Time to get your skates on. Atlas Dining's take on modern Vietnamese cooking finishes on December 23 when the South Yarra restaurant closes for a couple of weeks. It'll re-open in January, reinvented as an Israeli diner.
Change is the way Atlas rolls. Chef Charlie Carrington switches cuisine completely every four months. So when Israel finishes, Korea will take over. Then it'll be Mexico's turn. But right now there's a degree of urgency around experiencing the Vietnamese chapter of the Atlas story because Carrington's take on the cuisine is very, very good.
The 22-year-old chef has worked at Vue de Monde and at Marque but his most recent experience, the one most influential on what he's doing at Atlas Dining, was at Sydney's Firedoor. The kitchen at Atlas is, like Firedoor, equipped with grill and a wood-fired oven so smoke and char play a central role no matter which part of the map is being explored.
On the current menu a grill-striped baguette accompanies superb chicken liver parfait mixed with honey and dusted with a peppery ash. A beautiful looking tentacle of octopus, charry from the grill, is served curled up with tiny cubes of almost candied sweet potato and tangy pale pink pomelo, while King George whiting, its skin slightly blistered, shares plate with meticulously arranged sticks of pickled radish and carrot and leaves of Vietnamese mint.
There's an impressive lightness of touch to the cooking, not just with the well-balanced flavours but also with portion size. A rich, spicy wagyu "pho tartare", with an aniseed backbeat and condensed yolk and rice cracker, lasts only a few bites, which is all you need.
The menu - a choice of four or six courses for a very reasonable $50 or $65 - changes frequently as does the two-page wine list that's as strong in Old-World riesling territory as it is with a McLaren Vale touriga-cabernet-mataro blend from SC Pannell.
The setting is good too, all tan leather banquets, timber floors and flattering golden lighting. But the room will still be there when January rolls around. The Vietnamese menu won't. Don't miss out.
Atlas Dining, 133 Commercial Rd, South Yarra. (03) 9826 2621 atlasdining.com.au Open Tue-Sat 6pm-11pm