Disclosure: I was invited to dine as a guest of the restaurant
Some nights Brad and I will slouch on the sofa watching the news when some upstart in the soccer world is reported on during the sports news. At this point Brad always comments on how young they are - and how old it makes him feel.
I had the same kind of thoughts visiting Atlas Dining in South Yarra, with owner and chef Charlie Carrington just 22 years old.
God damn, you guys don’t need to know what I was doing when I was 22. I reckon it’s a pretty big feat to be opening your own restaurant!
Already with a couple of big notches in his belt, having worked in kitchens such as Vue de Monde in Melbourne, Firedoor in Sydney and around the world, Atlas Dining is the culmination of all those experiences with a revolving menu inspired by a different cuisine every couple of months.
When I visited with Kara in October we were excited to try to the Vietnamese inspired set menu, 4 courses for $50 per person, or 6 courses for $65 per person - which in Melbourne’s scene at the moment and the quality of food that we enjoyed that evening, is absolutely amazing value.
To begin with though, the space is simply stunning. The place is so new, it smells of freshly cut wood, which is prominent through the earthy but minimalist interior. It’s mature, but contemporary and fresh.
Drinks are presented in a Vietnamese passport cover, and although some Vietnamese specific specials were on offer such as 333 Beer, a glass of Fritz’s Riesling big the spot for me instead.
To begin your meal, once you’ve decided if you’re doing four or six courses (do six, do six, do six), you’re given your cutlery bundle which makes me feel like an adventurer. Like if Indiana Jones was getting ready for an epic journey through a degustation, he’d want this beautiful leather bundle too!
But to start, it’s finger food (sort of). There’s really not much of a better way to warm the hearts of two food loving girls than with chicken liver pate, with honey and served on a grilled baguette. Simply delicious. The lightly charred baguette is perfection, the pate smooth and unexpectedly quite sweet with the generous dollops of honey in it.
The king salmon with sweet potato is a vibrant punch of colour on the plate, but refreshing and bright on the palate. I absolutely adore the smooth creaminess of the sweet potato puree.
Asparagus with wood ear mushroom and hen’s egg doesn’t scream Vietnamese in terms of flavour palette to me, but the use of seasonal asparagus makes me so happy. The dish is simple, but gorgeously executed, the tips of the lightly charred asparagus unexpectedly tender, and highlights his use of light wood cooking techniques.
Everyone has been talking about the wagyu beef pho tartare, and rightly so! The dish is artwork when it arrives on the table and is pretty much the epitome of a deconstructed pho. The diced and tender pieces of beef are aromatic, and so tender, infused with all the richness we’re used to getting from the broth - which on this plate are concentrated and found in lightly charred onions. There’s zest, bang, texture - oh the rice crackers I absolutely adore.
The corn fed duck with preserved vegetables is a surprisingly generous in it’s portion size, as Kara and I definitely start to fill up! The duck breast is plump, juicy and succulent, the preserved vegetables balancing out the rich meat.
Coconut, lemongrass and fried shallot is not quite a dessert as I first thought it might be, but is actually a palate cleanser - and a very delightful one at that. I would have loved for it to be 30 degrees out while eating it, the shaved ice so textural and the coconut and lemongrass so refreshing, with the contrast of the shallot to curb the sweetness.
And now it was really onto dessert, with rice, cashew and banana - to be concise. I loved the nutty black rice coated in coconut cream - reminded me of some of my mum’s favourite desserts, and the intensely rich banana ice-cream with crunchy cashew crumb to bring it all together. Definitely one of those desserts where I could have gone for a bigger serve because it was just so delicious.
Atlas was really all in the details, service, food, atmosphere, interior details - it all comes together to be a very relaxed atmosphere serving remarkable mature and complex food. It was nice to see Charlie himself pop out to serve and present the food himself to his diners now and again.
The Vietnamese menu finishes in December, and in 2017, Charlie and the team will be back to introduce a menu with flavours, inspirations and ideas from their Israel trip - definitely looking forward to that one!
133 Commercial Road