Atlas Dining review

Pho meets tartare: modern Vietnamese at Atlas Dining.
Pho meets tartare: modern Vietnamese at Atlas Dining. Photo: Supplied

133 Commercial Rd South Yarra, VIC 3141

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Features Degustation, Gluten-free options, Open fire, Licensed, Accepts bookings, Vegetarian friendly, Outdoor seating, Bar, Wheelchair access
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Payments eftpos, Cash, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 9826 2621

Chef Charlie Carrington is 22-years-old. He has a resume as impressive in its names - Marque, Vue De Monde, and Sydney's Firedoor whose influence you best see here - as it is alarming in its length. For a seven year career, Carrington has travelled far and wide and regularly and it's a similar restless philosophy he's laying down on Commercial Road, with a plan to infuse his contemporary, fire-touched menu with a different cuisine every four months. Until January, it's Vietnamese. And sound the bell. It's good.

I'm imagining a number of readers have just exited page left. Let them go. Much like IDES in Collingwood where the menu is a spinning wheel of evolution, Brunswick's Host where the crowd is exclusively hot, or Anchovy whose brilliant contempo-Vietno dishes against a stark backdrop has its detractors, Atlas is the kind of young and restless restaurant that doesn't win over all.

And yet. Here's a menu that's technical, textural and for the most part executed with restraint. It's the sort of Vietno-contemporary cooking you've seen and loved at Thi Li's Anchovy, where pungent mints meet modern dishes in a brave new world of flavour. Here, it starts with a silky, ash-peppered mound of chicken liver parfait, laced with honey that brings an intense floral kick. Mount it on a grilled baguette and feel your confidence rise.

The dining room at Atlas.
The dining room at Atlas. Photo: Kaitlyn Wilton, Smudge Publising

Perhaps here you'll also take in a glowing, mottled room which aside from  a decibel level some will decry (take heed: conversations echo and tables are broad) shows keen consciousness for comfort and functionality. Soft, long tan banquettes run along each wall, with sturdy blondwood chairs opposite. Above, a golden loop mirrors the trim of drawers in a cream credenza dividing the room.

Opt for the four-or six-course menu (a hell of a deal at $50/$65 a head) and you're presented with a leather knife roll revealing all your cutlery laid out like a surgeon's tools, leaving waiters free to spend time where it counts. Does anyone else do this? They should.

Back on the plate, gingery pippies are twinned with a meaty floret of cauliflower and (too) charred scraps, all united by a light liquor, fragrant with lemongrass and a salty fish sauce hit. It's light, effective use of the wood-fired grill.

Cauliflower, clams and lemongrass.
Cauliflower, clams and lemongrass. Photo: Supplied

See also the mash-up of beef tartare and pho. The anise-fragrant diced beef has been waved at the fire from a distance so it's uncoloured with a ghost of smoke. Soft onion petals hold a little broth, the rice element is presented both ground and as curling crisps, which become a vehicle for all, including rich dabs of condensed yolk.

This is bright and energetic cooking matched punch for punch with interesting wines - light and juicy Bon Blanc from Victoria, the haunting earthiness of amphora-aged Pheasant's Tears from Georgia and the almost sparkling Brown Block pinot noir from Kilmore. The only disconnect is with an unmatchable thick tranche of blushing duck breast dressed with a spicy fermented vegetable sauce that reads almost like nuoc cham with fizz, framed by pickled lengths of daikon and prettily quartered carrots. It needs nothing else to shine.

Carrington is pushing the bounds while keeping punk moves to a minimum. I'm not convinced of using crisp, nutty cross sections of shallots like wafers in the palate cleanser - coconut ice drenched in a lemongrass syrup like a snow cone.

There's no argument in the refreshing power of dessert proper, a mound of gently puffed black rice bound with a little coconut cream with a bracing sorbet of kaffir lime - all the textural fun of a chocolate crackle without the sugar crash.

We can only hope Carrington proves as light a touch with Israeli cuisine - up next. For now, he seems less a chef with the world on his shoulders and one with it all at his feet.

The lowdown

A 22-year-old opens a South Yarra restaurant. The punchline: it's astoundingly mature.

Pro Tip: A la carte is available, but the tasting menu is the best deal around town.

Go-to Dish: Wagyu beef pho tartare - the best of both worlds.

atlasdining.com.au