Monday, 8 October 2012

Attica, Really high expectations are always hard to meet

I recently flew down to Melbourne for a football (AFL, of course) and food weekend.  It was all part of a annual pilgrimage to visit friends, who for the last few years have secured us MCG members stand tickets and always put on a good show for SC and I.  This year was an added bonus of being my birthday too!

For such a special occasion, we needed a special restaurant.  While there are a number that fit the bill, Attica had caught my eye.  The fact that it has recently confirmed for a second year in the S. Pellegrino worlds best 100 restaurants, number 63, only added to the allure.  It is also a mainstay in the Gourmet Traveller top 100 awards, currently number 8 and of course the Good Food Guide has awarded it three chefs hats

As the weekend away approached, I scoured the internet and read everything I could find about Attica and studied the menu (which was risky, as it changes quite regularly).  I was really excited because I love a good degustation and really look forward to how a great chef constructs a meal that takes the diner on a gastronomical journey.

After an amazing day at the football and a huge win to Carlton (which is great as the host for the day is a big Carlton fan), we made our way back to our hotel to get ready.  Finally, the night arrived and after a short taxi ride to Ripponlea, we met our dinner guests and were seated at a table, right underneath the dessert kitchen area, a view which kept me amused most of the night.  I was really surprised by the layout of Attica, its quite dark and spread out in different rooms.  While it was cool that our table was right under the dessert kitchen area, there were only a few tables in this section of the restaurant, so we were quite isolated from the majority of the other tables and diners.  I'm not sure this is a good thing, as it took a little bit away from the vibe of the room as a whole.

On Saturday nights its the $175 per person degustation only & I was ripped with anticipation of the meal ahead.  Unfortunately, I did not get many photos, so I will do my best to describe the courses.

Art on a plate!
An assortment of breads and amuse-bouche came to the table prior to the meal proper, one in particular stood out, manly due to how pretty it looked on the plate.  We were treated to a visual masterpiece with an intricately painted shell and some bites that represented fruit on a tree.

The first dish of crab and artichoke was the first course.  The flavours for this dish were really subtle and well balanced, you could taste each of the components on the dish.  It was presented quite simply on the plate, which surprised me as I was expecting a little wow factor.

Next was marron, pepperberry and sour petals.  Once again, this was a very simply presented plate of food, yet at the same time elegant.

A theme was starting to become apparent to me with this meal.  While there had obviously been a significant amount of effort putting the dish together, using foraged material from their own garden, there was a subtlety to the flavours coming out of the kitchen

The August Degustation Menu
Next in line was 'a simple dish of potato cooked in the earth it was grown'.  I had been looking forward to this dish as it seems to be a bit of a staple on the Attica menu.  Once again, you could see the care in which the meal had been cooked and put together on the plate.  The texture of the potato was soft and luscious and really enjoyable to eat, but I again found myself asking if the flavours were too subtle.....  Something to ponder over.

Next was 'meat from the pearl oyster pinctada maxima with black radish', which while it contrasted with the dark plate upon which it was served.  The textures were interesting with the oyster and the black radish mixing well but again was quite subtle.

The fifth dish on the menu was probably the pick of the dishes of the night from a flavour profile viewpoint, 'kumara, almond and pyengana'.  Kumara is a type of sweet potato and those of you that know me know that this is perhaps my least liked of the root vegetables.  Pyengana is a region in Tasmania well know for it's cheese.  The dish itself had the pyengana melted and poured over the kumara at the table by the waiter and had a perfectly cooked soft boiled egg yolk to mix in.  Of all the dishes on the night, this is the one that stood up and 'slapped' me in the face.  The flavours were strong, but well balanced and complimented each other extremely well.  I really liked this one.

Next was the obligatory meat dish, which was 'Flinders Island wallaby, bunya pine and ground berry'.  At the risk of repeating myself too often, this was a very elegantly plated meal and visually stunning, however the flavours were once again quite subtle.  Every element was cooked to perfection and the wallaby was so tender, but I really wanted more depth of flavour.  Perhaps it was spoiled a little from the previous dish, which had such a strong profile.  I think it may have been a good idea to have this one before the pyengana.

On to desserts and there were two.  The first was quite controversial at our table.  I am a fruit lover and quite like a diverse range of fruits, which is what this plate delivered on.  There were some very unusual tastes on the plate, which I appreciated but was in the minority at the table.  The final dish of the night was fantastic and clearly had a lot of thought and effort put into it.  I had been watching the dessert chefs putting this together all night, so was intrigued with what would eventually be put in front of me.  What appeared before us was a box with complex layering of different textures of honey, pumpkin and shaved ice (maybe sorbet) flavoured with kiwifruit.  Again this polarised the table, with fifty percent of the table loving it and the other fifty percent 'meh'.  I really liked it and would have happily eaten everyone else's at the table.

Finishing up the food was a lovely and delicate 'Pukeko's Egg', which was a beautifully presented (ie, real looking) egg made of chocolate with a really interesting 'yolk' or filling inside.  It was delicate and lovely to eat to finish the meal.

I'm quite conflicted about our Attica experience.  On one hand, you could tell that the meal was immaculately planned and literally 100's of hours worth of planning and effort had gone into constructing a meal as journey.  However, for me, I really wanted more dishes that stood out, that 'grabbed my by the lapel and smacked me in the mouth' and there weren't that many moments in this meal.  I am sure that in a few month's time when thinking about this degustation, I will struggle to remember most of it and this is a real shame.

Don't get me wrong, technically it was a masterpiece, and as befitting a three hat restaurant the service on the night was faultless.  Maybe I was suckered into the hype of some of the previous reviews and its ranking in the S. Pellegrino world list, perhaps my expectations were a tad too high for this one.  When paying $175 per person before drinks, the last thing that you want to hear is that the meal was forgettable.  Of the three hat restaurants I have eaten at around the country, this will be the one least likely to get a revisit.


Attica on Urbanspoon



  1. I like your balanced approach to this review. $175 is a lot in anyone's language so you want it to be stand out. I think I can safely say that there are many places on the list that I'll go to before I head here (though if someone else was paying...)

  2. I really wanted to go to Vue de Monde but its pretty hard to get into on a Saturday night. Ha ha, if it was a free meal, it would have been pretty decent!


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