Tag Archives: degustation

oh Attica

Attica.

I dined there a few weeks ago. But how to do the place justice in words? It’s a fair quandary.

gorgeous knife

This trip had been years in the making. I first met my future husband Derek at a former place of employment who decided not to take me back after a bout of serious illness. The place was horrible and it was only because of the number of fantastic creatives there, ekeing out a living, that made it bearable. I don’t remember how but Derek and I would have become friends over the simple phrase “What are you reading?”

We’ve remained friends ever since. I jokingly refer to him as my future husband because if we did get married, our book and music collection would be fantastic. It was he who first told me of Attica’s existence and that he longed to dine there, matched wines and all.

So we did it, one Friday night when only the degustation is available. What took us so long, I don’t know. When I arrived, Derek was enjoying a gin and tonic and Tris a beer. I had a gin and tonic too (for some reason, they didn’t ask me what gin I wanted and I got Bombay Sapphire, harumph. I prefer Tanqueray in G&Ts). After realising our other dining partner wasn’t going to show up, we indicated we were ready to begin and so condiments and bread appeared.

cured butter & olive oil emulsion

House cured butter and this olive oil emulsion which looked like it had the consistency of chocolate mousse, but was very soft and aerated. We had the choice of sourdough or rye bread to use up these curious condiments.

That was just bread and condiments! The degustation proper still hadn’t begun and we were brought out a carrot appetiser. So teensy, and reminiscent of a carrot salad had at Cutler & Co’s degustation, but infinitely better. Seriously, I reiterate: this is just the appetiser, folks!

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The first course in the degustation was the snow crab – imagine a pile of fluffy white ‘snow’ in front of you with crab lurking beneath. How do they make such dreamy, ethereal stuff? Derek had chosen to have the matched wines and graciously provided both myself and Tris with a sip (he did this with all the matched wines, bless his soul). The wine served with this course was the Silver Wings ‘Macedon noir’ Brut rose NV.

snow crab

The next dish was osmanthus and chrysanthemum broth with abalone and cuttlefish. The broth is more like Chinese osmanthus and chrysanthemum tea, both of which I’ve drunk before. A very delicate floral taste. The dish is presented to you sans broth, but then poured in gently at your table from a beaker that would look at home in a chemistry lab. It was matched with a Henrique and Henriques 5 year old NV madeira.

osmanthus & chrysanthemum broth, abalone, cuttlefish

The third dish made some interesting claims with its given title – ‘a simple dish of potato cooked in the earth it was grown’. Indeed, the potato is a humble vegetable. An industry friend of mine attempted to give me ‘insider’ information on the origins of this dish (specifically, the potatoes used) but to no avail: I continue to this day to be impressed by it. Derek one-upped both Tris and I and elected to pay extra to get the Manjimup truffle supplement – two people come up to your table and hand grate the truffle over your potato in quite the vigorous manner! I was worried they’d be stingy but it was quite the opposite. I love how the potato gleams in an almost desserty way.

All three of us had a glass of the matched beverage – the Eric Bordelet poire granit cider from Normandy. It set off the earthiness and rustic appeal of the dish wonderfully. Yes, potatoes and perry sounds like an odd match, but it worked!

a simple dish of potato cooked in the earth it was grown

To my (neophyte) palate, one of the hallmarks of a good chef is someone who can make you raise your eyebrow at an unusual pairing of flavours but have you on board with the first mouthful. The following dish of bass groper with almond and garlic is an excellent example. Almonds, really? Not something I think of going with fish and yet, what a welcome experience, for your tastebuds to disagree with your preconceptions. For accompanying wine there was the Allies ‘Garagiste’ chardonnay 2008 vintage – possibly my favourite matching.

bass groper, almonds, garlic

Feed the men meat! Oh wait, here we are. In dainty morsel-sized portions too – this was lamb and mushrooms roasted over wood with sauce of forbs. I had to check out Melbourne Gastronome’s post to find out what forbs was. I loved the mysterious balls rolled in something that seemed like toasted mustard seeds. Again, Claire’s post proved highly educational on that front too. The mushrooms were crazy and one of them I found a little odd and not quite to my liking, but the meat! Perfect. There were whispers of ‘sous-vide’ on our table. This course was matched with the Barone Ricasoli ‘Brolio’ chianti classico 2007 vintage.

