Name: The Atlantic
Address: Crown Entertainment Complex, 8 Whiteman Street, Southbank VIC 3006 Australia
Ph: 03 9698 8888
Chef: Donovan Cooke
Hours: Lunch, 12:00pm – 3:00pm. Dinner 6:00pm – 11:00pm.
Good Friday is an important day to a lot of people. Though for secularists like me, it means only two things – a day off, and fish.
Admittedly the fish thing comes from religion. Apparently the idea is that, on Good Friday, we should sacrifice by not eating meat.
Aside from the issue that fish is not classified as meat, what I don’t understand about this is that it assumes that eating fish over meat is some sort of sacrifice. Is eating fish really such a penance?
When tucking in to a whole, wood-fired baby snapper at The Atlantic, you would be hard pressed to agree with that assumption.
The return of Melbourne’s prodigal son, Donovan Cooke, from Hong Kong has been greatly anticipated by the food lovers of Australia. Back many years ago I ate at his previous Melbourne gastro-temple, Ondine, and it still stands up as one of the greatest meals of my life. So I was excited to see what he could do with a 300-seat fish mega-restaurant at Crown.
Well, firstly, this is not Ondine. But at the same time, it is an excellent version of what it is, and that is fresh seafood, cooked simply, and placed on a plate.
And some of the seafood is not what you’d expect. Alongside the prawns and scallops are more exotic fare, such as razor clams. These treasures of northern seas, commonly seen in dishes from Scotland and Scandinavia (my interest in them was piqued by the Noma cookbook) are not usually found in Australia.
Yet here they are on the menu, steamed in white wine with garlic and herbs. Tender, moist and subtly sweet in a fresh broth, these molluscs deserve their fame.
For those who like something on the creamer side, an aniseed veloute with clams is rich and sexy, the shellfish cutting through with a meaty bite.
So many people baulk at eating anything that looks like the original animal, which is a pity because there is such joy in attacking a whole fish. It can be a lot of food, and can make a mess, but it is one of the best ways to eat.
My snapper arrives, larger than expected, bearing beautiful dark grill marks and infused with a powerful smokiness from the wood flames. You could choose to have it steamed or roasted instead, but I can’t think why you would want to miss out on that smoke. Sweet, succulent white meat is cooked to perfection and just flakes off the bone. It is served with your choice of sauce, and the smooth, fresh salsa verde I chose was excellent, but the fish itself remained the star.
There are options off the bone, as well, such as a fillet of black bream cooked en papillote with mushrooms, or the ever-present fish’n’chips, here crumbed King George whiting served in a paper cone. All are very simple dishes, done to a tee.
Sides are also pictures of simplicity, with thrice cooked potatoes and a basic salad of French greens. Both good, but neither lifting to the heights they can. The potatoes, especially, lacks the sexiness that cooking them three times should have given them.
Desserts were a little more involved, but mostly just twists on classics. A rum and raisin sandwich is a boozy smack of ice cream between two rich chocolate cookies, with rum drenched raisins dotted around a quenelle of unctuous chocolate mousse. Decadent, but not outrageously so (though I wonder if the same could be said about the mountainous raspberry tart at the next table).
Service was exceedingly professional, but the sommelier was one of the best I have ever experienced. When asked for advice, he explained what would work with each of the dishes at the table, then what the most appropriate bottles would be to suit everyone. He then gave options at a number of different price points, leading us to an excellent wooded chardonnay. It is so rare to get that level of advice, and it was very well appreciated.
For those who do not like, or wants a rest from, finicky modern fare, The Atlantic is a great option. The food isn’t creative, and it isn’t unique, but it is cooked simply and with expert skill. Wrapped up in a beautiful room that is like a stylised version of a ship’s interior, it makes for an excellent day out. And at around $130 a head, including wine, it’s also excellent value.
If this is considered a sacrifice then, on Good Friday or any other day of the year, I would happily punish myself.