Restaurant Review: Manta — a Sydney waterfront seafood haven
There’s something quintessentially Sydney about lunch on Woolloomooloo’s finger wharf – the 400 metre stretch of boardwalk that juts into the sparkling harbour. The waterside precinct is home to some of Sydney’s most notable restaurants: China Doll for pan Asian fine dining, Otto for contemporary Italian, and – further down the wharf – Manta.
The European inspired fine diner focuses on serving up exceptional steak and seafood in a glittering waterside location: it’s a failsafe formula, and one that the family-run restaurant carries out exceptionally well.
We visited for lunch on a spring Saturday, and the turn of the seasons was ripe in the air: sunlight danced on the water, a couple of swallows made an arc through the sky above us, and groups of friends clinked glasses of champagne over elaborate plates of lobster. And though the sense of celebration was tangible to us, to the team at Manta – where playing host to landmark lunches and one-off occasions is routine – it was just another day.
We visited for the lobster offering: a whole 1kg Live Port Stephens lobster served two ways, a decadent $300 banquet for two which was available for $140 throughout July and August.
Taking the lead of the diners on the tables around us, we started with wine, and took our sommelier’s recommendation of a crisp, perfectly zesty chablis. Had we decided to take choosing a wine into our own hands, our lunch would have likely run into the evening: the wine list is encyclopaedic in scope, containing a range of global drops that earned it the 2022 Australian Wine List of the Year Award. The wine in question was delightful on its own, but its true merit was brought to the fore when it took on the role of cutting through the divinely buttery dishes that proceeded to come our way.
Our first course was a deliciously umami pasta dish: thick ribbons of mafalda laced in a dashi and ginger sauce with pops of tomato, crowned with half of the lobster which had been alive and kicking (quite literally) when we arrived at the restaurant.
The second course arrived after a well timed pause, and comprised the other lobster half – this time grilled and served on a generous mountain of truffle fries, with a side of rich XO sauce.
The space itself is an indoor-outdoor affair, redecorated in 2015 to embody a Hamptons x Parisian bistro aesthetic. White table cloths line the verandah laid with sparkling silverware, and inside, ocean-inspired artwork lines the walls alongside tinted mirrors and floor to ceiling racks holding some of the restaurant’s extensive wine collection.
Design and location aside, it’s really Manta’s focus on exceptional produce that sets it apart, with the team explaining that the seafood is carefully sourced from a partner seafood co-operative in Port Stephens. With the importance of provenance evident across the menu, meat is sourced from owner Rob Rubis’s family farm, and the house wines come from a father-son team in Victoria, who have been working with Rubis for over a decade.
For dessert, options include a macadamia caramel cheesecake, a raspberry souffle and an amaretto spiked tiramisu. Or, if you’re in the mood to linger by the water as afternoon turns to night, you can move next door to Manta’s sister venue Molo Wine Bar. Here, the ethos is one of perfectly executed simplicity: fresh oysters and martinis, governed by a quote attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci that: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”.