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It's the Ripponlea fine diner where Ben Shewry, the Kiwi chef we've fully Russell Crowe'd (except we actually want to keep Shewry), has rocked the world for a decade plating personal narratives in the medium of native ingredients. And having today reclaimed a place on the World's 50 Best Restaurant List for the third year running (scoring a number 33 ranking and winning The Best Restaurant in Australasia award), it's probably considered one of Australia's best known dining destinations.
But fun fact, restaurant twitchers: unless you've dined here since Shewry took sole ownership last year, you don't know it as well as you think you do.
To start, Shewry bought out owners Helen and David Maccora last July. "For 11 years it was somewhere I worked," says Shewry. "Now it's somewhere I own, and it's the biggest change of my life other than having children. Everything you can imagine has been rebuilt."
The chef's chef (few command the kind of global following he does) has given everything from the menu structure to the fire drills an emotional overhaul. He's even working the floor.
"I'm the guy who puts the fire out. Then it falls to my sous chef. That sort of stuff is really important to me. I want this to be a model of how to run a small business in Australia."
Attica's gingered pears with ice-cream and Maidenii vermouth.
Come in for dinner and expect Shewry at your table ladling foam from the heart of a pumpkin. On the speakers, no music. In the kitchen, a whole new pastry lab where diners drop tulips from the garden to form a dessert.
It's still Attica, but it's also a whole new restaurant. Quieter, but faster and a whole lot more interactive.
This kind of temporal shift is not without its risks. The room's energy is tethered to the mood of the diners, and those long silences can be heavy going. The newly tooled interactive game, loved by many, is yet to run as smoothly as the greased-rails service of the past.
Major wins come in the form of a more nimbly paced degustation where the finger-led snacks come thick and fast. Less bulk up the back of the menu has given the kitchen more freedom to play with proteins. Simple interludes between the trademark garden-fuelled delicates – consomme floated with 26 herbs and petals that differ with every bite – might be juicy slices of smoked pork neck, mountain pepper-fragrant or a bright, intense vinaigrette-poached ruffle of beef on a sharpened rib with charred macadamia salt that tastes lightly touched by fire. It's a one-bite argument for ditching big meat finales.
Shewry's also crossed beyond the native ingredient frontier where he's conquered hearts and minds with garlicky salted kangaroo tartare that pings with pickled native berries. Now he's punching a hole through our cultural cringe barrier with riffs on smashed avo and Gazza's meat pie, a two-bite lamb braise encased in Vegemite pastry. Yep, Attica's gone ocker.
Avocado with native finger lime. Photo: Eddie Jim
"When you don't know a country all you can do is get the ingredients and cook with them. You don't get the culture. But I've been here for a while now and I see Australia as a genuine source of inspiration. Not just the ignored ingredients, but Australiana. In New Zealand, you look at the airport and there's all this cultural pride for the green stones, but also the daggy stuff."
Is it delicious? You bet. Are you cringing? So hard.
But, Shewry helped inspire a generation of chefs to willingly tramp into the ocean for weeds; and diners to eat wallaby cooked in its blood. Our hunch is, he's the guy to evolve mod-Oz from anything foreign topped with a sprig of saltbush to grabbing our ocker heritage by the horns. Are we ready?
Take your billy tea in the courtyard and think about it.
Attica, 74 Glen Eira Road, Ripponlea, 03 9530 0111, attica.com.au. Tasting menu $250 plus wines. Bookings essential.