- Article by Jan Henderson
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In suburban Melbourne, one of the world’s best restaurants has emerged from an interior renovation, and inside co-editor Jan Henderson experiences the splendid result.
At the prestigious World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards in Melbourne earlier this year Attica was named number 32 on the list and also achieved the accolade of Best Restaurant in Australasia – quite something, for a small, Australian suburban restaurant and a credit to the vision and dedication of the chef and owner, Ben Shewry.
The food served at Attica is fresh, local and innovative, and reflects the values of Shewry, who is close to nature, loves and respects the land, its cycles and produce. So, in step with his food offering, Shewry decided an interior renovation was in order and commissioned Iva Foschia, principal of IF Architecture, to translate his ideas into a tangible design.
Foschia has obliged and the result is discreet, layered, textural and oh so intrinsically Australian.
In a past life the restaurant was a bank and the old vault door, too heavy to remove, is still in situ today; however, this is the only piece of memorabilia that has been retained from the original building. For the renovation the ceiling was replaced, the cellar was opened up and an outside courtyard incorporated into the floor space. The flow of the restaurant has been refined and the many staff that work the floor can now see the kitchen from the new bar and service their 65 table patrons with ease.
There are three distinct areas within the restaurant and in each there is an element of theatre. The small entrance and reception desk adjoins the front section that is primarily set with tables for two.
Located next to the front windows, warmth and privacy is assured through the inclusion of a floor-to-ceiling double- sided, soft charcoal grey linen and wool composite fabric curtain, with copper yarn thread woven into the linen (Luna Petrol 603, Mokum), which softens the aesthetic, sparkles discreetly in the light and, more practically, aids the acoustics and moderates the temperature.
As an adjunct to the dining experience, patrons can watch the sommelier at work decanting wine behind a floor-to-ceiling window inserted into the cellar situated at the far end of the room.
The middle section of the restaurant contains a bespoke honed and polished bluestone bar topped with a slab of cypress timber (a larger representation of the reception desk in the entrance) and a bluestone shelving unit for glassware and decanters. Midnight blue velvet upholstered banquette seating has been introduced and tables are draped with cloths, save for the large circular granite table close to the kitchen entrance.
Four pendant lights hang in the front and middle sections, fabulous fine brass tulle flying saucer-like
discs (Gervasoni 95, Anibou) that add a touch of the celestial. Black acoustic panels have been affixed to the ceiling between batons of LED downlights (Ambience) that have been correctly arranged to gently spotlight the tables below.
In the third space, tucked into the side at the rear, is a more intimate dining area that offers the opportunity to be reconfigured for private parties. Foschia has included another curtain for privacy, should this be required, and when the curtain is drawn there is enough transparency to suggest hints of movement in the main restaurant beyond. In this small room, a viewing window has been included that separates the formal plating up area of the kitchen from the diners and provides glimpses of the ultimate MasterChef experience.
The design of this room also includes a large skylight high in the ceiling that opens up the space and reflects light downward onto the charred cedar timber panelling that lines the walls, highlighting the beautiful texture of the wood.
The simplicity of the interior belies the layered intention of the design. Authenticity in the food served at Attic is paramount and this sentiment has been translated into the products Foschia
has assembled. There are Scape dining chairs (Grazia & Co) and Thonet table bases topped with Harcourt granite, burnt orange velvet upholstered Featherstone lounge chairs and small sheepskin covered ottomans for handbags at reception (F02, Male Scape and F03, Grazia & Co) and Colin Page’s evocative photographic images of great Australian landscapes.
The interior represents the idea of rebirth; as landscape and forests burn and regenerate, new
life rises from the ashes. The black painted ceilings (Aniseed, Porter’s Paints) and light grey walls (Rubble, Porter’s Paints) complement the charcoal carpet laid throughout (coal, Godfrey Hirst) and the materiality of charred wood panelling, bluestone and Australian timber counter tops all contribute to the idea. Add to this the ultimate regeneration, that is, the transition of ingredients into fine food through creativity and culinary finesse, and the vision for the restaurant is complete.
Now the interior of Attica is just as it should be.
There is a humbleness about this design, but don’t mistake the word humble for anything other than a certain restrained and considered composition of material and colour palettes, furniture, fittings and fixtures. It is also the attention to detail of the accessories, such as the bespoke tooled leather wine list covers and unique ceramic and pottery dishes in which the food is served that make a visit to Attica a total design experience and one to be savoured and appreciated on every level.
Photography by Tom Blachford.