lamb, mushrooms roasted over wood, sauce of forbs

The beef, seagrass and white cabbage was not as nice – I found my meat a little chewy. The white cabbage reminded me of parsnip, oddly enough. The potato was amazing – you can see it’s almost charred black despite being cooked using different methods. This course was matched with the Enigma ‘Variations’ syrah 2007 vintage.

beef, seagrass, white cabbage

I confess that I had absolutely no idea what terroir was – I thought it was a term used to describe the earth in which wine grapes grew? When the said dish arrived, we were all further perplexed. We were told that there was beetroot, avocado and clover. I tasted berries too. Again, another dish that tested preconceptions prior to tasting. It was such a complex mix of flavours and textures. What I remember most vividly is grassy and sour tartness with a slight savoury background. But was it ice, or soil or cake crumbs we were eating? I think it was all those things! See what lurks below! I cannot remember a thing about the Braida Brachetto 2008 vintage – my brain was too busy trying to interpret and decode things going on in my mouth!

terrior

Of course when we were ready for the final dish of apple, olive and warm shredded wheat the words “ooh! An apple crumble!” came to mind. By now we had come to expect that it would definitely be out of the ordinary and were correct. I was quite starstruck when Ben Shewry, the head chef himself came out to lovingly spoon the wheat onto the apple. He told us that these crumbles of sorts use three apples each. Throughout the night, I’d found the wait staff fairly glacial which was a stark contrast to Ben and his earnestness and warmth. I wish I could have said more to him but I was far too shy. The matched alcoholic beverage was the Bernadins muscat beaumes de Venise 2008 – it smelled much sweeter than it tasted and was a polite complement.

apple, olive, warm shredded wheat

But not quite finished just yet! I got some wonderfully aromatic Earl Grey tea and the lads had coffees. To signal the end of the meal, we were presented with decadent petits fours. Very special chocolate fudge-type things!

petite fours

The only reason I’m not infatuated with my experience here is the service wasn’t as polished as it could be: admittedly due to one of our party not arriving we started an hour late but there were still other diners when we were finishing up but they practically whisked us out the door brusquely (or at least, the lady attempting to help me into my jacket did). However, the food…where on earth (or at least in Melbourne!) could one go for such unique cuisine? Perhaps this is what led San Pellegrino to nominate Attica as one of its top one hundred restaurants in the world.

Part of the charm and appeal of the dishes served here as part of the degustation is that they are not entirely ‘finished’ in terms of preparation when they are put before you. You either have to mix or wait for something to be sprinkled or poured before it’s truly ready. I think it helps the diner feel a little more connected to their meal and more involved. I know folks at the moment are all about edible snow because of *that* cooking show, so you have no excuse to not be hitting up this establishment. Besides, my write-up hasn’t done it justice but perhaps that’s just my evil ploy to get you to check it out yourself.

Attica on Urbanspoon

breakfast degustation, why aren’t more places doing it!

While we hadn’t officially met, Tresna and I had been conversing on Twitter and I’d found out through her updates that a place was offering a breakfast degustation. Doesn’t that sound like the best thing ever?! Breakfast that just stretches for courses and courses…mmm yes.

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So myself, Tresna and Ceri from Healthy Party Girl blog found ourselves at Monk Bodhi Dharma in Balaclava, just across the road from my beloved Local Taphouse. For $30 we would be served four courses with our choice of tea or coffee. It turned out that Tresna and Ceri had met at the Eat Drink Blog inaugural conference and were chatting like old friends when I arrived late. I am so out of sync when it comes to travelling in peak hour traffic by car, whoops.

The first course had just arrived when I did – an Algerian citrus cleanser paired with a Tunisian apple and celery salad. Close up, a shot glass of berry yoghurt with a miniature mint leaf. Various citrus fruits (mandarin, grapefruit, lemon) were used and then topped with a pomegranate seed. A very invigorating and healthy start to the North African themed breakfast.

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With our appetites very much whetted, we were greeted with a more substantial course next – a Moroccan mushroom harvest on flatbread with sumac goats’ cheese. As a largely happy omnivore, I don’t want to say that this dish was just like eating meat, but when I do say that, I mean that there are indeed vegetarian-only flavours that are highly pleasing to the omnivore palate. Mushrooms, for example are definitely up there, as are chickpeas which this dish also had. Lovely!

