THERE’S a lot of fast food outlets, chic casual cafes and beach bars in Coogee, as you would expect in a beachside suburb, but few venues for serious wine buffs. The Coogee Wine Room has shaken up this laidback scene, yet lives up to its aim to be a community wine destination. Co-owners Tom Hardwick and Michelle Morales were inspired by frequent trips to many of the world’s great wineries and wine regions, and the 400-strong wine list is a testament to their passionate commitment.
The front bar was buzzing when we arrived. We felt immediately at home as venue manager Brooke Adey (ex-Chiswick, Paddo Inn and Bentley Bar) greeted us with the hefty, leather-bound wine list in hand. Architects TomMarkHenry (Bistecca, Indigo Cafe) have created an elegant yet relaxed space of exposed brick walls, concrete floors, rich timbers, marble and leather. A blackened steel staircase leads to an upstairs dining room and sleek lounge tailor-made for dropping by after an ocean swim or work.
We took a while to look at the food menu because the wine list is the major star of the restaurant. Truly global in scope, every region gets a guernsey from the Alto Adige to the Barossa and 50 varietals vie for your attention. Over 50 per cent of the listings are priced below $100 and there are 25 wines by the glass. There’s a standout selection of half bottles for those who want to amp up their wine chops and a curated collection of limited editions, select vintages and Mediterranean wines. Cocktails, spirits, beers and digestifs round out an homage to the best the global beverage industry has to offer.
Sandro Di Marino (ex-A Tavola) has also come up trumps with his Mediterranean-focused menu. It’s worth the trip for the charcuterie plate or just enjoy the wagyu bresaola, prosciutto parma aged for 24 months or juniper salami on their own. Nibblers can also match their wines with the cheese offerings such as cremoso al tartufo and Spring View blue.
There’s plenty of small share plates for singletons and couples. We chose Sydney rock oysters from Merimbula and smoked hummus, za’atar, flatbread, but the pork cheek slider and baccala fritters, yogurt and pickled red onion and mushroom carpaccio, manchego, paprika were doing a brisk trade.
I judge a restaurant with Italian leanings on its gnocchi which can be leaden in the wrong hands. Di Marino came up trumps with a main course of light potato pillows in the freshest tomato sauce strewn with burrata. Several of the well-built young guys near us wisely ordered the 800g T-bone steak with rocket and reggiano, and the lamb rump, spring greens and tarragon sauce. If you can’t make up your mind, there’s the Feed Me Menu with five signature dishes for $45 and it’s a wise move to pick the matching wines for a further $45.
There’s four desserts – cannoli, sgroppino, coffee affogato and the chocolate board which features treats from Australian wine regions, including the Barossa and Margaret River. Whether you drop by for lunch, dinner or just one great glass of wine, like Arnold Schwarzenegger – you’ll be back. Bookings are accepted but there will always be room for walk-ins as a nod of respect to Coogee’s lifestyle MO. Coogee Wine Room, 222 Coogee Bay Rd, Coogee; phone (02) 9665 5478.
Anastasia Drakopoulos is Sydney restaurant royalty. Her father Bill owns the Sydney Restaurant Group, including Aqua Dining, Ripples, Ormeggio at the Spit and Fenwick. In a shift to the Inner West, Drakopoulos has opened Noi in Petersham’s Audley St restaurant strip.
The location used to be a picture framing store but Barry Babikian of BJB Architects has removed all reminders of the former business. The space now highlights the building’s historical features of floorboards and exposed brick, contrasted with dark blue upholstery, mood lighting and a gleaming concrete bar.
Alessandro Intini (ex-Aqua Dining) and partner Frederica Costa are in charge of the kitchen and sommelier Gianluca Casagrande keeps an Italian focus on the wine with a sprinkling of French and Italian bottlings.
Noi means “us” in Italian but the menu listings are far from down home. Entrees run the gamut from pink snapper carpaccio to pig’s head terrine and oxtail consomme – a tip of the hat to Intini’s training as a butcher. Costa hails from Genoa and the pansotti, walnuts, ricotta and borage reflect her heritage. Other pasta go-tos are tagliolini, veal bolognese and green olives, and maltagliati, cannellini beans, smoked bacon and bay leaf.
The mains are simple yet refined from the black angus sirloin, fondant potato and liquorice to ocean trout, spring vinaigrette, spanish onion and lemon thyme. I finished the meal with milk, cream sponge cake, goat’s milk custard and almond milk granita which slipped down as easy as a panna cotta. Noi, 108 Audley St, Petersham; phone (02) 9337 7377.
Fancy cooking your own meal? Gyusha, the wagyu-only Japanese barbecue restaurant, gives you the chance. The interior looks like a Japanese fine foods market with the shelves filled with Japanese and Australian wagyu beef. The Aussie beef is sourced from the family farm of owners Jon and Angie Choi in Binnaway in the central west of NSW. Once you have selected your cuts of meat or crab, sausages, chicken and ribs, you enter the restaurant proper with table grills and hanging suction fans.
Gyusha is Sydney’s first restaurant of its kind, known as yakiniku in Japan. It’s fun for a group of friends, especially as UTS and Notre Dame University are nearby. There’s a great selection of sakes and Japanese beers to cool you down after sweating over a hot grill. But you can leave the cooking and preparation to the chefs if udon bowls, shabu-shabu, sushi and sashimi fit your mood and energy level better. Gyusha, 7/6 Central Park Ave, Chippendale; 0429 837 348.