The Incu City Guide series taps tastemakers and locals to give you an insight into the best spots in each city. Full of surprises, these guides are designed to reveal interesting nooks and celebrate iconic spots alike. Next up we’ve got a man who needs no introduction. As head chef of world-famous restaurant Attica, when we needed a knowledgeable local to give us Melbourne’s best, tapping Ben Shewry was a no brainer. We caught up with Ben way back in July, and since Melbourne has been locked down since then we’ve been sitting on this one for some time. Potentially now more than ever before, we need to rally around businesses, so dive headfirst into Ben’s recommendations from cult-favourite Flower Drum to his favourite book and record stores in the north.
Firstly, thanks for kicking off our City Guide series, Ben. What’s new in your world?
I’ve just had a week's snowboarding with my family at Mt Buller. It was the first break we’ve had since Covid started and it was so lovely to get out of the city and take a deep breath of fresh air. In more normal times we try and spend as much of the winter up there as possible. I’ve been an avid snowboarder since I was a child when we had a small club field in our backyard where I grew up in Taranaki, New Zealand. Other than that I’ve just returned from speaking at the Adelaide Festival of ideas where I gave a speech about getting caught doing the wrong thing and the powerful lessons I learnt from that and the sublime kindness the person who I wronged showed me. In addition to that, I made a Dahl for 300 people based on Indigenous Australian ingredients, replacing many of the traditional Dahl spices with Australian spices and the lentils with Wattle seeds. Dahl feels like a part of our culture at Attica as two of our most beloved and longest-serving staff members- Sunny Sharma and Gurnam Singh who are from Waraich, Punjab made Dahl most days for 9 years and the dish became very special to everyone who worked at Attica during this time. They taught me and now I make it in my own way, honouring their guidance. Culture is always evolving, it never stands still.
What are your top three places to visit for an out-of-towner?
The NGV. Its a no brainer and obvious but I’ve always felt so lucky to live in a city that has such a strong arts scene and the NGV is central to that. Art and all of its sub genres influence and inform the work I do at the restaurant and Attica would not be the place that it is without this great resource to visit and be inspired by. When I was younger I would visit exhibitions at the NGV and the scale and ambition of some of the work would say to me, anything is possible, dream your biggest dream then work with intention to achieve it. The Flower Drum restaurant. Now in its 46th year this restaurant is one of most important in Australia. Many people believe this institution to be one of the greatest Cantonese restaurants in the world but I think its just one of the greatest restaurants in the world full stop, Cantonese or otherwise. 3 years ago my partner Kylie took me here for my birthday dinner and that meal was a top five meal of my life. As you might imagine I’ve been privileged to eat at pretty much any restaurant in the world that I have wanted to so I don’t say this lightly, but Flower Drum really is that good. But hey don’t just believe me, believe the thousands of Melburnian's that have loved and supported this restaurant for decades. The Chef/Owner Anthony Lui is a national treasure and someone I look up to a great deal. Anthony is supported by his son Jason, the restaurant manager/co owner and a team full of grace and elegance.
Smith St/Fitzroy/Collingwood. I’m a mad collector of beautiful things from art to furniture to books to records to clothing and many things in between. If I had to go to only one street/area in Melbourne to source all of the above Smith St and surrounds would be where I’d head. Here's a list of my favourite shops in the area:
• Angelucci 20th Century for beautiful and well priced vintage mid century furniture The Searchers Records, for those hard to find first pressings.
• Happy Valley Shop, for all books but for me books on art and architecture.
• Plug Seven Records, for hard to find funk and soul records.
• Outre Gallery, for democratic and exceptionally well priced art.
• Piccolina Gelateria, for some of the greatest ice cream in Australia.
• Radar, for the finest restored Danish mid century antique furniture and lighting in Australia.
• Napier Quarter, all this shopping is exhausting so having a glass of wine and a delicious snack is an essential break in what could be the cutest wine bar in the city.
• Lune, if I have to tell you what or why then WTF?
• Gallery Midlandia, for original vintage art from the 50’s, 60;’s and 70’s. A hidden treasure.
• Marion, our favourite Saturday afternoon wine bar hang where the food is always delicious and the people always lovely.
You’re after a cheap eatery with no fuss and no frills: where are you heading?
Beatrix. First of all its probably my partner Kylies favourite place in all of the world. Secondly because it makes the most delicious home-style cakes and sweets around. But don’t let the simplicity deceive you- theres great attention to detail and integrity here. Its a tiny independent cake shop where everything is super fresh and the lovely staff, who clearly adore their jobs provide knowledge and warmth to the long lines of believers, ourselves included. An essential Melbourne experience.
Favourite bar in town?
I love the Pina Colada at the Everleigh. Thats my favourite drink in town and takes me back to happy memories or sitting poolside under a beach umbrella in a reclined deckchair in Palm Springs at The Parker (Gene Autry’s former home) in 40.C heat sipping frozen Pina Colada’s. Does life get any better?
Describe your perfect Melbourne day?
Wake to a great nights sleep (min 7 hours), go for a very long walk with my partner Kylie checking out residential modernist architecture in either Studley Park in Kew, Beaumaris or Caulfield North with maybe a tasty snack along the way (such as bread from Baker Bleu if in Caulfield North and coffee) which would lead into a trawl through a few op shops then a swim bayside, a quick post swim lunch (I’m not a long lunch type dude, too much to do! Don’t want to miss out on life!) at perhaps the excellent Pipis Kiosk on Albert park beach. Then hit some galleries like the legendary Anna Schwartz gallery on Flinders Lane run by the extraordinary art curator Anna Schwartz (if you going then you must visit Craft Victoria across the road also) or Station Gallery in South Yarra. Then pre dinner drinks at Bar Americano, where you’;d be foolish to not order an….Americano…. and for me it would not be an essential Melbourne day without dinner at the venerable France Soir, the perfect place watch Melburnians of all ages and backgrounds complete with fantastic wines and delicious French cooking.
It would be remiss if we didn’t ask you your favourite coffee spot?
I love Market Lane, they are ethical, thoughtful and details driven people who never make a bad cup in this mans opinion! They have several locations and are famous for pour over coffees of subtlety and care. In the city I also love Brother Baba Budan, delicious coffee and tremendous energy.
What’s your one must eat spot when visiting Melbourne?
Andrews Hamburgers in Albert Park. I’ve taken many international visiting chefs and journalists here because its the best example of an old fashion Australian Hamburger but made with better ingredients and more care. Andrews has been in the same family for more than 50 years and that’s inspiring to me because the quality is always super high. Love this place.
What’s on the horizon for Ben Shewry?
That our restaurant survive covid! We’ll keep hustling, staying positive and coming up with new ways to survive and get on in this changed world. I’m grateful for what I still have rather than what’s been lost and I’m finding the challenge exhilarating. I think I’ve learned more about myself, human nature and business this past couple of years than I have my previous 40 haha. Grateful for my loved ones, friends, team and community.