Moroccan mushroom harvest on flatbread with sumac goats' cheese

Time for some coffee! We all chose the syphon of the day, an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe. A very subtle-flavoured coffee with touches of floral and maybe even some citrus notes? I’m just going on what I could taste as my coffee knowledge is sorely lacking. I drink more tea than I do coffee and found this well suited to me. I don’t really like my coffee to kick me in the nuts first thing in the morning!

syphon coffee of the day - Ethiopian Yirgacheffe

Before the next savoury course, we were given a tomato soup cleanser with miniature basil and advised to drink up our coffee before trying it. Gosh, this was so good – how can something so healthy taste so glorious! There were suggestions that it could be ‘spiced up’ with some vodka…ooh yes. An excellent pick-me-up.

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The spoils still haven’t stopped! Our last savoury course was a butterbean and baby asparagus tart with heirloom tomato salad and pomegranate lime dressing. The tart was creamy in texture and a great match to the acidity and sweetness of the mango chutney. The tomatoes were heavenly – sometimes vegetables with simple dressings are the best. At least, those are the sorts of salads I tend to prefer.

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Just one last course! A North African orange blossom rice pudding with an apple crumble in a beautiful tumbler. At first the rice pudding seemed a little stodgy, but duh me, that is what the shot glass of cream is for! Add that, stir and enjoy the dreamy texture. Don’t be afraid to mix, folks!

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The lovely barista chose a pourover for me as I couldn’t decide what coffee to have next – he gave me a full-bodied Kenyan (I confess the name wasn’t obvious to me…sorry about that!). This was very much the opposite to the Yirgacheffe we all started with – robust, rich and thicker.

Kenyan coffee pourover

Tresna sadly had to leave and missed out on Ceri and I nomming some truffles which brought our decadent breakfast degustation to a close. From right to left, you have your standard chocolate, in the middle is pistachio and the colourful one is candied fennel. How wonderfully unusual does that sound? It reminded me very much of anise or liquorice (which I happen to love, though I know a lot of people don’t).

truffles

Some fantastic food on offer here for the breakfast degustation and keen for a repeat visit. If you are interested in trying the degustation, do note that you should allow an hour and a half (though they can start at 7.30am) and it’s only offered on Thursdays and Fridays. If you’re vegan, not to worry – dairy substitutes are available (Ceri in fact requested vegan substitutes). Be warned, you might not have space for lunch later in the day!

You can also read Ceri’s account of the breakfast at her blog. I’m sure all three of us can attest that it was worth getting up early for – this coming from the worst morning person ever.

Monk Bodhi Dharma on Urbanspoon

let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments

 more mix masters

Some time ago, St Ali offered a very special degustation and each course was to be paired with a cocktail creation from the folks from Richmond bar Der Raum. I think I enjoyed this dinner much more than the last one I attended┬ábecause the seating seemed less cramped and given that there were cocktails, we were more spoilt! I’ve not yet been to Der Raum but figured this was a great way to see what they were about too.

The kitchen and counters were a-buzz with orchestrated chaos. From this chaos burst forth the first course – a single Molting Bay oyster with Thai spiced tomato water accompanied by an amuse bouche. Oysters and coffee to my mind (and palate) is not an obvious pairing but to be honest, I love oysters so I’ll eat them with just about anything. Two was not enough (yes, there was one in the cocktail). All over too quickly, if you ask me. Consider my bouche much amused and poised for more yummies.

 oysters & amuse bouche

The second cocktail was a variation on the mint julep – called ‘Sip, Sip Julep’, it had cognac, Vietnamese mint, Rwandan Karengera infused maple. The coffee and cognac here replaced the traditional ingredient of bourbon. You can also see that there’s Viet mint to garnish. I don’t care how uncool it was, I ate mine. This drink was deeply refreshing and I frequently slurped at it to try and get as much of the precious alcoholic mixture as possible.

 sip, sip, julep

To eat, we had Japanese pumpkin with shaved iceberg lettuce and cherry tomatoes, crushed peanuts and nuoc cham. I like that iceberg was used because let’s face it, it’s not exactly the most fashionable of lettuce leaves. My mum uses it and her culinary repertory is firmly stuck in the 80s (sorry Mum, you know I’ll eat your Filipino dishes anytime!). I feel that aesthetically it let down the dish a little, but taste-wise, not a complaint. It was a vegetarian dish – if only all vegetarian dishes could be this ace.

 japanese pumpkin

The next drink conjured up memories of my childhood, because of the sugarcane. I spent the first eight years of my life in England, though my parents are from fairly tropical climes (Guyana and the Philippines). One day, my father came home with sugarcane for us to try. In England. Thinking back on this experience, it does seem quite the mindfuck, if you will pardon the profanity. Sugarcane in England in the Thatcherite 80s (yes, I am that old).

