Gourmet Secrets: Australian fine dining at its best!
On a recent visit to Melbourne, I was excited to say the least, to be able to secure a much sought after reservation at the award-winning restaurant Attica. It takes a while to get to the insignificant suburb of Melbourne called Ripponlea where Attica is situated. From the outside, Attica looks like any other high street restaurant. As you walk in, the dimly lit interiors with white table cloths and plain marble tables again could be any smart restaurant.
Man of the moment
Ben Shewry, the chef at the helm is originally from New Zealand and is adamant on using only the best Australia has to offer. He spends an astonishing half an hour with me explaining his ethos, his dishes and what he loves to do. It’s like talking to an old friend not the chef owner of a restaurant ranked 20 in the world. I don’t believe in using caviar, foie gras or other expensive Michelin restaurant-type ingredients”, he tells me. “My aim is to reflect the best of Australia with great taste and presentation”.
The menu is a staggering 17 courses, one more stunning than the next and many a nod to the area intellectually and otherwise, not just Australia. I keep thinking, I’m going to have just a bite of each to pace myself and end up eating each course in its entirety till I give up somewhere near the lamb souva. There are 40 attentive staff, which is more service to guest ratio than any other restaurant in Australia. Courses arrive one after another – a volley of brilliantly thought out dishes with indigenous ingredients. There are no rules about eating with cutlery or fingers. In fact, the latter is encouraged!
A feast to remember
We start off with Australian Tac’Oz, a taco stuffed with local greens and fresh herbs, saunter through hand dived scallop, some unusually soft Abalone in miso butter and then happen upon their take on the Australian love for vegemite – ‘happy little vegemite’. There are dishes with green ants, which I must say I can do without, and fabulous little tarts, which take their inspiration from the history of Ripponlea from the 16th century to today.
Impressive … an ingenious one to represent the Bunurong people, one with black pudding after the English who built Ripponlea estate and lastly the Jewish population of recent times represented by matzo ball soup with chicken jelly in a matzo crust. Then there’s marvellous hand-picked sweet crab with a warm wattle seed pita pocket and melt-in-the-mouth cured red kangaroo.
This is followed by more extraordinary seafood and a beach potato cooked for four hours in the sand with kelp and served with seaweed butter and lime. Of all the marvellous dishes and amazing ingredients it was the chewy carrots lightly smoked over pepper berry leaves served with a dip made with egg and tarragon and carrot oil,which blew me away. Sometimes, even in the most anticipated eagerly awaited meals of the year, it is the simple things that move you.
Chewy carrots with tarragon mayo
Carrots from Bendigo, Victoria, are first simmered until very well done in water that has been seasoned with a little salt and sugar. The carrots are gently removed from the water and lightly coated with oil and salt. They are then placed between fresh pepper berry leaves on the smoker and cooked all day, approximately 12 hours.
To serve they are cut in half and seasoned with olive oil from Mount Zero, sweet apple vinegar from Lirah, and flake salt. They are served at room temperature. Once seasoned they are placed on a bed of fresh pepper leaves which will be lightly torched just before taken to the dining room. Each guest will receive half a carrot.
To accompany the carrots is a dipping sauce of smoked egg paste with tarragon. Eggs from Joost Bakkers farm in Monbulk, Victoria, soft boiled and then smoked. The eggs are then pureed with cooked shallot and garlic, along with tamarind, sweet apple vinegar, coconut sugar, and lots of tarragon. The egg paste is then seasoned with fish sauce and fresh lemon.
The egg paste is then spread on a small plate and then topped with a carrot oil. The oil is made by dehydrating carrots, and then blitzing with grapeseed oil.
Culinary expert and explorer Karen Anand has been writing extensively on the subject of food and wine for 30 years. Apart from having her own brand of gourmet food products, she has anchored top rated TV shows, run a successful chain of food stores, founded the hugely successful Farmers Markets, and worked as restaurant consultant for international projects, among other things. Her latest passion is food tours, a totally curated experience which Karen herself accompanies, the first of which was to Italy.
From HT Brunch, December 16, 2018
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