Diary-of-Axel-Ritenis

Manta Restaurant Sydney – Pride of Provenance

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Written by Aksel Ritenis

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Located in a prime position on Woolloomooloo Wharf, Manta boasts beautiful views across the Marina to the Botanic Gardens and the city skyline. Manta Restaurant has long been a great seafood dining experience offering guests a sophisticated ambience and a dose of Sydney Harbour glamour.

Manta apparently was a Sea God that, according to ancient Celtic mythology, was the provider of wellbeing and pleasure and “spread good health to all marine creatures”.

I have visited the restaurant on several occasions, and last time was lucky enough to have a table outside on the Terrace, on a perfect summer’s evening, where the view of the city lights and the water add to the mood. Not surprisingly there were many tourists and locals “promenading themselves” along the wharf “taking in the smell of the briny sea air and enjoying the atmosphere”.

The overriding impression is that You are on a Marina near the Mediterranean, only with a Sydney skyline for a backdrop!

Manta is adjacent to some other top restaurants including China Doll and Otto so it is a fashionable place to dine and there is no shortage of local and overseas stars and celebrities frequenting the wharf. You might spot them whilst having a drink at the famous Manta Bar. Manta is “that kind of place – brash and flash, and a bit showy!” but that is what makes it a little exciting.

I had been warned by a girlfriend “in the know” to try the cocktails: “You must try the cocktails, there are some genius combinations,” she said. Unfortunately, as I was already on a vinous path, I desisted, but enjoyed watching some Margheritas being made, and they looked fabulous and were very tempting.

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So whilst the Cocktails are reputedly excellent, for me it’s preferable to start an evening with a flute of Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin (the House champagne $24.00) the quality of which has improved immeasurably, under the new Chef du Cave. It goes without saying that Manta has “without doubt one of the best outdoor bars” Sydney has to offer!

The restaurant has a simple philosophy, the owner Rob Rubis and head chef Daniel Hughes are committed to sourcing the finest produce available in Australia with particular focus on seafood and meat. According to Daniel, the seafood is sourced daily from the best local produce available, with no compromise. Their own Fishmonger selects whole fish from Sydney fish markets daily. As regards the Crustaceans, the lobsters and mud crabs are delivered live by air from Tasmania and Northern Territory and then held in an on premise tank until ordered.

Manta’s seafood menu changes daily and reflects the “seasonal bounty of Sydney’s magnificent Seafood Markets”. The Chef’s philosophy is to prepare the Seafood (both the shellfish and the fish) in a simple manner, to maximize the natural flavours of each.

Oysters, for which Manta is famous, are sourced from selected growers and change according to season, and “hand shucked to order”. Whilst I didn’t consume any oysters, I registered the fact that they cost $4.50 per piece and You can choose either Angasi (native flat) from Merimbula, Pacific or Sydney Rock oyster from a variety of locations. The price seems reasonable for the quality.

In addition Manta prides itself on its high quality steaks and beef!The Chef has a long-standing relationship with Clayton Wright of Wright’s Butchers, and together they select meats from the best producers in Australia (particularly from northern NSW and Queensland) ranging from $45 to market price for wagyu. The steaks are not cheap, but when You consider the provenance and the traceability and the attention to detail, of both the meat and seafood, one can argue the prices are more than justified.

I generally enjoy starting any meal with fresh crusty bread and olive oil (or olives) and some dry white, and the quality of the bread and Virgin Olive oil here is excellent and didn’t disappoint.

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I commenced my dinner with an entrée described in the Menu as a “Raw selection of starterscomprised of “Carpaccio of king salmon belly, horseradish crème fraiche, smoked salmon jelly, and a tartare of hiramasa kingfish, shaved fennel, green apple, spring onion, hazelnut and a seared atlantic scallop, carrot & cumin purée, shaved asparagus, green peas, hazelnut crumb.” It was accompanied by a Farr Manta Chardonnay $12.00and I duly noted the dish itself was $24.00 and was quite ok “if unspectacular in my book”.

