130a Beach St Coogee, NSW 2034
|Opening hours||Mon-Fri noon-2.30pm, 6pm-9.30pm; Sat-Sun noon-3pm, 6.30pm-9.30pm|
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $40)|
|Phone||02 9114 7324|
Coogee Pavilion's luxe newcomer is creating a splash in Sydney. But is the taste as big as the price?
For every trend there's a counter-trend. Just as the bulk of the restaurant business downscales towards the casual and affordable (more pizza, more noodles, less meat, more wines on tap), others have turned rogue, and gone upmarket. Serious money has been spent on, say, Bather's Pavilion in Balmoral, Franca in Potts Point and Di Stasio Citta in Melbourne.
Now, the House of Merivale has invested countless millions on Mimi's, an opulent, extravagant and challengingly expensive dining room on the middle level of its splendid Coogee Pavilion.
Luxury is not always ostentatious, and here it's more of a whisper between friends. It's in the fine linen, the matte metallic cutlery, the soft leather, the panoramic beach views, and the almost maniacal attention to detail. It's in the other-worldly separation of Mimi's and its sibling bar, Will's, on the adults-only middle level, a no-go zone for the pizza-fuelled families below and the cocktail-powered drinkers on the roof garden above.
It's also in the carefully curated star quality of the open kitchen under Jordan Toft, formerly of Bert's in Newport and Eveleigh in Los Angeles. Not just Jacob Davey from Merivale's shuttered est., but Jake Kellie from Burnt Ends in Singapore, and Jeffrey De Rome from Kitchen by Mike.
There's an A-team on the floor, too, helmed by Martijn de Boer (ex-Bentley Restaurant and Bar). Head bartenders Ben Wainwright and Luke Ashton are running Will's, where the Southerly – rose geranium, aloe vera, coconut water, Beefeater and Lillet – is the best gin-based cocktail I have ever tasted.
Liveried attendants will talk you through the Mimi's menu, but here's all you need to know. The first page, dubbed Live & Special, is basically unaffordable, with salt-baked mud crab at $180 a kilogram and roasted suckling pig at $155; and the appetisers on the second page ($9 to $16) are tiny.
Your best friend is the third page, with entrees from $29 to $52 and larger dishes from $42 to $72. Then along comes a little caviar trolley, dispensing teaspoons of Uruguayan oscietra caviar placed directly on fists, to shwoosh up with a frosted baby martini glass of Absolut Elyx vodka. Price of admission to this party, $32.
The charcoal-fuelled grills are central to the menu, elevating the idea of a beachside barbecue. A skewer of bay threaded with finely sliced blacklip abalone and house-made pancetta ($16) is a real thrill from the grill. A nutty fold of chickpea pita stuffed with lush eggplant ($9) is three bites of the Greek islands.
This isn't rich food, so much as rich people's food. Toft spends a lot of his time leaving things well enough alone, investing umami into broths and garum (fish sauce) ferments, and seasoning with smoke and coal. The result of this restraint is clarity and depth of flavour.
Squab ($71), for instance, is aged for seven days, roasted and glazed with smoked Malfroy's wild honey. Roasted bones are pressed through a silver duck press; the juices enlivened with sherry vinegar and madeira, and roasted cherries mingle with bitter curls of red chicory. The breast is like eating liver, a great match for the soft, subtle 2018 Farr Rising pinot noir ($115).
Embered bonito ($38) is another exercise in restraint, with three tranches perched in a broth of smoked bones with salted green plum, like a spartan sunomono (Japanese vinegared dish). Another brothy dish is a merry tangle of hand-rolled, chewy worms of pasta ($44) with a mess of pipis and warrigal greens in pancetta broth, dusted with dried sea urchin bottarga. Whole john dory ($72) is simply roasted and expertly filleted tableside, but too high a heat leaves the flesh firm, not luscious.
Mimi's has set a new benchmark for self-indulgence – both ours and theirs. It's cosseting, decadent and delicious. But where does it come from, the confidence to make this sort of commitment to such high levels of luxury ingredients, tableside service and comfort? Total self-belief, that's where, and you have to pay that. Even if you can't afford it.
Drinks: Head sommelier Adrian Filiuta's wine list is quietly spectacular (up to 55 chablis alone) and cocktails from Will's next door have real balance and grace.
Go-to dish: Aged squab, smoked honey, soft garlic andred chicory, $71.
Tip: Bit rich for your blood? Cruise into Una Mas next door for next-level tapas and a glass.
Same, same but different
1. Donna Chang
The opulent, heritage-listed building sets the scene for big-ticket dinners of Southern rock lobster with XO chilli, mud crab, and wagyu with Kampot pepper. Private rooms on the mezzanine are the last word in luxe.
171 George Street, Brisbane, 07 3243 4888, donnachang.com.au
2. Di Stasio Citta
Art, food and richesse intermingle as Murano chandeliers soar overhead and a swarm of white-jacketed waitstaff envelop diners in a theatrical and ever-changing experience. Food is richy-rich Italian: warm mortadella, pasta with crab, suckling pig.
45 Spring Street, Melbourne, 03 9070 1177, distasio.com.au/citta
You get the Opera House, Harbour Bridge and Peter Gilmore's steamed mud crab custard, and smoked pig jowl with blacklip abalone and razor clams. This isn't a restaurant so much as a Major Dining Event.
Upper level, Overseas Passenger Terminal,The Rocks, 02 9251 5600, quay.com.au