Pukeko’s Egg – Quinta do Noval 20 year old Tawny - Oporto, Portugal and Domaine La Barroche ‘Terrior’ 2009 – Chateauneuf-du-Pepe, France

All three desserts were delicious and inventive (especially the Afghan Biscuit, which we coined ‘grown up cornflakes’), but for me it was all about the mains. The desserts were just the icing on the cake of a truly spectacular meal.
Am I brave enough to cook with Port Melbourne sea lettuce or hunt down a native animal in Gasworks Park? Probably not. But Attica should inspire everyone to add something a little different their own dishes tonight, just for adventure’s sake.
What I loved: The incredibly innovative, yet delicious use of different ingredients, rather than use of the same ingredients in different methods.
What I’d like to see: The Husband taking me there weekly!  Note there is also a “tight-arse Tuesday” option of an experimental menu at a reduced price.

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