A novel concept inspired by the globe and a young chef with plenty to prove, Lara Picone finds out if Melbourne’s Atlas Dining is undercooked or just right.
There’s a great deal that only experience can teach, no matter your profession. Yet it’s just as true that no matter how much experience a person collects along the way, there’s a certain amount that only inner aptitude can achieve.
I’m contemplating this theory as I take a sip of a velvety-sweet and deftly soured kumquat negroni at Atlas Dining in South Yarra.
It’s a Thursday night and I’m surprised to find the restaurant only half full, especially as the opening had been much-lauded and the space ticks all the boxes for a sleek city restaurant: Nordic-style, muted colours, ambient music, ultra-upbeat wait staff, and an intentionally crumbly statement wall.
A green line traces the inner circumference of the space, a nod to the equator line that bisects an atlas. Behind the open kitchen, where more dishes than not feel the lick of an open flame, smiles a bespectacled young man in a denim apron.
He looks more like a school boy in a woodworking class than the head chef of his own restaurant, but Charlie Carrington, all of 23 years old, is just that.
Atlas Dining is his first restaurant and as for the aforementioned experience, he’s been prolific in stuffing as much of it into his seven-year-old career as possible. His CV is a rollcall of some of the country’s best restaurants: Marque, Firedoor, Vue de Monde.
His own travels have taken him from London to Bolivia and while all this experience-gathering has been weaved into his creations, Carrington has clearly tapped a spring of his own raw talent.
Carrington’s concept of itineraries or ‘stops’ that revolve every four months, rather than a regular menu, seems like such basic genius I’m surprised it’s not been done before. It cleverly gives diners a good reason to return, while freeing the chef from a rigid theme.
The first stop and the itinerary I’m here to sample is Vietnam. But by the time this goes to print, Atlas will be well into its Israeli itinerary.
Don’t expect traditional dishes served verbatim, Carrington uses Vietnam as a stepping stone rather than a raft.
We begin with charred bread and duck liver pâté, which is lusciously creamy and a lot more French than the pâté you find on your usual banh mi.
It’s followed by the vague suggestion of beef pho soup, which comes deconstructed as an elegantly spiced tartare with a crisp rice cracker for shovelling and a char-grilled onion that echoes the way traditional pho stock is made.
Among our six courses there’s also a deeply golden piece of whiting served with pickled vegetables that, although full of flavour, feels light and almost virtuous.
Rambutan and lychee with grilled cucumber ends the meal on a cleansing, tropical note; a bit like a thunderstorm at the end of a humid day.
All this is irrelevant, however, because by now Carrington’s Vietnam is nothing more than a memory.
What is relevant, though, is how eloquently he delivers flavours to the plate. I’ve eaten degustations from much older (read: more experienced) chefs who’ve worked at some of the world’s top restaurants and I’ve been wholly underwhelmed.
Yet I enjoyed each and every course at Atlas Dining; which isn’t to say there isn’t room for improvements and a little refinement, but for a first restaurant – even for a second or third – what Carrington plates up is excellent.
So, I’ll be watching Carrington’s movements intently, because if he’s this good now, just imagine how seven more years of experience will crystalise that obvious natural aptitude.
The details: Atlas Dining, Melbourne
Where: 133 Commercial Road, South Yarra, Vic; atlasdining.com.au
Verdict: Achieves a very mature execution of flavours without taking itself too seriously.
We rated: The food and experience were incredible value for money at $50 for four or $65 for six courses.
We’d change: Not much, really. Although it’s a shame that diners won’t be able to revisit favourites from past menus.
Notes: Stop two is Israel, which continues until April. Following that, it’s off to Korea from May to August.
All AT reviews are conducted anonymously and our writers pay their own way – so we experience exactly what you would.
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