Monday, November 28, 2005

Coasting at Coast

A dry cleaners, definitely. Steve Manfredi’s re-vamped Coast at Cockle Bay is where you’d go to pick up a suit. Except us. Academics, newspaper editors, the perks of the job include the non-compulsory nature of our work wear. And the flexibility of our work schedules, which is why there are martinis on the table quicker than a dropping share price. Baggy shirts and comfy jeans are far more sensible for a late lunch with all the trimmings, start of the silly season and all that. We are a much needed casualising influence in this room and our drinks waiter whispers that all are envious of our throw-caution-to-the-wind louche daytime martini-ordering behaviour.

The interior of Coast is drop-dead fashionable. Funky black and white patterned chairs, a two toned teal wall that melds into the open kitchen, and a single-piece light fitting that ripples and snakes like a yellow sand dune across the ceiling. Very coast-y as we gaze out on Darling Harbour on this rainy Sydney Spring day. The menu bears some contemplation and is conveniently available at http://www.coastrestaurant.com.au/pdf/coast_menu.pdf if you need a preview. The wine list is bigger than the last novel I read and has a slightly better plot, packed with thrills and spills from around the globe and finishing with a happy sticky ending.

While we’re waiting for Keef, Al & I pass the time gobbling yummy sourdough dipped in a grassy, astringent olive oil from near Lake Como. Rather than the degustazionewhich looks like it could be too complete a commitment for Friday afternoon, we go for a mixed oyster selection ($23 per half dozen) and the gnocchi ($24) to start. The menu boasts that as well as shucking to order (I know a few people would do admirably well if they adopted that policy) the little darlings are left on the muscle complete with their juices. This sounds and looks commendable, but it ain’t practical. A is left wrestling with recalcitrant oysters that don’t much feel like being liberated from their briny den and it’s hard to hack into a strong muscle with a tiny blunt spoon without the risk of your $4 oyster landing in someone’s handbag at the next table. A charnel house of shredded oyster bits are left clinging wanly to the shell and some of those precious juices end up on the salt bed. Maybe just a little flick of a sharp knife might help the struggling punter.

Skipping past the antipasto of salumi, the zuppa and the primi, the spinach, crab and ricotta gnocchi with burnt butter and parmesan are rewarding. Rich and dense torpedo shaped dumplings cosseted in a nutty butter with a light dusting of sweet shredded crab provide a substantial but not too heavy starter. Mains are hard. The choices all look tantalizing but eventually A opts for the grilled barramundi with vegetables and salsa verde ($32) and K and I go the barbecued duck with balsamic vinegar ($35), carnivores to the last breath. A rucola and parmesan salad, amply lavished with balsamic dressing, is our contorni. The barramundi is scrummy from reports, but the duck is lacklustre. The breast is pleasant enough and pinkly succulent, but the legs are virtually inedible: undercooked, tough and stringy. This is possibly a product of the cooking method as it’s near impossible to get both breast and legs rare and tender with the one technique. So half the dish is pushed aside.

The dessert menu is enticing but I don’t have much of a sweet tooth today so order some gorgonzola piccante for A and me to share. Despite its creamy magnificence it is oddly partnered with a desiccated fruit bread, where I think plain would have been better for this cheese, leaving the sweeter fruit as a side option. The coffee is as fabulous as it should be in a top tier Italian eatery, as is the De Lamaestre Armagnac that we choose as its buddy – an interesting character in the aforementioned blockbuster wine list that’s sure to already have the film rights sold with Peter Jackson lined up as Director.

The weather has cheered up now, which is just as well because someone has pinched my umbrella from the holder at the door of the restaurant. Hurrumpf. Honestly, those business types stealing fold-up brollies from underpaid academics! It is suggested that the fabric of the universe would not be rent assunder if I were to repatriate a remaining umbrella from said receptacle, but my stringent ethics won’t allow me to perform such a base act and we depart with me feeling slighted but a better person for it.

Coast is probably worth a repeat run. The duck may have been disappointing this time however the menu is full of promise. But don't take your good brolly or some marketer from IBM will make off with it.

Coast Restaurant. Roof Terrace Cockle Bay Wharf. 201 Sussex St., Sydney. 9267 6711.

*picture credit deGroots restaurant guide http://www.bestrestaurants.com.au/booking/select_rest.asp?id=80

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