8 Courses at Attica

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As previously mentioned, it was Donny’s 30th Birthday towards the start of January, so what better way to celebrate than with the 8 course tasting menu with matched wines at Ben Shewry’s Attica!

We were lucky enough to decide we wanted to eat there the same week the restaurant started accepting bookings for the New Year (although as it turned out, there were a couple of empty tables on the Friday night that we were there…) and were quite excited to see how the standard menu compared to the Tuesday night Chefs table.

I spent some of the afternoon worrying that something had gone wrong with our booking as I never received a confirmation call like you do from most restaurants, but figured as they took my credit card details at the time of booking everything should be ok – and ok it was – phew!

We arrived just before 7pm and had a table near the front entrance. The restaurant has had somewhat of a makeover since our last visit in 2009 – its quite dark now, kind of reminding us of how Circa used to look before their recent update. It’s pretty good, but would have been better if there was a sign indicating which of the 3 doors in close proximity to each other was the toilet!

Anyway… on to the most important part – the food!

We were given some beautifully warm bread with smoked oil which had been whipped into a lighter-than-butter consistency (the smokiness made you think you were eating smoked fish!) & some house made butter. Not long after an appetiser arrived – a refreshing dish of  tomato, zucchini flower & samphire.


Quite soon after we finished this dish we were presented with a glass of sake to go with our first official course of the evening, simply titled Snow Crab.

Our waitress explained that this dish was inspired by Mt Taranaki in Shewry’s home town of Taranaki in New Zealand.

Snow Crab

Donny didn’t think much of the powdered horseradish, and while it didn’t really taste like much, I thought it enhanced the aesthetics of the dish beautifully – but the real beauty of this dish though was inside the ‘mountain’… In every spoon you got a tiny bit of freeze dried berry which really brightened things up, or a pop of some salmon roe – yum!

Inside the mountain

We only just finished our sake as we were poured a glass of 1999 leroy bourgogne blanc to accompany our next dish. This was one of my favourites of the evening and I ate every bite with a deliberately slow pace to savour the deliciousness of the perfectly just-cooked marron!

Marron tail, leek, egg yolk, garlic

Even though I took my time eating the above dish, we both had nearly 1/2 a glass of wine left when fresh glasses arrived and were filled with a quite unusual 2006 baumard ‘clos de st yves’ savennieres. Not even 3 dishes in & I was already beginning to wish they would slow the pace down just a little… and then appeared a simple dish of potato cooked in the earth it was grown!

Simple maybe, but talk about intense flavours. You could really taste the earthiness imparted in the potato, which was only enhanced by this most intriguing glass of wine.

Potato cooked in the earth it was grown

I don’t know if it was because it was a warm night & we were drinking our vino at a slower than usual rate, or if the kitchen was working at a frenetic pace as the arrival of the 2009 fairbank rose made it 3 glasses of wine on our table – yikes!

The accompanying dish of hapuka, shitake, quinoa was a much lighter dish than its predecessor and it made a welcome change for our palates. I’d previously had a horrible experience trying to cook quinoa, so was interested to see how it tasted when done right. Perhaps the trick is to use the seeds as these tasted fantastic! As expected, the fish was cooked to perfection & the subtle shitake broth was deeeelicious.

Hapuka, shitake, quinoa

The next course was my least favourite of the night – pork tail, pickled onion, red melon & dune spinach, which was paired with the 2009 bass phillip gamay. To me, it just tasted like fat, with no real meat flavour at all. I’m assuming that this was supposed to be offset by the tangy blood pudding the brick of pork tail was sitting on & the pickled onion – which it kind of was, but once I’d used up all of my watermelon & onion I really didn’t want to eat any more of this dish.

Our waitress didn’t seem surprised that I didn’t like it, telling me people either love it or just don’t get it… At least I’m not alone there. I just don’t see the point of serving the main protein of the dish in such a bland way? I don’t think Donny was quite so critical, but he at least humored me by agreeing it wasn’t his favourite.

Pork tail

Our last savoury course of the evening arrived & unfortunately due to some extremely sinewy meat, this chapter of the dinner didn’t end on a high note 🙁

As you can see from the below picture, the meat had a lovely pink colour as it had been sous-vide but for some reason it just didn’t work. I would have much preferred an actual rare piece of meat rather than these 3 slices that not only were a struggle to cut, but also to chew! Positives though were the crunchy white cabbage & the yet again perfect wine match of the 2007 Enigma ‘variations’ syrah.

Beef, sea lettuce, white cabbage

Donny was especially looking forward to the next course after reading about this dish in Coco: 10 World-Leading Masters Choose 100 Contemporary Chefs (as reviewed here).

I’m delighted to say that this dish quickly turned our thoughts about the evening around.  Donny called this his dish of the evening and I would have to say, it probably represents my ideal dessert. Plus as we were feeling slightly tipsy by this stage we took great delight in trying to imitate Oz Clarke in pronouncing the word “Terroir” from Oz & James’s Big Wine Adventure.

This dish was not dissimilar in concept to the snow crab served earlier in the evening in that once you cracked open the mountain of freeze dried berries, you discovered a creamy centre of fromage blanc sorbet. We enjoyed this wonderful dish with a glass of 2008 mas amiel grenache noir.

Heaven on a plate!

For the final official dish of the evening we were joined by a pastry chef who assembled the beautifully simple dish of strawberries and cream at our table. The strawberries were supposed to be the star of this dish, but unfortunately I found they were drowned out by a little bit too much sugar, both in the cream & coulis and the accompanying glass of 2009 vietti ‘cascinetta’ moscato d’asti. Having said that, the occasional burst of fennel pollen was a welcome addition to this dish 🙂

Strawberries, brown sugar and cream

And so that concluded the 8 courses for the evening, but in the words of that demtel guy… “but wait there’s more”… A small plate of straw arrived with two chocolate birds eggs filled with caramel. My sweet quota was well & truly exceeded for the evening so I packed mine away for a later date, but Donny made short work of his egg!

A parting gift

No more than 3 hours after we first arrived we were waddling out of Attica. It was a pretty great evening, but on reflection, we both think we preferred the more experimental Tuesday evening dinner. And as you’ve probably figured by now, we both wished they took just a little longer between courses… Perhaps we were spoiled by the 4 hours Loam afforded us to cruise through their 7 course lunch? I guess only the next year of eating adventures will tell 🙂



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