Charlie Carrington’s travel journal is different to most: his snapshots of overseas trips come in the form of dishes served at his South Yarra restaurant Atlas Dining, where every four months his menu changes to reflect the cuisine of a single country.
Carrington’s new eatery, Colours by Atlas, is a few doors down the road. It’s far more casual and covers a little more ground at a time, serving five dishes (in bowls) each inspired by a different country.
“The bowls are based on my own experience overseas, the flavours and dishes I have encountered in a condensed form,” says Carrington.
The debut bowls reflect Mexico, Greece, Israel, Vietnam and Peru.
“We’re not trying to fully master the cuisine of each country at its respective techniques. We know places in Melbourne that specialise in a specific cuisine for decades can’t be beaten,” Carrington says.
Rather, Colours by Atlas offers a more pared-back incarnation of a country’s cuisine.
Mexico is represented through a combination of pork belly, tomatoes, guacamole and black beans, topped with slivers of corn tortilla. The Israeli bowl includes carrot, tomato, cucumber, hummus and pickles, with the option to add charoset (a sweet paste made of fruit and nuts) lamb or eggplant. Vietnam comes in the form of steamed chicken, cabbage, Vietnamese mint and a pickled green chilli dressing; a Greek salad contains potato and pickled-onion feta, with the option to add yoghurt or a vegan-friendly watermelon and honey tzatziki. A salmon ceviche served with quinoa, egg and sweet potato represents Peru.
Carrington says the idea is to “stick to the menu”.
“You go to a poke bowl place and mix and match, and most of the time it’s so hit and miss because it’s just a bunch of ingredients put together that don’t necessarily complement each other,” he says. “The dishes at Colours by Atlas are designed to be a whole. We’ve thought about them pretty thoroughly.”
Most ingredients come from local Victorian producers, including Glenora Heritage Produce in Goornong and Mossy Willow Farm in Main Ridge.
“The food we serve is also heavily based on the seasons – we have tomatoes in three of the five dishes at the moment, sourced locally from Doncaster Tomatoes.” Carrington is working with suppliers to ensure produce and other ingredients are delivered in reusable tubs, rather than single-use plastics. It’s a standard he applies to Colours’s own packaging.
“One of the reasons I’ve never really liked fast food is the amount of packaging that comes with it,” he says. “We’re trying to leave as little an environmental mark as possible – 98 per cent of our packaging is compostable, including our takeaway bowls made of sugar cane.”
Eventually Carrington wants Colours and Atlas to produce less that 120 litres of landfill waste between both venues per week, with a menu that uses 80 per cent organic produce.
Although the menu is relatively simple compared to its fine-diner sibling up the road, Carrington says the new venue is “the hardest thing [he’s] done yet”.
“At Atlas, we know exactly how many people are coming in and how many dishes to serve each night. At Colours it’s unpredictable, and what sells well changes by the day.”
But if all goes well, the plan is “to open hundreds around the country”.
Colours by Atlas
202 Commercial Rd, Prahran
Wed to Sat 11.30am–3pm, 6pm–8.30pm