In regard to starters, I might add that on a previous visit I tried a light lunch comprising of the Spaghetti of handpicked Alaskan King Crab Meat, garlic, chilli, white wine and grape timmato with which I was very impressed, as I got the impression it had been prepared in Milan! It was accompanied by an outstanding glass of Italian Pinot Grigio Babo Pinot Grigio L’isolano Italy (which had a hint of barrel aging and a seductive complexity that one doesn’t often encounter).

Of the main courses I have now tried two – the “King Salmon with Crispy skin, Cauliflower textures, tomato, Alaskan King Crab meat and tarragon (farmed in the Marlborough sounds)” priced at $42.00 was quite impressive in terms of presentation and appearance. It was cooked medium rare and the flavour and texture were superb. The crispy skin added an additional “surprise”.

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As regards the wine list, it features an impressive selection of mostly well-chosen wines, many of which I have seen on my travels around Europe! It is not often that a restaurant has invested in such a large Cellar, containing a selection of “mature wines and classics” with a range of different vintages. I suspect that the cellar here would put many other top restaurants to shame.

As to the main course, I didn’t bother looking at the Menu or conferring with Jack “the amiable waiter” who was serving me, as “my mind was set” on the steak from the Charcoal Grill and I was not to be disappointed! I ordered a Medium rare Sirloin described in the menu as a 300 gm Sirloin, garlic, parsley and primo extra virgin olive and O’Connor Gippsland Victoria premium Angus Steer Ox, pasture fed with a marbled score 2-4. Quite a detailed description I would say and it was served with my favourite – béarnaise sauce. I must admit the steak was first class and cooked to perfection, and probably one of the best steaks I have ever had.

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I have since reflected that Premium quality steak (from well sourced and aged meat) can cost twice this price in various restaurants in Europe. The flavour and texture were impressive, and it was perfectly done. The steak was accompanied with Mantas legendary French fries, garnished with Parmesan and truffle oil and a Rocket salad which was “super-fresh and crunchy/nutty (although I am not convinced the peach goes that well with the Ruccola). (Sirloin Steak $46.00, truffle chips are $17.50 and Ruccola salad is $10.50)

Incidentally I was “blown away” by the 2010 Torbreck the Struie Shiraz which accompanied the main course. This dense Barossa Red came in a “fully topped up” Riedel glass and the price of $22.00. More than reasonable when compared with prevailing prices in London or New York.

As a matter of fact I have never seen a good steak for anything less than $80.00 (plus trimmings and service) in New York. And similar prices prevail in London and other Europeancities. Even a mediocre glass of wine starts at $15.00 “so one should be grateful for small pleasures!”

In evaluating places like this one should be mindful of putting these things in perspective and considering all the factors. The web is full of drivel, as we knowso many facile blogs (in portals like TripAdvisor) and others tend to contain equally opinionated and ill-informed critiques and conclusions.

With so many “instant experts” around, it is clear that a percentage of these people get their assessments terribly wrong, yet they can write “the most poisonous diatribe” with no fear of any consequence and total impunity! It’s clear that many diners have “unrealistic expectations” and the inability to consider things in a balanced and rational manner, and in context. Not surprising after a bottle of wine I guess?!

In the case of Manta, the location of the venue, the provenance of the food, the magnificent setting (on the water at Woollomooloo) and a whole host of other factors need to be digested and taken into account.

The food is beautifully arranged and presented and yet, whilst prima facie it may seem expensive, when You consider that the Seafood and the meat is of the finest quality and that the management here is “ahead of the curve” in regard to the now “in vogue issue” of “provenance and traceability” (the salmon that I had for instance is on the table within 48 hours of being caught in NZ) then the scorecard needs to change.

I for one will be back!

Address:
Woolloomooloo Wharf
6 Cowper Wharf Road
Woolloomooloo NSW 2011

Contact:
Tel: +61 2 9332 3822
Fax: +61 2 9332 36

To see Menu and Wine List in detail go to their website: http://www.mantarestaurant.com.au/


Reviewed by Axel Ritenis

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Aksel Ritenis

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