Is it Vietnamese? Is it Jewish? Is it Korean? The ever-changing Atlas is all of the above, and more. But grab it now before it shape-shifts away
Of all the clever things about Atlas Dining, a restaurant with quite a number of clever tricks up its sleeve, its business model might be the cleverest. Yes, we hear you. Bo-ring. But stay with us for a moment. The restaurant's conceit is that every four months it shifts to the cuisine of a different country. It opened late last year with a Vietnamese fanfare. At the moment it’s Israeli. It’s soon to switch over to Korean, and then Mexican. The meaning behind the name should be abundantly clear.
But we’re burying the lead. The food at Atlas is so compellingly good that it turns the four-month switcheroo into the culinary equivalent of a season ticket to the Melbourne Theatre Company.
What it translates to, quite simply, is this: You snooze, you lose. Either you were there for 23-year-old wunderkind chef Charlie Carrington’s beef tartare-slash-pho jam session in the Vietnamese phase or you missed out. There are people overheard at other tables boasting about their Atlas frequent flyer points (it’s remarkable we can hear them over the din, but you have to shout to be heard in this Commercial Road shopfront). Even within the four month season the menu changes every two weeks or so.
Carrington was a protégé of Lennox Hastie at Sydney’s Firedoor and has the same focus on wood, flame and the transportive effects of smoke. Even the three-dish salad course on the six-course Israeli menu, playing until the end of April and a bargain at $65 for six courses (you can also go four courses for $50), owes its charms to flame. Foot-long blackened runner beans keep it simple with garlic, lemon and salt; thin sheets of salt-baked beetroot sandwich minced beetroot with tahina (the versatile sesame seed-based sauce that pops up in different iterations across the course of the night).
You ought to be getting the picture that it’s far more Ottolenghi then Ashkenazi. Sure there’s chopped liver and onion but it’s a modernised version based in the not inconsiderable charms of chicken liver pate and onion seven ways (pickled, fried, grilled, charred…). To start, fat pockets of pita bread arrive warm from the oven with a textbook smooth hummus dotted with whole chickpeas. A cold starter finds the slight bitterness of baharat-dusted Japanese turnip - it’s been baked in the wood oven - beautifully mollified by creamy walnut tarator and herbaceous parsley oil. Swordfish doesn’t have much chance against the might of the coals – the fish variety is prone to dryness, and the slice is thin - but its creeping-heat base of harissa and cap of grilled capsicum dressed with a Yemenite spice-based hawaj takes it back into the black.
Other clever stuff: the chefs taking food to the tables; the leather roll containing all the cutlery you’ll need over the course of the meal, that makes everyone feel thrillingly like one of M*A*S*H’s meatball surgeons; the passport menu handwritten by the staff; the price; the fit-out of buttery pale things and a huge brass ring suspended over the room like a compass – not to mention the open kitchen with its glowing hellfire of coals. As for the wine list, which is being set a hard task by the ever-changing food program, its commitment-phobia and dedication to the road less travelled make it the vinous equivalent of a floating signifier. What’s that word we used before? Oh yes, clever.
|Venue name:||Atlas Dining||Contact:|
133 Commercial Rd
|Opening hours:||Tue-Sat 6-10pm|