Last January I had the privilege of attending a cooking class with Ben Shewry at Sydney Seafood School. Ben is the head chef at one of Australia's leading restaurants, Attica, which is number 63 of the top restaurants in the world (it was number 53 last year). Since that class I have been dying to get to Attica to try the variety of amazing dishes Ben creates from local produce and foraged ingredients. So since I'm spending time in Melbourne every week we decided to make a weekend of it and get a table. We weren't disappointed!
So, here's the menu from the night. As you can see, this isn't your traditional top-end, high priced, generic restaurant. They put real love and care into ensuring they are using unique, underused, or underappreciated local produce, herbs, and spices (Begonia leaves, anyone?).
I won't go through each and every dish as it was quite an adventure. While the "Crab, Shiitake, and Twelve Basils", "Marron and Fermented Corn", and "Fresh Curd Ice Cream and Blueberries" were fantastic, it's the five dishes in the middle of the menu that really stood out for us. Now, the only drawback to the entire night was that our waiter had a thick accent (we couldn't tell from where) so my understanding of the ingredients in each dish is lacking. But who cares? That's the mystery in amazing food! Here are my favourites from the night:
- "A Simple Potato Dish in the earth it was grown" - this is the chef's signature dish and it shows. The small potato is wrapped and then cooked in earth for five hours to give it a delicate texture and smoky flavour. It is then placed on a bed of goat's curd with spices and saltbush. Definitely a highlight
- "Cucumbers, Sauce Burnet, and Dried River Trout" - after being blown away by a simple potato dish, we were further impressed by the depth of flavour and complexity presented in another simple vegetable dish. I know "caring for your ingredients" can be a bit of a cliché these days, what Ben has done with young cucumbers here is amazing
- "King George Whiting in Paperbark" - this was my favourite dish of the night. The fish has been slow cooked in paperbark and covered in a beautiful sauce and topped with a scallop like mince (did I say our waiter had an accent?)
- "Flinders Island Wallaby, Scorched Macadamia, Ground Berry" - this dish was very unique in that I've never had wallaby before. I've had kangaroo before but this was milder and more subtle. I have to say, though, only Australians could enjoy eating an animal from their coats of arms (kangaroo) and the mascot from their national rugby team (wallaby). The wallaby was presented medium rare on top of two purées - macadamia and wallaby blood sausage. Trust me, it was simply fantastic
- "Plight of the Bees" - the final dish of the night was a play off of different types of honeys and textures. A melon honey is topped with fennel granita and then meringue and a thin slice of pumpkin, topped with freeze-dried apple. It was a unique mixture but a fitting way to end such a complex and pleasing meal
Now, here's a tip when you're there in the evening. If they ask if you'd like to take a break between the main dishes and desert take it! They can then take you to the garden in the back and you can stroll through all the amazing plants and herbs that they are growing, including twelve different types of basil! They even had a couple coconut marshmallows for us to roast in their open fire. What an experience!
And we ended the night with a surprise, a painting of Pukeko birds that Ben's dad created in their native New Zealand. This was concluded with a little chocolate surprise, a mock Pukeko egg that's filled with condensed milk. I had one back at the seafood school and just as good as I remember.
So, if you're ever in Melbourne and want to taste food like no other, find time to get to Attica. My recent book, "Where Chefs Eat" rate it as a place worth the travel from anywhere in the world so I have two words for you - get there!
Now if I can only get Ben to write a guest blog...