8 Whiteman St
Crown Entertainment Complex
I mentioned in my last post on Sake that I’m a little dubious of restaurants along Southbank – to me, many lack any real ‘soul’, translating into standard, boring food. So when I was recently invited to a bloggers’ dinner at The Atlantic, I was a little hesitant. But while it may seem like this is “just another Crown restaurant”, one distinguishing fact sets it apart from all the others: the chef is Donovan Cooke.
Over 10 years ago, Cooke ran one of Melbourne’s best restaurants, Est Est Est. In it’s day, Est Est Est was at the forefront of Melbourne cusine, bringing fine dining back in an era where diners were wanting a more casual, brasserie type experience.
More than a decade later, Cooke is back running the enormous Atlantic kitchen. Capable of seating 300 people, it may seem that a place of this scale would produce food that is formulaic and ‘standard’, but Cooke’s drive for quality and his dedication to sustainably sourced seafood ensure the menu is not only innovative, but devised in such a way that it can be revised on a daily basis to work with what species of fish are available. This means that the fish on offer one day may not necessarily be available the next.
It would be a mistake to visit the Atlantic without trying their freshly shucked oysters, which are proudly on display at the entrance to the restaurant. The night we visit we are treated to oysters from Wallis Lake (NSW), Smoky Bay (SA), and Moulting Bay (TAS), which are served with a light vinaigrette and fresh lemon.
There is a definite “classic” leaning to the menu, which is divided into cold and hot starters, fish whole and filleted, and a ”from the land” section that lists steak options, a rogue chicken dish and a token vegetarian offering. To begin, drawing on his classical training Donovan reinvents the seafood cocktail, combining crab meat, scallops, moreton bay bugs, prawns, iceberg lettuce, rockmelon, apple, basil, and soft boiled quail egg in a creamy dressing ($30). It’s a simple dish that may not knock your socks off but will bring a nostalgic smile to many faces. The crab bisque, however, is the better of the remastered classics, carefully balancing scallop mousse, preserved lemon, basil and rockmelon balls ($25.00).
The extensive starters menu continues with pan seared scallops and calamari with celeriac and apple remoulade, squid ink mascarpone, salmon roe ($26.00). It’s a great example of Donovan’s artistry as a chef, and there’s no shortage of beautiful dishes here. The Alaskan king crab with red capsicum coulis, crab mascarpone, balsamic gel and smoked paprika ($26.00) is again a meal to be eaten with the eyes.
It’s not just pretty food though, it’s delivers on taste as well. The Wood-fired grilled calamari with marinated kipfler potatoes, radicchio, parsley, capers, garlic croutons ($27.00) is sure to please even seafood beginners. The wood firing adds an excellent smokey flavour to the calamari, which is matched by the bitter radicchio. The tian of kingfish, pickled king oyster mushroom, semi dried tomatoes, bonito flake and chilled mushroom consomme ($27.00) is another excellent starter.
Onto mains, and one of the best options is to have a whole fish cooked on the bone, either wood fired, roasted or steamed. The night we visit there’s whole baby snapper on the menu ($41.00). Served simply with fresh lemon and the option of an olive oil, garlic, chilli and anchovy sauce, it’s treated with the simplicity and respect it so deserves. Scared of eating fish on the bone? Take advantage of the offer to debone the fish at the table. It’s tableside theatre at it’s best.
If fish bones aren’t your thing, the signature confit Ora King Salmon with braised baby savoy cabbage smoked bacon, baby carrot and jus gras ($40.00) might be for you. Aptly named the wagyu of the sea, this salmon has all the flavour of the wild variety while adhering to the strictest sustainability standards. Plus, it comes with bacon.
If you’re after something more exotic, there’s the pan fried hapuka, served with risoni scented with prawn and aromatic vegetables with fennel salad and shellfish foam ($44.00). It’s a real celebration of seafood, successfully marring a range of seafood elements.
If you’ve been dragged along to The Atlantic but don’t really enjoy seafood you can relax: there is something for you. The 250g Sher Wagyu Sirloin ($58.00) has a marble score of 8+ and is as good a steak as any along the Southbank strip. While it does come with a little side salad, make sure you order some extras; the brown butter roast cauliflower ($12.00), sautéed baby spinach ($11.00) or the radicchio salad with fennel and pear ($12.00) are all winners, or choose from one of three potato sides – thrice cooked potatoes ($11.00), Russet Burbank chips ($11.00) or Mashed bintje potatoes ($11.00).
Down to the sweet end of the menu, the hits keep on coming. The pistachio cassonade with chocolate sorbet, pistachio praline and coffee chocolate crackers ($20) and the champagne and strawberry parfait with basil and orange ice cream and strawberry salad ($22.00) will bring a smile to any sweet tooth’s face. But it’s the Valrhona chocolate delice with passionfruit centre, coconut foam, and chilli chocolate soup that’s theatrically drizzled over at the table that is my favourite.
The prices are relatively high, but the restaurant experience justifies them. The service is sophistocated, the food is refined and well balanced, and the surroundings are affluent. If you are ever in the mood to splash out on seafood, The Atlantic fits the bill.