Breakfast by the beach, dinner in the city
We have been so busy the past few weeks. that we’ve hardly had any time to go out and socialise, let alone eat out. Then, last Saturday a girlfriend flew in from Queensland, wanting to catch up, on the same day I organised to take Terry out in the city for dinner. Luckily the first outing was for brunch in nearby Cronulla while the dinner was scheduled for much much later.
Here is the recount of a very busy eating day, polar opposite experiences, yet a common thread: seriously good food!
Gerrale Street Kitchen, Cronulla
Opened for a couple of month, this place hails itself as “a kitchen inspired by LA dining trends in the heart of Cronulla”. I am not sure what it means, but first impressions were of of a large canteen bathed in natural light and overlooking the massive open kitchen. It reminded me of my French high school canteen hall with the neutral decorations and the long seats. Already it looks popular with mums and bubs (judging by the numbers of prams parked near the tables), post-surf/gym goers, and anybody who’s up for brunch on a saturday morning!
Anne and I showed up 15 minutes late, which was 15 minutes earlier than our guest of honour Kylie. I noticed the waitresses were hovering around our table, probably wondering how long it would take before we’d all order. Admittedly, we were on the cusp of changing from breakfast to lunch shift, so the pressure was on to order breakfast NOW before the kitchen closed for a break and lunch prep. By the time Kylie arrived, she was in a fluster from being so late, and made profusely apologies not only to us (no need really, isn’t is what friends are for?), but the staff (who by then had pretty sour faces) and the manager who surprised us all by giving her a bear hug and say all was ok! Now that’s a welcome.
The breakfast menu is lovely, revisiting old classic ( bacon and egg roll, toasted brioche with smoked salmon and poached egg…) and suggesting more unusual offerings ( smoked ocean trout and black rice, kale cabbage and spinach on polenta bread…) The menu tends to be savoury (7 out of 11 choices) and kids options are remarkably free of sweets. I am not sure if the choice is deliberate, but if you are looking for simple pancakes and muffins this is not the place. Not that the 6 kids at the table minded; they all feasted on warm waffles with whipped cinnamon ricotta, yuzu curd (not after checking what it meant!) and raspberries ($15) washed down by chocolate and salted caramel shakes ($7.50). Fairly grown up tastes for 12 year olds!
As for the adults, most went for the classic brioche and smoked salmon ($16) or the french toast, rhubarb, berries and chantilly cream ($16) while I opted for the smoked ocean trout with black rice, preserved lemon and pine nuts ($16). I know it is odd fare for breakfast, more of a salad than a morning dish but the flavours were delicious! A little salty from the preserved lemon, smoky from the black rice and pine nuts; I just wish there was more on my plate.
Overall I can’t fault the food at all, it was very good. The service on the other hand was inconsistent. While the manager was warm and accomodating, the waiting staff lacked in people’s skills. One particular waitress acted very sullen and cranky. When one of our guests asked if the yuzu curd could be substituted with cream for the young girls, the waitress took a good minute to respond, and even then it was a simple shake of the head as if to say “OK, but really I am doing you a favour today, normally changes are not permitted”. Maybe she got annoyed by our group ordering late, or maybe she had a bad day…Then she came back a few minutes later stating there was no decaf available. Seriously, a cafe that size on a saturday morning, she may as well have announced they had run out of milk or toilet paper. These are staples and I hope the purchasing officer made a note of that! Of course none of these issues are deal breakers in my book, however with so many new restaurants opening in Cronulla recently, all serving excellent food, customer service and attention to details will make the biggest difference. I’d be happy to go back, after I’ve tried all the other new joints in Cronulla!
Lately I have been researching potential dinner venues for a family celebration later this year. The brief includes accomodating around 20 guests, great views and surroundings of the city if possible, offering some degree of privacy for our party and of course, serving fine food, preferably nut and shellfish free to avoid disasters with allergies. It doesn’t sound so difficult, right? Though that means ruling out any asian restaurants (too risky with Marc), enclosed dining rooms (no views) or noisy club-style establishments (no privacy).
