|Opening hours||Lunch daily noon-3pm; Dinner from 5.30pm daily|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 9114 7341|
I want numbers 1 to 12, and she wants 13, 23 and 29. Some delicate negotiating and we end up with 2, 12, 15 and 18, 25 and a small 37. Wow.
The last time I saw a Chinese menu with numbers was – ooh – about the same time I last saw one that lists wonton soup, honey king prawns, sweet and sour pork, Mongolian lamb and special fried rice. Which this does as well.
But this isn't old-school Chinese, it's new-school. Merivale's ebullient Patrick Friesen is back at Manly Wharf, close to five years after co-launching Papi Chulo on this very spot.
He left here with fellow chef Christopher Hogarth to open the contemporary Cantonese Queen Chow in a neighbourly Enmore pub, and now he's brought the Queen back with him.
So instead of smoky, deep southern barbecue with your harbour views, there are tanks of seafood, zinc-clad oyster bar, dedicated roast meats kitchen, and best of all, dumplings from Merivale's dim sum master, Eric Koh.
Which is really why I'm here. If Koh were an artist, I would collect his work. Instead, he makes dumplings. Virtuoso is virtuoso.
As the late Jonathan Gold of the Los Angeles Times said about restaurant reviewing in the documentary, City of Gold, "Criticism is criticism. An aria is in some way equivalent to a well-cooked potato."
Prawn and scallop siu mai ($15 for four) are best-on-field, seemingly all light, minced prawn mousse, topped with a sweet lid of buttery scallop and a froth of fluorescent orange flying fish roe.
Warm, flaky char siu puffs ($12 for three) are stuffed with sweet porky char sieu stew, as down-home comforting as a sausage roll. If you're in a dither, just get the steamed dim sum platter ($32 for eight), bearing in mind they will never be as good as the individually steamed ones.
Live mudcrab ($100 a kilogram) and lobster ($200 a kilogram) are out of my league but there's plenty else to play with in this harbourside playground. You can get three good, meaty, split and wok-fried Moreton Bay bugs in a high-drama $42 pile-up, although the Singapore-style black pepper sauce feels uncharacteristically thickened.
There's proper table service – if slow, paced more for a leisurely weekend than a busy mid-weeker. A small dish of fresh, tender salt and pepper squid ($22) ticks the box without doing much more. A tossy salad of cucumber, snowpea spouts, black fungi and sesame ($11), same.
Then the barbecued meats kitchen sends out an excellent boned Cantonese roast duck ($45/$70), all crisp-skinned meat swimming in light, ducky juices, with some unusually elegant plum sauce to the side.
For dessert, fellow diners are all over the number 55, a giant ball of deep-fried ice-cream, but I would argue for 56 instead.
The Queen's salted caramel tart ($13) is the Rockpool date tart for today, from a darkly tanned bruleed top you can crack with a spoon, to the deep, rich custard filling with its haunting notes of palm sugar.
It's a bloody big restaurant, and seating is pack 'em and stack 'em, elbow-to-elbow for up to 180 diners. In the dim sum and barbecued meats games, particularly, the higher the volume, the better; which is why they're the stand-outs. It's a numbers game, after all.
Address: Manly Wharf, Shop 22-23, Manly, merivale.com
Open: Lunch daily noon-3pm; Dinner from 5.30pm daily
Cost: Around $160 for two, plus drinks
Drinks: 200-strong wine list with a focus on rieslings and lighter reds.
Vegetarian: Couple of dumpling and noodle dishes, and a handful of vegetable and tofu dishes.
Go-to dish: No. 37 (roast duck with plum sauce) $40/$75.
Pro tip: The Manly ferry drops you right at the door.
Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide. This rating is based on the Good Food Guide scoring system.