In continuing on our fun filled journey of wine, wine, a little bit more wine and food from Saturday night with the boys, Gazbo and James, our final destination before Gary fell asleep, James rockstarred a taxi and I wept for bed was The Herring Room in Manly for our main dinner, our feast de la resistance. James is a local here and in the only eight weeks The Herring Room has been opened he appears to have visited weekly and is now on a first name basis with staff and singing Happy Birthdays to random guests upon the request of the staff.
The Herring Room is from the Potts Point The Sardine Room alumni who have made a huge success of that restaurant in the nine years it has been operating. Manly locals and restaurateurs Angela Heracleous and her husband Rodney Walsh have gutted the famed icon, the old surf shop on Pittwater Road and turned it into a chic, welcoming, relaxed but professional looking venue. It is quite large taking up what would be two shops and for Saturday night it was bloody pumping, literally packed to the rafters. I was on a wait list for dinner and James managed to get us in after a few arguments with me over the time. We had a waiting room for some pre-drinks on a couch where I met a PR lady and her husband who cater to the food and alcohol industry, we card swapped and now I am on their list – superb networking right there :).
While we waited we started on the Born and Raised 2009 Tempranillo ($48-), that James reminded me about a dozen times has silent “l”s – long story short – I keep pronouncing them and as a food and occasional wine critic sound like a bogan :). Their wine list is as epic as their menu. This venue is not cheap, it is all about the quality but the most amazing thing about it……………………..while it has a full bar and brilliantly stocked wine selection…………………….it is also BYO so you can offset all mains being $36 and bring the wine with you, we did one of each and for three of us our meal cost us $300- but our desserts were free because James literally sung for his supper (it’s his profession).
We started with two appetisers and two entrees to share. First off the rank was the salt & pepper squid with fresh chilli, basil & garlic aioli for $16-. It was nice but it was standard, a regular favourite you can always rely on, loved it but no stand out. Then there was the Gambaretti with lemon zest, sea salt, parsley & garlic aioli for $14-. It was ok – Gambaretti is a whole fried crispy younger prawn, I enjoyed it but to me very similar to the squid and, oddly I found it a little bland, Gary and James inhaled it though.
However I then got into the lemon marinated white anchovies with grissini and rocket for $12- (below) and the words out of my mouth were “it’s a revelation,” I don’t know what happened while eating this dish, was it the tempranillo throwing me into Super Superlative JK mode but this dish was sublime in every way. The anchovies were so fresh and so not fishy like your usual anchovies, I put this down to them being fresh and not the oil soaked versions we are used to as poor folk :). Wrapping them around the grissini and placing a little bit of rocket balanced on top before taking a bite was a highlight for me and I will be taking my mother here purely for her worship of anchovies.
Then along came this beautiful dish – the squid ink & egg yolk ravioli with crabmeat, lemon thyme beurre blanc & salmon roe for $18- and I entered a level of exponential expressions of praise – translated, I multiple foodgasmed. The balance of flavours in this dish is award worthy, I will dream of this dish until I eat it again.
We weren’t going soft, we cracked the second bottle of wine, something really expensive James brought with him (literally a sommelier in a previous incarnation) and our mains arrived, something I convinced everyone we had to share. I ordered the below; poached blue eye cod in red curry with pumpkin, lychees, asian greens & cashews for $36-. It was delicious but not the best red curry I have had, I wanted more fish and the other two stole the lychees so I missed out but the flavours worked and the base stock I could drink.
James and Gazbo both ordered the baked white fish moussaka with dauphinoise, eggplant & breadcrumb shallot crust for $36- until I said “nay nay – you cannot order the same dish, we need to try more things,” so James ever so kindly without a word of complaint (haha) ordered the whole fish, something we had seen go past a few times, I think it is the signature dish but more on that later. The moussaka was perfect if you like moussaka, I enjoyed it but I am a chilli and spice fiend and this is a tame dish, James idolises the dish and Gazbo loved it.
Me on the other hand fell in love and nearly beat the other two up so I could have more of the fried crispy whole baby red snapper w onion, chilli, ginger & sweet soy glaze for $36-. It is one of the best fish meals I have ever eaten in my life. And the bonus – I despise whole fish, never ever order it, I cannot stand eating anything with tiny bones in it. But the flesh in this dish, falls away like snow from a cloud. This and the rest of the menu comes from French head chef Cyril Quiquampoix from Pier and La Scala fame, this means he knows how to food and I want this dish again and again, that chilli, ginger and sweet soy glaze is one of my fave combos, I actually make my own dish using this and basa fillets every couple of weeks because of the flavours and the affordability. This and the Jerk Pork from Jamtown Manly Beach – my two favourite dishes in Manly. They will make me poor!
In our post mains haze the waitstaff advised they had to sing happy birthday and then were going to get us a dessert on the house, probably because James supports one of the staff members through his regular attendance, but all happy from food and wine James stood up, goes into the next room and belts out happy birthday in a nearly operatic version. I wish I had that confidence and talent, it was a sight to see.
The staff then brought us a divine rosewater & vanilla pannacotta with roasted pistachios & pomegranate praline for free (but really $14-) and three limoncellos to accompany. It was delightful but too small to share, I like my sweets and my selfish table mates also wanted some, sheesh.
The Herring Room continues the food transformation of Manly in a superb way. No longer declining beach venues lacking in inspiration, venues now that can compete not only on the Sydney stage but the world stage. We had a fantastic time and loved mostly everything about this venue, I will be back many times to this place when I can afford it and if you do plan on visiting, book early, it is so freaking popular you may miss out – ensure you eat the Squid Ink & Egg Yolk Ravioli and if you don’t order that snapper you’re a fattened goose ready for Foie gras.