A Fine Bite of Terroir and History
Claim to fame: Return of the native
Reason to go: Making local personal––in the most delectable way
Look out for: Surprise interludes away from the table
The waiter lifts a piece of bark to reveal the larva. Pale and plump, like a creature that has been living out of the sunlight but otherwise living well, it’s about the length of a man’s thumb. It’s hard to discern where its eyes are, but there’s a clear sense that it’s looking at you, possibly with expectation. The waiter explains that the grubs––large, wood-eating moth larvae called witjuti––are a traditional staple of the peoples of the Australian desert, that they’re eaten raw or cooked in the ashes of a fire, and that here, at Attica, they’ll be fried crisp before they’re brought back to the table.
But if the curious diner should ask to try them raw as well, the waiter might pause for only a moment before assenting. And that’s one of the things that makes Attica the great restaurant that it is. Landing a table can be trying, but once you’re through the door, a spirit of adventure prevails. Cooked, the grubs take on a crisp-skinned roast chicken character; raw (and live), they’re creamy, the flavor somewhere between avocado and almond.
The witjuti-grub course is indicative of an Attica that has become more galvanized than ever by its mission to explore what eating in this place means; in Australia, in Melbourne, in this suburb, this street, this moment. “An imperfect history of Ripponlea in three tarts” spotlights layers of the neighborhood’s life. One of them, topped with smoked chicken and dill held in a shimmering chicken-broth jelly, is a nod to the local Jewish community. The second, a tea cream topped with pears and a slice of black pudding, references the British owner of the original Rippon Lea Estate, while the third, which presents the bright aromas of native lilly pillies and blood lime on pepperberry cream, pays homage to the region’s Indigenous population––the true owners of the land on which the restaurant sits. Oh, and they’re also utterly delectable, airy wisps of things, gone in two bites apiece, but somehow packed with flavor.
A tastefully muted update of the room––charred planks in the Japanese style lining some walls, the room screened from the suburban high street by dark curtaining––keeps the setting comfortable and contemporary. Local starchitect Iva Foschia did the design, and in true Attica style, Chef-owner Ben Shewry and his dad swung the sledgehammers, making it personal to the last.
Technical proficiency and great products are merely the baseline at Attica. Here, ambition and talent are yoked to taste and a desire to tell new stories about where (and who) we all are. It’s truly fine dining.