Attica review 2017

Emu egg sabayon sweetened with sugarbag honey over Daintree chocolate sorbet.
Emu egg sabayon sweetened with sugarbag honey over Daintree chocolate sorbet. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

74 Glen Eira Rd Ripponlea, VIC 3185

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Opening hours Tuesday - Saturday 6pm-late
Features Licensed, Degustation, Green-eco focus, Accepts bookings, Gluten-free options, Groups, Private dining, Vegetarian friendly, Bar
Prices Expensive (mains over $40)
Chef Ben Shewry
Seats 60
Payments Diner's Club, eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 9530 0111

Ben Shewry seems happy. Then again, he's got a lot to be happy about. His Ripponlea fine diner is 32 on the World's 50 Best list. The restaurant's new fit-out, a sleek and stunning renovation designed by Iva Foschia and executed by Shewry and his family, allows the space to breathe while simultaneously celebrating modern Australian design.

There's a confidence to this latest iteration of Attica in 2017. Music, a huge passion of Shewry's, is back and the soundtrack is strong. You're sighing into midnight blue banquettes, while listening to pared-back instrumentals interjected by New Jersey guitar heroes the Feelies and, because he doesn't want anyone to feel excluded, Journey's Don't Stop Believing. It's right there, listening to a karaoke banger in luxe surrounds, that you realise Shewry has found his groove.

Other tweaks worth celebrating: cool marble tables and lights that flatter food. A new bar running along the wall that gives eyes somewhere to rest. Unchanged: a cooking style that's deeply narrative, which once told of the chef's New Zealand roots and is now the great polyamorous love story between Ben Shewry, his garden at Rippon Lea Estate, brunch culture, great producers and meat pies.

An imperfect history of Ripponlea in three tarts.
An imperfect history of Ripponlea in three tarts. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

Best of all, dinner only takes three hours to get through instead of six, and the end result is tighter and more delicious than ever before.

The meal starts much as it has for years: fresh cut sorrel and broad bean leaves from the gardens, swiped through house-soured cream dotted with apple balsamic for a sharp salute to the restaurant's surrounds. These days there might follow a slice of Santa Claus melon, its honeydew sweetness sparking against a sour dust of native Davidson plum. But then the following flurry of fingers-only snacks turns a little more humorous, and a lot more meaty than in the past. You'll eat a ruffle of cape grim beef with macadamia salt on a sharp bone spear, a tiny lamb pie in a Vegemite-salted crust, and a riff on smashed avo.

It's a tactile time, to say the least. There comes a point, unwrapping a paperbark package of pearl meat in lemon myrtle butter, when you wonder if they've overdone the hands-on thing, and whether or not it might be rude to ask for a fork. There again, the deliciousness is in the detail. The smell of smouldering pepperberry leaves is my favourite part of a dish of slow-smoked carrots. A snowy spiny bowl holding soft lobes of snow crab just loosened by the gentlest chicken broth and bespeckled with tiny, floral broom seeds completes the dish. A hefty hunting knife lands beside a mother of pearl shell beneath which is browned baby abalone, buttery and tender, lifted with a black garlic schmear and a tickle of desert lime.

Go-to dish: All parts of the pumpkin.
Go-to dish: All parts of the pumpkin. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

In many ways, the menu is as boundary pushing as ever. Saltbush and foraged seaweed have given way to new ground: Geraldton wax flowers and desert oak wattle seeds, the size and texture of black beans, crunch up a raw dice of wallaby, deeply flavoured by a wattle miso. Native grains create the deeply savoury, brick-baked damper, fermented for three days, and served with rich butter and macadamia cream.

In other ways, Attica has softened. There's less talk as dishes are dropped, though you can push for the story. Wine service, still encompassing left field matches, including a big red ale with a dish of all parts of the pumpkin (hot fudgy flesh, cool sour cream foam, syrupy beer liquor and the crunch of nutty seeds), but it's less freaky skin contact action, more refined Crawford River rieslings.

The pace is smoother. The ritual walk to the garden is a little less earnest, a lot more delicious courtesy of smashable jam doughnuts crowned by spicy black ants. A slow-cooked lobe of jumbuck now comes swaddled in the petal package – tangy, rich and impeccably balanced by a juice of ground berries.

A more streamlined room following a refit
A more streamlined room following a refit Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

Attica is in a golden age where it's hitting the highs from a place of relaxed comfort and passing the sense of ease on to you.

It's the restaurant Attica was born to be, couched in the surroundings it deserves. 

The lowdown

It's the restaurant Attica was born to be, couched in the surroundings it deserves.

Pro Tip: Bookings open 9am the first Wednesday of each month. Be swift.

Go-to Dish: All parts of the pumpkin.