A Melbourne based writer who is a travel junkie, dedicated foodie and emerging photographer.
Published September 7th 2017
Atta-ining new standards of excellence in Indian cuisine
Think of the standard 'Australian-Indian' restaurant, and it may conjure up images of metal bowls of nondescript brown curry dishes, served up with some insipid chutneys and a rather tired looking plate of rice, and perhaps a few microwaved papadums.
Banish all thoughts of that old style of restaurant as you approach Atta. Everything there is fresh, new and modern, from the decor to their take on traditional Indian dishes. The presentation of their dishes is first-rate, offering instant appeal, more at home in a hatted restaurant than a local suburban restaurant.
Arriving on a cold evening, with the rain pouring down, Atta looked and felt like a haven when we arrived. We were strategically placed under a heater, and coats and umbrellas were whisked away. Open just three months, it's clear a lot of thought has gone into the interior design. There is a sense of lightness and openness, without the venue feeling stark or over-lit. Individual lamps on each table (not shown in the image below) are a blessing for those of us whose eyes are not as young as they were when it comes to reading the menu!
Atta - a lot of thought has gone into the interior design. (Image credit: Tim Grey)
The main room, including the 'mezzanine floor' next to the kitchen, would comfortably seat 40 people, and there is a separate area to the side with more tables.
Drinks menus quickly arrived and again it's clear a lot of thought has gone into constructing the drinks list. There is an impressive range of wines, sourced from France, Italy, Spain, New Zealand and Australia, including a good selection available by the glass. I chose a glass of the Domaine de Bel Eouve Rose, while my partner Dave opted for the Geoff Merrill 'Wickham Park' Merlot (each $10). There are also 12 or so beers, a range of spirits and cocktails. You can view the full drinks list here.
A quick scan of the food menu reveals some old favourites - lamb korma, butter chicken, Seekh kebab, as well as some less common dishes - Tandoori machi (barramundi fillets) and Jhinga coco (king prawns in a coconut gravy). After a discussion about preferences, we left it to the restaurant to surprise us.
First dish to hit the table was the Khasta Machi (crispy skinned salmon, confit tomatoes, mustard infused coconut sauce) ($25). The old saying that 'you eat with your eyes' was never more true than here. Served with puffs of lime foam to balance out the plate, it looked most appealing. The first thing I tasted was the mustard infused coconut sauce which was artistically smeared on the plate and WOW, it was delicious! Strong on the coconut, it paired beautifully with the perfectly cooked fish. A delightful dish.
Khasta Machi - ohhhh that mustard infused coconut sauce, yum!
The next dish, Sikandari Raan (braised leg of lamb, sous vide dutch carrots, herb potatoes, mint chutney) ($21), arrived under a glass cloche, which was whisked away with a flourish, producing a waft of smoke.
Sikandari Raan - revealed with a flourish from under the cloche
Sikandari Raan is a traditional dish; the name translates as 'Alexander's Lamb' and dates back to around 300BC, when Alexander the Great captured the Indian King Porus in battle. Asked how he wanted to be treated in captivity, Porus apparently answered 'like a king'. He was not only released, but befriended by Alexander. Sikandari Raan - a spiced, barbecued whole leg of lamb - was served at the celebratory banquet held in honour of the new friendship.
Sikandari Raan - a traditional dish dating back to around 300BC
By now we were feeling like royalty too, as we feasted on the tender lamb, enjoying the infused smoky flavours.
For main courses, we had the murgh makhani (Butter Chicken) (succulent tandoori chicken, spices, tomato gravy) ($22) and the beef mircha (tender beef, tempered mustard and sun dried chilli, onion and tomato gravy) ($24). These were served with a mountain of perfectly cooked saffron rice generously sprinkled with flaked almonds ($8 per serve), a delicious raita ($5), naan bread ($5 for plain naan), and extra green chilli for Dave, the chilli fiend.
Main courses: beef mircha (left), and "the best butter chicken I've ever tasted (Dave)"
Dave was quick to declare the butter chicken the winner of these two. "The best butter chicken I've EVER had", he said. That sweet, rich gravy is mouth-wateringly good and something we'd go back for.
And so to dessert. You wouldn't think we'd have room for dessert, and neither did we, until these amazing artworks on a plate were placed in front of us. Again, we couldn't fault the presentation and the dishes were immediately appealing.
Desserts - artworks on a plate. Top, Ras-malai; bottom, saffron pannacotta.
That little red 'tree' on the top dish is actually a freeze dried raspberry tuile, an accompaniment to the Ras-malai (cottage cheese dumplings, saffron and pistachio chhana) ($18). A Bengali delicacy, cottage cheese balls are cooked in sugar syrup and dunked in creamy condensed milk, giving the dumplings a consistency a little like bread and butter pudding. This was a sweet indulgence indeed.
The other dessert, the saffron pannacotta (blackberry coulis, saffron honey syrup) ($16) was, I suspect, a little less traditional. I don't think I have tasted anything quite like the flavour of the pannacotta. It is sweet, as you'd expect a pannacotta to be, but the spiciness of the saffron cuts through to give a most interesting balance of flavours. I found it a little lighter to eat, too, than the Ras-malai, a bonus at the end of a big meal.
Overall, this was a classy meal, and we felt Atta is a real 'find'. If you like Indian food, you HAVE to try Atta. In fact, even if you are just lukewarm about Indian food, try it anyway, it might just convert you.
You'll find Atta at 159-161 Victoria Avenue, Albert Park. Just jump on the number 1 tram to South Melbourne and go to the end of the line; Atta is a short walk away.
Atta is open from 5 - 10pm Tuesday to Sunday (closed Mondays).
Click here to reserve a table online, or call on (03) 9696 3388.
Except where indicated, the images in this article were taken by the writer. All images are protected by copyright and are not to be reproduced in any form without express permission.