Thursday, July 28, 2011

Attica.... and the lovely Mr Ben Shewry

I'll be transparent here - Ben Shewry is a friend. Not only that - he is a really bloody awesome, genuinely nice bloke.  I  also happen to have been working closely with him on a pretty incredible project for sometime now....  But you shouldn't let any of that information have bearing on what I am about to say about his food because it wouldn't matter if I'd never cast eyes on him  -  I just ADORE his grub. 

If you consider yourself a foodie and you have never eaten at Attica - you need to go - NOW! Well, whenever you can snaffle a table because they are booked out for about three decades.... well that is a slight exaggeration but regardless - you'd be well advised to book in advance...

Before I prattle on about the divine meal I ate there a week or so ago I also want to give a shout out to Banjo Harris Plane who is Attica's most recent acquisition. Banjo is a young wine guru  (ex sommelier Quay restaurant in Sydney) who also happens to be the new restaurant manager. He is an absolute star and looked after us like we were royalty (OK so, although he wasn't on duty - my date happened to be a restaurant critic and... I may have met Banjo in another life at Quay and he also might be going out with a friend  - BUT!!!  I SWEAR it Sooooooo DOESN'T MATTER - because I spied on him doing his thang and that boy is completely onto it). Uber professional, knows his stuff (insanely good taste in wine folks as you can well imagine - some very cool stuff on the Attica list right now) and he is just a delight. Good score Benny!  

Whipped olive oil or butter with your bread? If I hadn't been a bit clued up on what lays ahead of one during a dining experience at Attica I would have eaten the contents of this whole pot and licked it clean.  Its a pretty good start to a meal when you want to devour the stuff  in the corner that goes on the bread....
Crystal Moss hand-picked by the man himself -with a pop and flavour not too dissimilar to caviar.

  For those who aren't familiar with Ben's food - he is renowned for foraging for (non toxic!) plants -  from almost anywhere they might pop their heads up -could be beside the local railway track, on the coast where he lives, in the bush or the sea. Ben acquired the skill during his childhood in native New Zealand and it is indeed a passion. He forages daily for the restaurant  - and makes a last minute dash every night just before service starts so particular plants are at their absolute optimum for consumption. Now that is dedication. It also gives him a few moments of peace and solitude before the mad rush. 

While there is currently much hype surrounding the "movement" (mostly due to the profile of fellow forager and chef Rene Redzepi of Denmark's famed Noma Restaurant) Ben is quick to impress that it ain't a new thing.... credit where credit is due and all that - this style of food gathering is ancient. He also advises not picking up any old plant and giving it a chew - you really need make sure you well educate yourself first. Even with Ben's skills he has managed to poison himself in the past. Rest assured no one else will eat anything he hasn't tried and tested himself!
Oysters and seven seaweeds. Not only incredibly beautiful but the flavours were so very fresh  (instantly transporting me to Japan...) with a welcome salty hint from the very short seasoned berries of the salt bush plant.
Raw prawn and Jerusalem artichoke in a light dressing containing the sweet juice extracted from Jerusalem artichokes (no easy feat!) and mustard seeds  - the heat had been removed revealing a subtle nutty underbelly
Ah the "Snow crab"..  (using sweet mudcrab on this occasion) - a stunning dish  in ode to snow capped Mt Taranaki where Ben grew up. The 'snow' is flavoured with horseradish and the dish contains verjuice, barberries, puffed jasmine rice, salmon roe and freeze dried coconut.  Absolutely Sublime.   
Marron, Leek Egg yolk. Simply perfect. 

"The Potato" as it is affectionately known.  I am salivating at the memory. Inspired by the hangi cookery of NZ's Maori (indigenous) people - Ben cooks the potato in the soil it was grown. The perfect potato is accompanied by a lightly smoked curd, saltbush, coconut husk ash, fine shavings of salted, dried fish. Oh my. 
Meat from the pearl oyster with crisp, melt in your mouth pig's tail. This was wet your pants good. 
This dish included fresh, raw chestnuts as well as chestnut puree, salt-baked celeriac, very lightly cooked egg yolk, toasted almonds and a moat of creamy Pyengana cheddar sauce. Mix together before eating in rich textural spoonfuls. Winter. 
The gorgeous Banjo and one of his many wonderful selections. 
Beef tongue, vanilla, Myrtus, lettuce stems. 
Best tongue I've ever had... (sorry, I couldn't help myself)  - texturally insane - cloaked in a lightly spiced dressing of subtle mulled wine flavours. Add creamy parsnip puree, pickled lettuce stems, crisp wafers of dried cured beef, herbs, myrtus berries...  Incredible. 
Winter apples. A simple name for a dish of elegant complexity.  Essence and textures of apple with jellied avocado oil, apple cream and candied grape leaves - some green, others coloured red with beetroot juice
Mandarin and Honeydew Honey.  Fresh mandarin macerated in honey,  freeze dried mandarin segments,  sour cream & caramelised dessert wine sauce, rosemary flowers..... I can still taste each and every dish. What a joy.
And finally chocolate - in the form of a salted caramel filled Pukeko's Egg. The Pukeko is, to paraphrase Ben "a cheeky bird... known for raiding farmer's crops". Fellow Kiwi, fellow forager. 

Thank you Ben, once again for an incredible dining experience.  xx

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