Over the past 18 months there’ve been subtle – if significant – changes at Australia’s best restaurant. Ever since Ben Shewry took full ownership of Attica, he’s been quietly redesigning the menu to better fit his vision. Those changes will be externalised with a major redesign of the dining room in mid-February.
“I hadn't really thought about how I wanted the dining room to be in the past because [changing] it wasn't really an option when you don't own it,” says Shewry. “As soon as I took full ownership of the restaurant about a year-and-a-half back, the kitchen had quite a significant amount of work done. After that the next biggest thing was the dining room. It just took a bit of time for us to save for it, and to find the right architect that fit with me from a design perspective.”
Architect Iva Foschia of IF Architecture, whose recent work includes Andrew McConnell’s simple yet sophisticated wine bar, Marion, has been given a straightforward directive from Shewry on the new design. “My only advice to Iva is that I want a modern, iconic, Australian design without cliches,” he says. “Authenticity, that's my feel. With the cooking, I want it to have integrity. I think Iva has a lot of those same traits in her architecture.”
The focus on Australian design and manufacture echoes Shewry’s approach to sourcing ingredients. The refurbishment will use Melbourne manufacturers exclusively for the furnishings. “The dining room really doesn't tell a very Attica story, or a very Australian story, as it is at the moment,” he says. “We wanted to bring the dining room in line with what we do. It was about having a stronger relationship between what's happening with the food, the ethics of the food, the story of the food... In the past, the dining room has been a bit of a blank canvas for the food, I suppose. We want to be able to bring in the main features that we think represent Victoria into the dining room.“
To that end, the new room will be filled with pieces inspired by mid-century design, either custom-made by artisans in Victoria or repurposed. “Mid-century design is a personal fascination of mine. I don't think it'll look like a Melbourne cafeteria in the 1950s. It's going to be very modern. There'll be a lot of raw materials, finishes and textures,” Shewry says. “Attica's story has been much the same – it's about repurposing, about finding things to use that other people would discard, and turning them into things that people find beautiful.”
Along with the change in furnishings, Shewry plans to relocate the bar from the front of the restaurant and unify the more private rooms with the rest of the space. “It's going to feel bigger,” he says. “I wanted there to be no bad tables. At the moment, I think there are tables where, if you're a private person, you'd like them, but if you want to be amongst the action, you might feel a little left out. I want everybody to have an equal experience.”
Despite the towering reputation of Attica, which has consistently ranked among the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, Shewry is adamant that, in reality, it’s still a small business. In order to keep costs down, the restaurant will close for just two weeks. He’s even flying his dad and uncle over from New Zealand to help throw it together. “It's kind of a family affair,” he says. “We haven't had any massive capital behind us. It's still a huge investment for me, but relative perhaps to some of the fit-outs that would be happening in bigger groups or in Crown, it's modest.”
Modest as the new Attica may be, what’s certain is there’ll be little else like it. “Attica's a unique place,” says Shewry. “I want the design to reflect that.”
Attica closes for two weeks, starting February 18. It will re-open on March 7, 2017.