Chewing on the palate cleansing sugarcane in this ‘Sugarcane Swizzle’ with pandan and chilli-infused rum, cinnamon, pressed lime and Sumatran natural Mandheling bitters took me back to my concrete Greater London backyard. Amazing how powerful scent and taste is for our memories. Sipping on this paper-wrapped concoction made me feel very much the faux-hobo but don’t be fooled: it’s a classy drink.

 sugarcane swizzle

This drink was served with the morsel-sized king prawn and crispy pork belly with sweet fish sauce, Szechuan chill and Thai aromats. I had to look up ‘aromats’…bad foodie (still learning!). I think perhaps this course was a little over-ambitious. The pork belly cubes weren’t so pleasing in texture though they were tasty. Perhaps it would have been better to serve two king prawns and do away with the pork belly? Just my personal preference.

 king prawn

Thus the flirting is over – now we get to the real meat of the dinner, so to speak. The fourth course was a roast duck breast with wilted tatsoi, sherry glaze and green chilli foam. As a side, there were kipfler potatoes. This was probably my least favourite course of the entire dinner – was it due to duck fatigue from St Ali’s previous #duckfest? It looked gorgeous but to my tongue, felt like the least imaginative.

 roast duck breast

 kipfler (potato) chips

To accompany, we were served a ‘New York Minute’ – my notes inform me that this is based on Der Raum’s iconic 1864 Manhattan which I’ve yet to try… anyway, this creation was Brazilian Macausas cold drip filtered tequila, Antica Formula, Luxardo and whisky barrel bitters. I could have downed a gallon of this stuff happily. Again, probably wasn’t cool, but I crunched on the single coffee bean floating in the cocktail.

 new york minute

The last savoury course was an absolute winner even though by this time a lot of the diners were getting quite full. Seriously though, wouldn’t you make space for braised lamb shanks whose meat just falls off the bone? This was served with green beans, caramelised eggplant and smoked chilli and cashew nahm prik, and a bloody generous serving it was too.

 braised lamb shank

This classic-yet-jazzed-up dish was served with an extremely playful and daring drink – called ‘Coffee and Cigarettes’, it consisted of El Senorio Reposado, Colombian Tama Mountain cold drip and Cohiba infused agave nectar. Yes, it looks like an innocent espresso with an cigarette, but not quite. A few people around me struggled to finish this but not me – I wanted more! Yes, yes, we’ve already established I’m a lush (in case you couldn’t tell by my beer consumption). I didn’t smoke my cigarette and it’s on my desk, probably too stale to do anything with. Nice prop though.

 coffee & cigarettes

If you’ve stuck around this long (hopefully for the pretty pictures at least), then you’ll be pleased to know we’re at the end – dessert. Our last course was an apple and almond galette served with ‘Thor’s Affogato’. After having bumped into cocktail-making Thor at this dinner, I now know he was one of the folks sitting opposite me at St Ali’s duckfest. Anyway, minor starstruckedness: back to the affogato – a St Ali Champion espresso and maple ice cream with lashings of Amaro Nonino and Strega. Every bit as decadent as it sounds. The lack of sweetness in the galette was just perfect with this very alcoholic cocktail. I think it might have been too alcoholic for some, as I did notice people not having much of it, though to be fair, we were stuffed at this point.

 thor's affogato & apple and almond galette

Since I’ve started trying to be the best beer nerd I can be, I’ve neglected wine a little, and cocktails even more. This dinner definitely makes me want to visit Der Raum. I don’t really have anything new to add about St Ali – it doesn’t matter if you go for breakfast or lunch, or dinner (do note that nights have a completely different feel to St Ali in the daytime) as you’re always guaranteed to get great food. Also, cheers to Ben Cooper, the capable chef for coming out to say hello after the kitchen madness was done (though if you need to go to the loo, you can get a glimpse of what goes on in the kitchen – everything seems to run pretty damn smoothly).

St Ali on Urbanspoon Der Raum on Urbanspoon

(wondering about the post title? you might like to read this)