Will and Toby's, Manly Beach
This was exciting for a girl who rarely ventures any further than the imaginary borders of the CBD’s 2 km radius around Sydney Tower. Besides, I’m still eating my way through the restaurants from Paddington to Pyrmont and have predictably got a bit stuck in Surry Hills. Most things up to and including “R”, but then one closes, another re-opens and there I am retracing my steps to “B”. So to head north straight for a “W”, well this is progress. An adventure.
Left: Contorni - Green Beans with garlic lemon and olive oil ($10.00)
I’m not very good at public transport, with my competencies restricted to the monorail and aeroplanes. Luckily I had two old hands with me to make sure I didn’t freak out when it came to the thronging surge of holidaymakers and day trippers aboard the Manly Ferry. So with L & M to hold my hand, we set off across the waves to wild and strange shores (well to us inner city types anyway) to sample the fare of the so called Northern Beaches, and meet up with K & C back from Jakarta for a short Sydney sojourn.
As you march from the ferry through the tarnished discount shop and fast food strip of The Corso and break into a sunglass-crowned saunter heading up South Steyne to the ‘more exclusive’ end of the beach, you see Will and Toby’s tucked behind folding glass windows under the Sebel Hotel. Morocco meets adobe rendered concrete walls meets surf bum chic, and we notice that the last bum has left our muted striped banquette adorned with sand. Oh well, this is the beach I guess. The fold back windows immediately stamp ‘casual’ on the atmosphere and the coming and going of hotel guests immerses you in a holiday mood.
Below: Arancini balls (6 per serve, $8.00)
My patience with ‘casual’ is foreshortened while looking at the menu. As someone who writes a lot for work and pleasure, I find the sight of an unpunctuated menu unsettling. And I don’t mean casually under-punctuated in keeping with the laissez faire ambience of the seaside, but there is not one single punctuation mark anywhere. It’s holidays, so I fight the urge to get out a green pen. Maybe if I sprinkle that sand from the banquette on the page it will fall into random full stops or line up to resemble an apostrophe. M returns from the loo and declares they have not been cleaned. Strange fish, these northerners. I wonder what other unusual customs we will encounter in this new culture?
Left: Calamari Fritti with lemon and rocket ($19.00).
Rising above the comma-less string of offerings, we settle down to decide what to eat while sipping on a Bombay Gin martini. M orders a Bellini. While it tastes fine, I don’t think a place that prides itself on its bar should be making Bellinis with canned nectar at the height of white peach season. Tisk tisk. It’s a nice range of choices and considering the restaurant’s location and view, they are very reasonably priced with only two dishes in the low-mid $30’s. We surmise that the chef’s name might be Carmel as one of our choices is a ‘carmelised’ onion and goats (sic) cheese tart 16 (which we assume means $16.00 not 16 onions, or 16 goats, or that it serves 16). Or maybe it’s a dish created in the town where Clint Eastwood is Mayor?
Left: Cuttlefish Risotto with fennel and dill ($19.00/ $25.00 as a main)
The menu leans in an Italian direction, with a few Italian words thrown around randomly through the descriptions for effect. We order the Arancini Balls (6 per serve, $8.00) to share. They are well executed with a crunchy coating, but otherwise fairly unremarkable. The Calamari Fritti with Lemon and Rocket ($19) is tender and crisp, its oily edge countered by the peppery rocket and tart lemon. The Cuttlefish Risotto with Fennel and Dill ($19.00/ $25.00 as a main) bursts with aromatic aniseed, perhaps pushing the boundaries of balance, but the rice is deliciously creamy and wet, the way it should be in my opinion. Veal Scallopine with Crumbed Sweetbreads, Baby Herbs, and Eschallot Jus ($29.00) is declared good after a moment’s hesitation, but the sweetbreads are disarmingly scattered like a gland necklace around the main event. An interesting presentation of offal.
Left: Veal Scallopine with crumbed sweetbreads, baby herbs, and eschallot jus ($29.00)
We strike a hitch when the Roast Blue Eye with Boston Bay Mussels, Potatoes and Olive Oil Emulsion ($31.00) arrives disguised as a Pot of Mussels with Tomato, Chilli, Basil and Garlic ($19.00). Our waitress misheard the order and only caught the ‘mussels’ part and apologises politely and profusely. After a wait it arrives with a gorgeous golden burnished skin surrounded by the dreaded foam. Thank you Ferran Adria, will we ever forgive you? For the inconvenience (the wait and mistake, not the foam) our waiter announces the price of the dish will be deducted from the bill, and indeed it is, which was most decent of them. The wine list is compact with some interesting listings, but we wash our seaside nosh down with a 2006 Grove Mill Sauvignon Blanc ($43.00 / bottle). Overall, the staff seem very busy and a little stressed, but they manage to pull off service with aplomb, if not a little too much chaos. It’s the holiday season and I’m sure they are hammered and working long hours, but they’re all good humoured and happy to appease any requests.
Left: Roast Blue Eye with Boston Bay mussels, potatoes and olive oil emulsion ($31.00)
We press forward to dessert which is obligingly served at an outside table, allowing those in our group who wish to attempt to contract lung cancer to do so with impunity. The Almond Milk Panna Cotta with Lavender Biscotti ($15.00) is enticingly wobbly and subtly scented (picture below, top). The Passionfruit Ice Cream with Mango Cheeks and Pineapple Chips ($15.00) is lusciously creamy and tangy, and the Frozen Pistachio Nougatine with Candied Zest and Fresh Fruits ($16.00) is sensational (picture below, middle). Affogato ($15.00) is a little off centre. Described as “Warm vanilla shot expresso (sic) ice cream and frangelico” it’s hard to work out what’s what, let alone the travesty of calling coffee ‘expresso’. What appears is a predictable shot of Frangelico – tick, a glass of two scoops of coffee ice cream – inventive, nice ice cream, along with a shot what resembles room temperature evaporated milk. Huh? It seems there’s confusion in the dessert section – I shouldn’t wonder with that punctuation – and we get a couple of espresso shots to go with our dessert, easily fixed (picture below, bottom).
Then I see it. Nestling between ‘capsicum’ and ‘Persian fetta’. It’s a comma! I try to move it with my finger thinking it may be a trick of the light or a stray splash of balsamic. But peering closely, there’s no mistake. A lone warrior for the written English language standing up to be counted! Someone’s head will roll for this I’m sure.
Will and Tobys (sic)
8-13 South Steyne
(Under the Sebel Hotel)