Published on 25 January 2021
Ben Shewry isn’t one to do things by halves. The Attica chef and co-owner was looking for a circuit-breaker after the trials of 2020, and where some of us might’ve taken some time at the beach or at least a break from work, he decided instead to pour his not inconsiderable energy into building a second restaurant. From scratch.
As exhausting as that sounds for Shewry (don’t ask him about what it takes to hand-paint all the pieces of the new curved bar, board by board), it’s a straight up win for anyone who likes to eat. While Shewry is quick to point out that it’s not Attica – this is a temporary adventure, just here till May, after all – as a diner there’s a tremendous amount of bang to be had for your buck. Where the menu at Attica lands at around $300 a head before drinks, dishes at the Summer Camp, start around $13. Kids are not only welcome, they’ve got their own menu items, and while there’s plenty of fancy drink on offer, there’s also a slushie machine that sees plenty of use.
It is, in short, a hoot, full of all the care and creativity that made Attica one of the most celebrated restaurants in the world, but also very much a product of the freewheeling, whimsical and sometimes downright whacky side of Ben Shewry that we came to know a little better during lockdown.
Here’s his read on what to eat and drink.
What are we drinking, Ben?
That’s very easy: friesling. Frozen riesling. I’m not into gimmicky things but this slushie machine and the friesling mix that Dom Robinson, our sommelier at Attica and Lyndal Taylor, our Summer Camp restaurant manager, have come up with is unbelievable. The problem with it for me is that I can’t drink it when I’m working, but I want to. The machine sits there on the bar, tormenting me, while I’m across the room working the grills, where it’s 50 degrees, looking at it longingly.
If for some reason you don’t want to drink friesling, we’ve got a great little wine and cocktail list. I didn’t want it to be the Attica list, and it’s accessible, but if you like some finer things we’ve got those too. Basically, it’s very relaxed, drinks for everybody. No rules. Have a frozen cocktail, and have a glass of wine and have a beer, have what you want. I don’t have a frozen Piña Colada on there yet, but I can tell you by the end of this we certainly will.
We’re also looking after the drivers and the non-drinkers – there’s Sobah beers, Non non-alcoholic wines and plenty more.
What if I’m here for a good time not a long time?
We make a really good focaccia. You can have that with a bunch of different accoutrements for a choose-your-own-adventure – the house-smoked pastrami, or avocado and finger lime, or a delicious little local cheese called Galactic with a quince jelly made from local quinces. You can have these sitting out on the grass on a cushion, or under a low-slung table sitting under some vines. The view is amazing.
Got anything light and fresh?
I’m doing two chilled soups. And to be honest with you they haven’t been selling well, which is perplexing to me because they’re fantastic. One’s called chilled salsa soup and one’s called chilled green soup, and both of them are two-part soups. The green soup is something from home from lockdown: a bunch of green vegetables blended up very chunky with green tomato and very lightly cooked, and then the other side of it is velvety pea, parsley, herbs from the garden, crème fraîche or yoghurt, and they’re on the bowl together, and dressed with pumpkin-seed oil.
For the chilled salsa soup, when I’m lighting our massive grills in the morning I’ll grill off shallots, chillies, garlic and tomatoes till they’re really black. I then pulse them in a blender with olive oil and salt, then crush in a bunch of heirloom cherry tomatoes. The other part of this soup is lots of overripe avocadoes, puréed and cooked down with heaps of olive oil and garlic. These are $13, and with some of this light, airy focaccia, which we bake fresh twice a day, and some cultured butter, it’s a really delicious thing. Most of our vegetables come from Ramarro Farm just down the road, so the value here is incredible.
I like tasty food but I don’t eat animals.
The rotisserie cauliflower seems to be the favourite the people are ordering – whole cauliflowers cooked over charcoal for a couple of hours, then quartered and dressed with a sauce that’s reminiscent of a Green Goddess but a bit lighter and thinner.
But then there’s the hasselback potato. It’s a really big, excellent local potato from our friends at Spud Sisters, which we core with an apple corer, skewer on the rotisserie rod and then hasselback them all over. Not just the slices down one side like with a normal hasselback, but on every side. It’s super labour-intensive and tricky. It cooks over the coals and we baste the hell out of them and then finish them with cultured butter from Jersey cows in Gippsland. They end up with this really crisp exterior, which is pretty crazy,
Is there a dish that’s quintessentially Attica Summer Camp?
