You don’t think of restaurants like Manta Restaurant & Bar as updating and improving.
With close to two decades in its Woolloomooloo wharfside digs, there is a tendency to think of it as somehow trapped in time.
This is a mistake. Today’s Manta feels modern, and, with ten years of dining at this restaurant under my belt, I think it’s now eating better than ever...
The last gasp of winter sees us arrive at the wharf on a grey old day, so we look to Verve Clicquot Ponsardin Brut ($26/glass) to inject some Sydney sparkle.
The longevity of floor staff here adds up to great service. They know the menu, how it has developed – the Scampi Ceviche ($24) is both delightful and new – and will instruct you on how much to order.
Today staff are excited that Angasi ($7/each) oysters from Merimbula have popped back onto the daily list. We try the four-strong oyster selection and make our own comparison.
Merimbula Rocks ($5.50/each) are briny and big; Wogonga Rocks ($5.50/each) have a meaty edge; and – at least to my taste buds – the plump, deep cupped Pambula Rock Oysters ($5.50/each) win on balanced texture and flavour over the flat, plate-like angasi.
Manta’s whole menu, which was updated just a few days before I dined, is appealing. Staff clue me in that many diners come for individual seafood entrees before embarking upon a shared main - the kilo-plus Rib Eye on the Bone ($12/100g) procured from owner Rob Rubis’ family property in Texas, Queensland.
The wine list is also excellent. In the full page of Chardonnay choices, there are plenty I’ve loved, and a fair few I haven’t tried, including the 2017 Dexter Chardonnay ($92) from the Mornington Peninsula. It arrives in a big glass you can actually get your nose into, bright and fruit-forward, then warmed into an utterly pleasurable drop very well matched to seafood.
Coffs Harbour Cuttlefish ($26) are delicately charred. The creamy, white flesh pops, then tenderly yields, as you bite into it. It’s set off by intense fermentation (black garlic) that is well balanced by preserved lemon and fresh mint, in a unique dish with a long, satisfying palate length.
Anticipatory service sees a Beluga-branded throw arrive the second the wind picks up, before I’ve even had the chance to consider whether I might be cold. Manta's outdoor tables offer up prime people watching opportunities, so they’re hard to cede even when the weather takes a turn for the worse. However we’re quickly and efficiently moved one row back before the second scampi dish arrives (they're easily my favourite crustacean).
Char-Grilled Scampi ($24/100g) are served split on the shell with your choice of sauce. I opt for bottarga butter, and the salted cured fish roe proves the perfect foil for the delicate crustaceans – so good in fact, we ask for bread to mop up any remainders. The scampi are perfectly handled - every last one of them pulls out cleanly from the shell in one piece.
Seafood handling remains on point across a Manta Bouillabaisse ($62). While it has been a menu stalwart for some years, Manta’s updated seafood soup feels modern and summery, made on blue swimmer crab stock, with a hint of garlic bitterness, fregola and tangy tomatoes.
With Abrolhos scallops served on the shell, Coffin Bay vongole clams, Boston Bay black mussels, South Australian King George whiting, and a grilled Yamba king prawn, it’s a far cry from its origins as a simple, poverty-cuisine fish stew, invented by Marseille fishermen to use up the fish they were unable to sell to restaurants.
It's a very good example of what Manta does best: present the bounty of the sea in a way that captures how we like to eat today.
NOTE: See previous visits to this venue back HERE, HERE and HERE.
Manta Restaurant & Bar
6 Cowper Wharf Road, Woolloomooloo
Ph: (02) 9332 3822