How To Pick Your Next Special Occasion Restaurant, According to a Top Chef (2024)

If anyone knows what occasion-worthy dining means, it’s Michael Greenlaw. From the 80th floor of The Ritz-Carlton, Melbourne, the Atria executive chef guides diners through a unique menu backed by panoramic views of Port Phillip Bay and the Yarra Ranges. With that in mind, we asked Greenlaw to share his take on what makes a restaurant perfect for celebrating those special occasions.

The menu

For a dining experience to be exceptional, says Greenlaw, the menu should go beyond the typical. “When I’m going for a very special occasion, I like something that is quite unique and real – not a cut-and-paste kind of thing,” he says.

At Atria, Greenlaw strikes the balance in a menu that champions seasonal, local and lesser-known species. “One of my big passions outside of cooking is freediving and spearfishing,” he says. “I see a lot of these really unique species in Port Phillip Bay and coastal Victoria that aren’t available commercially. There’s over 30 delicious species in Port Phillip Bay [like] abalone, sea urchin, silver trevally.”

Whether it’s local suppliers hand-diving for sea urchin or using giant crabs from Bass Strait with claws as big as Greenlaw’s forearm, special occasion diners are looking for more than just flavour on a menu. “Being able to tell those stories to the guests is what makes Atria special,” he says.

The service

Good service, says Greenlaw, is vital to creating memorable dining experiences. “I remember in New York going to [three Michelin-starred restaurant] Per Se,” he says. “There was this incredible foie gras parfait that was this perfect sphere dipped in cherry gel, and out would come the brioche and it wasn’t enough brioche for the parfait. And before you’ve had the last chew, you look around and all of a sudden the brioche cart comes back down and reaches the table at this most perfect time. Those kinds of moments I’ll always remember.”

At Atria, Greenlaw says the bar is set equally high; the team is engaged, knowledgeable and passionate about the ingredients that make the menu unique. “It’s being able to have a genuine conversation with the guests [who] are interested or want to find out a little bit more,” Greenlaw says. “Being able to have those intelligent interactions with the guests is quite unique and sometimes beautiful.”

The design

While it’s the menu that draws us in, special occasion restaurants create beauty beyond the plate. A well-designed bar, bespoke furniture, an open kitchen – these make a venue exceptional. “I went to Odette in Singapore and they have a live, open kitchen,” says Greenlaw. “Towards the end of the meal, without asking, a seat in front of the show kitchen opened up and they sat me down and the chefs brought out the last couple of dishes.”

That same sense of theatre and anticipatory service, says Greenlaw, is a key part of what makes Atria attractive for these occasions, too – including an open pastry kitchen, roaring woodfired ovens and a stunning centrepiece. “We’ve got this beautiful 19-metre recycled Victorian ash cold bar, which is made from one fallen tree” Greenlaw says “You can sit up there and the seats are lowered into position so you’re at the same eye level as the chef, and you can interact with that chef about what they’re preparing [and] the story behind each ingredient, it can be a very special time.”

The location

Whether it’s overlooking a verdant winery or tucked into an unassuming basem*nt, a restaurant’s location can take it to special occasion level. Sitting above the city, Atria fits that bill perfectly.

“Up here on the 80th floor we can see all around Port Phillip Bay, the Macedon ranges, we can see the Yarra Valley,” Greenlaw says. “We use [the view] as a sort of map, pointing the guests in the direction of where their food is coming from and even the Melburnians being able to point out their house or things they don’t really get the opportunity to see is really incredible. It’s a fun, unique experience that you just don’t find at many other places.”

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with The Ritz-Carlton, Melbourne.

How To Pick Your Next Special Occasion Restaurant, According to a Top Chef (1)

Produced by Broadsheet in
partnership with The Ritz-Carlton, Melbourne.
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How To Pick Your Next Special Occasion Restaurant, According to a Top Chef (2024)


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