I first heard about Ben Shewry’s Attica when it won Three Chefs Hats in the Melbourne Good Food Guide. Not long after, it was recognized as one of the Fifty Best Restaurants in the world and the only remaining Australian restaurant on the list.
But what really made me want to try this restaurant for myself was watching an episode of Netflix’s excellent Chef’s Table series which aired an episode dedicated to Kiwi chef Ben Shewry and his team. Chef’s Table is from the producers of Jiro Dreams of Sushi so you know that the food will be look absolutely delectable on-screen but what really won me over was Shewry’s humble demeanour, his surprisingly candid discussion of his struggles with his work/life balance and his interesting approach to preparing food – where he balances culinary artistry with personal experiences drawn from his upbringing in New Zealand.
Booking a dinner at Attica is an exercise in patience but ultimately, it is accessible to anyone. Reservations are opened up on the first Wednesday of each month for a date three months ahead. So I made my reservation online in August but I was able to get it for a table of four on a Saturday night – a time that is normally impossible to secure at other restaurants of a similar calibre.
Attica is hidden in plain sight. The restaurant is situated in Ripponlea in a rather inocuous looking brick and mortar building that you could easily walk past without the faintest inkling of whats inside. The decor at Attica is minimalist with dark walls and sparse decorations. The light fixtures reminded me of a performance theatre where most of the room is submerged in darkness but the food takes centre stage on brightly lit table tops. It made conditions very favourable for taking photos which I appreciated immensely. The artful presentation of the dishes was something I definitely wanted to look back on.
I dined with Jen, my brother-in-law Matt who works in the city as a chef, and our friend Mitchell. We had the Extended Menu with matching wines.
Ben Shewry was on the floor for much of the night, serving dishes and chatting with the diners. He was as friendly, plain-spoken and engaging as I remembered him on Chef’s Table and it was a pleasure to be able to chat to him. We learned a lot from speaking to him. A hand-written recipe that accompanied the wallaby dish was a font created from his grandmother’s handwriting. The cloth that another course was served on was designed by his wife. He wasn’t going to stay up and watching the World Cup Final because he’s not interested in rugby.
I was absolutely delighted with the experience at Attica. And it most certainly is an experience. The entire waitstaff were friendly, knowledgeable and accommodating. Our sommelier Eva had endless anecdotes and observations about the wine pairings. The sou-chef Ben from Chicago spoke to us about the pride people have in deep dish pizzas in his home town. The service throughout the night was impeccable and delivered by a team that looked like they were passionate about what they were doing and engaged with the food and drink they were serving.
Here’s a quick photo set of what we had that night. It’s shot on a camera phone so the picture quality isn’t perfect but hopefully you’ll get an idea of how clever and inventive Shewry and his team are and why they are so highly praised by food lovers the world over.
All the food and drink at Attica is locally sourced. At the start of the night I had a G+T made with Four Pillars gin from South Yarra.
The night began with several ‘snacks’. The first was Cooks Leaves, where they plucked some greens from the garden which you dunked into a serving of balsamic vinegar and sour cream.
A Mouthful of Green
Fresh Cheese and Honeycomb – the honeycomb was served straight off the wooden frame of an onsite bee hive
Crispy Crab – crabmeat served in deep fried artichoke
Wallaby Blood Pikelets – this was the course which was served on a cloth which had the recipe hidden underneath it. It was written in jocular fashion with an ingredients list that included ‘the juice of about ten to fifteen wallabies’. It was a lot of effort put into a detail that could easily have been missed.
Chicken and Carrot – the carrot is sliced finely and turned into a taco shell
Buttered Young Corn
Beef On The Bone
Lance Wiffen’s Mussels
Aromatic Ripponlea Broth
Salted Red Kangaroo and Bunya Bunya – I was delighted to see this dish was on the menu as it was one of the courses on Chef’s Table. If you watch the video clip at the top of this post you’ll see it make an appearance.
Marron with sweet and sour pumpkin seeds
142 Days On Earth – sounds like a Nick Cave album. It’s actually an aged red cabbage serviced with emu. The flavour is as intense as it sounds.
Then we stopped and went outside to the herb garden where most of our food was sourced from. We played some tennis too. Expect the unexpected at Attica.
Half Time Oranges – a sorbet snack
Maria’s Green Apple – inspired by a dessert made by Ben’s grandmother
Lois’ Jelly Whip
Pukeko Eggs – chocolate eggs with a runny centre
What else is there to say? Everything on the night was note perfect. The food was everything I hoped it would be. Each dish is expertly crafted, using the freshest possible ingredients and served in ways you’ve never seen before. Ben Shewry and his team are truly at the forefront of the Australian culinary scene and their plaudits are richly deserved. My highest possible recommendation and without doubt one of the best restaurant experiences I’ve ever had in Australia.