The grilled pork scotch egg is resonating with a lot of people. That or the souvlaki lamb, which is a dish we came up with for the Attica backyard from a couple of years ago. That’s insanely popular. All the meats are coming from a local butcher in Healesville with the exception of the ham, which we’re getting from our friend Gary in town, just because he makes the best ham in the country.
The lamb is marinated briefly with black pepper, olive oil and native thyme from our garden and grilled over wood for a couple of hours – crisp and caramelised in parts, soft and fatty in others, and it comes with a big spoon of garlic yoghurt.
Let’s go big. Let’s go crazy. What have you got for me?
Quite a few people have been going for three or four courses, and I think that’s a smart way to eat here, starting with some bread and snacks and maybe a bowl of soup, and then maybe the Scotch egg, and a skewer of burru, then they’re doing a third wave of more traditional main courses, and then they’re having dessert.
If it was me, I’d definitely get one of the baby abalones that we grill directly over charcoal in there as well. Maybe some chicken liver pâté, some slices of Luke’s mortadella or pastrami, some Olasagasti anchovies with preserved peppers and tomatoes – that’s very good on the focaccia.
The chips are really good, too. We make them ourselves and season them well with our home-made chicken salt. You want a parmesan iceberg salad in there, too.
And for main courses you’d really let your hair down and get a whole fish, maybe the chicken. All the sides. The grilled greens. The mashed turnips are remarkable popular, too.
What about for kids?
We’ve got a kids’ menu with Bolognese with freshly made pasta on it, and a nacho loaf. They’re loving that nacho loaf. We make little loaves out of our focaccia dough, and then we cut the middle out of that and fill it with chilli con carne and top it with cheese, avocado, pickled shallots, sour cream, coriander and put the lid on top of it and serve it with some corn chips.
There’s plenty that’s not on the kids’ menu that kids are really getting into, of course – they love the charcoal chicken, the cauliflower and the chips of course. A lot of kids are right into the bread and butter, too.
Kids and babies are very welcome. We’ve got highchairs, and there’s a change-table in one of the disabled toilets, and there’s a big lawn the kids can run around on. Attica has never been a place that’s set up to cater for kids, so it’s been good to be able to do it here. We just want to make it as easy as possible for people.
And to close?
No matter how much you’ve eaten, when you see what’s for dessert, you’re going to order it. It’s something that’s front-and-centre here. I always wanted to do a dessert trolley. We haven’t had the space at Attica, but it’s so fun and so informal.
Choosing between the desserts is tough, though. I spent months last year just on the sponge. I wanted a one that was more like a soufflé, light but incredibly moist, and I just couldn’t nail it. In the end I had to modify an oven to make it work; we have three ovens here at Summer Camp and one of them is just for this sponge. We fill it with Chantilly cream and local jam. The Yarra Valley has some very talented jam-makers. It’s heavenly.
Ben & Shewry’s ice-cream is another thing I developed during lockdown. At the moment we’re doing rainforest cherry ripe flavour – candied rainforest cherries. You just get a tub and two spoons. No airs or graces, you eat straight from the tub at the table. It’s like, cut the crap, man, here’s your damned good ice-cream that we churned this morning.
It’d be remiss of us not to mention the Four Pillars Negroni gin Tim Tam, too, which is certainly a labour of love for the pastry team. I don’t want to grandstand here or slap myself on the back, but the level of work here is something you won’t see a lot of outside a restaurant like Attica.
We’ve put a lot of work into the trolley. It’s a collaboration between Rosemary Andrews, our pastry chef, and myself. Rosemary is a highly skilled pastry chef but she’s also been on site with me for several months renovating – she was our first employee at Summer Camp. I can’t say enough good things about her.
It sounds like you guys are working really hard.
I think I’m cooking the fastest I’ve cooked in my whole career right now, just powering from one cooking job to the next, which I’m loving. I love that energy and that pressure and pace – it’s kind of amazing. We’re doing this because we’re happy to be alive.
Attica Summer Camp, Thu-Mon, 45 Davross Ct, Seville, Vic, attica.com.au/summer-camp.
By Pat Nourse
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