Manta was recommended to me as one of the finest restaurants in the city, and it seemed to fit the bill on paper. One way to find out more was to try it for ourselves, So I grabbed Terry, who for once didn’t complain about the 50 minutes train ride in the city and having to dress up. Our booking was for 8.30pm, quite late in our books, but I figured that we could stop and have a drink at a couple of other places beforehand. Like you know, enjoy a bit of a pub crawl, as we used to decades ago…
It was a lovely balmy night, perfect for a stroll in the city so much so that we skipped on the pub crawl to wander thru Hyde park and the Botanical Garden instead ( for those of you who know my husband, the only reason he didn’t ask to stop at a bar is because he had “pre-loaded” at the house with the boys before we left!).
Manta is located on Woolloomooloo wharf, home to several upmarket restaurants and bars. The area was revamped a few years ago, the warehouse once used to ship wool now turned into a high end boutique hotel and residential development. When we arrived around 8pm, most restaurants terraces were full, and the boardwalk was buzzing with people wandering and checking the expensive boats moored in the marina. Manta had plenty of tables inside where we were seated, quite a good thing actually as there was plenty of light and we still had a magnificent view of the city skyline.
The menu features lots of seafood, mostly Australian but also from New Zealand and further afar. Meat options are limited to beef and pork cutlets, apparently top quality, but I was surprised there was no lamb, chicken or duck on offer. Not a problem for us, and in fact it strikes me as a deliberate choice to focus on prime produce the chef cooks well rather than cater to all tastes.
Courtesy of Manta
For starters, Terry ordered the Pacific oysters ($4.50 each) , which were deliciously crispy and briny. They were accompanied by small dishes of mignonette dressing and spring onion vinaigrette, but honestly they didn’t need anything added. Fresh and simple is best! I had the raw tasting plate ($24) which consisted of 3 small samples of the most popular seafood entrees: kingfish carpaccio with green apple vinaigrette, prawn ceviche with chilli, garlic, lime and fennel, and king salmon tartare with wasabi citrus dressing. All very enjoyable, I absolutely fell in love with the carpaccio and so wished there was more of it!
Mains were Patagonian tooth fish for Mr T ($55) and Ora King salmon for me ($44). Expectations were high for the first tasting of a dish we’d known served in the USA quite a lot but had not seen on australian menus so far. The fish didn’t disappoint: the white flesh was moist almost fatty, flavour was mild and delicate (ie no strong fishy smell!!)…it has to be one of the best tasting fish ever. Sadly, the serving was on the small side, undoubtedly due to the scarcity of the fish stock and the associated high cost. As Mr T commented: 4 mouthfuls and it’s gone! My salmon in comparison was better value, and tasted equally as good. Interestingly it wasn’t as oily as some other salmon I’ve had before, which would indicate it could have been wild caught rather than farmed? (I didn’t ask the chef, this is all me guessing!) We were encouraged to order some side dishes, as the mains come with very little un terms of accompaniments. We picked the hand cut chips ( the plain ones, not the parmesan and truffle version!) and roasted brown mushrooms. Both were a hit, though the chips may have been a mistake as we filled up on them and were left with no room for dessert!.
While the food was excellent, the service was just ok. We had 3 different waiting staff thru the whole evening, all friendly though the first one was a tad overzealous and expecting us to order food before even getting our drinks. Things settled down during dinner though, and in fact, we were pretty much left to linger once our coffees were served. No pressure to vacate the table, as you sometimes feel in other restaurants. And with a great view of the city skyline and harbour all lit up, the wharf nearly to yourself (it was 10.30pm by then)…why would you rush?
Courtesy of Manta
So, while it was a very enjoyable evening for two, did Manta pass the test for a group celebration? Unfortunately not for me. The “private” dining room consisted of a section of the restaurant partitioned with a light curtain and opening onto the terrace. While this may mean some separation from the other guests, it would not help with the noise, and believe me, when this place is full with people outside and inside, noise levels can be quite high. Also, though the setting is beautiful with high ceilings and beautiful views, it lacks a certain feeling of intimacy…I am not sure I’d enjoy sharing my special occasion knowing I am surrounded by 100 strangers. Call me spoiled, I know!