Victoria has its groove back, and Attica chef Ben Shewry is celebrating by launching a new casual outdoor venue in the Yarra Valley.
Attica Summer Camp is due to launch before Christmas on the former site of Lillydale Estate winery in Seville, with a party-friendly covered space among the vines.
For the past three months, Shewry has been searching for a regional venue to offer a more relaxed experience than his three-hatted Attica in Ripponlea, where the mandatory tasting menu usually costs $310 a head.
“I looked at around 10 different sites but this is the one with the most potential,” he says. “It’s basically a blank canvas with a hexagonal shaped pavilion open on the sides.”
The chef enlisted the help of Healesville winemaker Mac Forbes to scout the perfect location, and Shewry says it will be “a big departure” from upmarket Attica, where there is limited scope for outdoor dining.
“If Attica has come from years of consideration, research and refinement, then the Summer Camp is going to be the complete opposite,” he says, adding he is waiting to be approved for a liquor licence after signing the lease on Wednesday.
Shewry has been inspired by his rural upbringing in North Taranaki, New Zealand, in planning the five-month residency, and hopes to capture a festival atmosphere with communal eating and Attica-level cooking. The menu will showcase the best in-season produce with a sustainable edge.
“Maybe the farm down the road will have some unbelievable berries, those will be on the menu, or a fantastic salad,” he says. “The central idea of it is fun, and that it’s not too serious.”
A small retail store will be attached, selling Attica merchandise, takeaway drinks and picnic hampers. Guests can expect a seriously good playlist, too with Shewry’s music industry mates Adam Briggs and the Avalanches on a shortlist to hit the decks.
“It’s meant to be a place that is the antidote for our hard winter,” Shewry says. “We’ve all been through a hell of a time this year, and I’ve got a strong desire to make a place that’s a celebration of life.”
Meanwhile, the chef will open the door to the original Attica for the first time since March this weekend for a series of private 10-person dinner parties priced at $5000 plus drinks. Attica In Between features an all-new menu with “Reko and Ben’s Picnic Caviar” – inspired by a picnic Shewry had with his artist friend Reko Rennie.
In true Attica style, the dish has no actual fish eggs, but a scoop of Maningrida green ants served in caviar tins painted by Rennie. The ants are unveiled at the table dressed in sugarbag honey with wattleseed blinis, and a French onion dip.
“I challenge you to not think it’s better than traditional caviar,” he says.
While many might believe hospitality has gone back to normal with the lifting of restrictions, Shewry is quick to point out there’s more work to be done. “If you don’t support your local places, they are gone,” he says. “It is so tough out there, so if people want their restaurants, it’s important they support their local places as much as they can.”