Charlie Carrington, 22 years young, with a passport containing more stamps than most of us, has just opened up Atlas Dining. A restaurant that changes cuisine every four months.
The concept is based on Carrington’s breadth of experience that includes seven years playing with fire in top kitchens around the world and a recent eight-month research trip across 15 countries. As head-chef and owner of a restaurant in Melbourne, he’s competing with some pretty big players and restaurants in the food capital of Australia. A brave move for any 22-year old, if you did the math correctly, yes, he started at 15. To make things even more challenging, his kitchen does away with gas or induction. Everything is cooked to order with a custom grill powered by charcoal and a woodfire oven. A cooking technique he has adapted from his time at highly-regarded restaurant Firedoor in Sydney.
The current site on Commercial Road, Prahran use to be an Indian burger restaurant named GTI (Get That Indian) with a cheap dated interior, enough said. Sydney-based architects GelliKovic Architects have transformed the venue with contemporary minimalism chic. Textures of raw concrete, brass, timber. Details such as a tan leather banquette, a turquoise coloured strip that runs up and along the restaurant representing longitude and latitude, and finally, the centrepiece, a hanging brass ring that symbolises a compass. A paper passport is presented alongside your menu, and cutlery for the evening comes neatly organised in a leather knife roll.
The menu offers a la carte, but it’s a no-brainer to opt for the four or six-course menu at a mere $50/$65 with matching wines for an additional $35/$45. The current itinerary sets us in Vietnam which may immediately get you thinking about the cheap banh mi and pho readily available on Victoria Street, but then we remember, we're in South Yarra darling. Modern Australian takes-reign with the flavours of Vietnam combined with Carrington's creative flair, fiery cooking technique and fresh Australian produce resulting in beautiful dishes that you’re unlikely to find in any Vietnamese restaurant paired with a solid wine list that covers conventional, unconventional, local and international.
Chicken liver parfait and honey served with a baguette made in the woodfire oven prompts us thinking “how is this Vietnamese?” but then we realise these are the staple ingredients in a banh mi. Charred cauliflower florets and stems with clams tied together with with flavours of ginger and lemongrass. Crab simmered in beer and grilled eggplant topped with a slither of fried shallot and Vietnamese mint. Wagyu beef pho tartare that plays to the best of both worlds, fragrant diced beef alongside petals of onion that cradle a broth that has been reduced to a syrup, served with rice crisps and scattered dollops of egg yolk at the perfect consistency. No offence to any women out there but the main dish of the evening was the best breast we’ve had all year. Lightly-fired duck breast, tender and pink, united with a rich preserved vegetable sauce served with sticks of extra long julienned carrots and daikon, pickled, of course. A daring palate cleanser of crushed coconut ice, lemongrass, Vietnamese mint and fried shallot which juxtaposes sweet and savoury before we finish off with a textural black rice dessert laced with coconut cream forming a slight resemblance to sticky rice, cut through with a refreshing kaffir lime sorbet.
An incredible journey with this ambitious young, but mature, chef. The exciting concept has us itching our feet for the next destination set for 2017, Israel. We have complete faith it will live up to the current standard. Followed by Korean BBQ which is all in-line with the woodfire concept, but what comes after? The mystery is all apart of the excitement that keeps us on our toes. The only piece of advice would be to get in quick before he Charlie reaches superstar status.