Beetroot is a dirty rotten vegetable. I mean that literally. It tastes like dirt that is rotten. Blerg. Obviously I would never order a dish comprising such a despicable ingredient but every now and then you’re going to be thwarted by a set menu.
At Maestro & Co.—a new restaurant in Manly—it was the beetroot (blerg) dip doing the thwarting. Or so I thought.
With a dreamy deep purple hue, an inviting olive oil swirl, a little pistachio labneh, and a sweet hint sweet maple syrup, the beetroot dip was so surprisingly tasty I can’t stop thinking about it.
Suffice to say, Maestro & Co. made a solid first impression.
Occupying the space vacated by El Beau Room on East Esplanade, Maestro & Co. opened its doors last month and has been abuzz ever since.
The menu is Middle Eastern with a contemporary twist; a first for Manly and a nod to owner Graeme Moses’ Lebanese background.
Maestro & Co. is Moses’ debut on the restaurant scene. He did that cool thing you hear about—quit a high-flying corporate job to pursue his passion.
After a solid two-month search, the Manly local found the perfect space listed on Gumtree. In keeping with the industrial look, El Beau Room’s exposed brick and polished cement floors remain but the introduction of new furniture, a bold bar and custom-made copper light fixtures (all courtesy of David Moses Designs—yep, they’re brothers) add punch.
In the kitchen, ex-Efendy chef Bektas Ozcam is at the helm. His Turkish heritage has a strong influence on the menu and he is serious about creating amazing flavours through authentically Middle Eastern means. The beetroot dip was proof of this and our food journey continued in a similar vein.
Hummus (with pepper relish, pomegranate molasses and spicy Armenian sausage) and babaganoush (with tahini and chilli isot) rounded out the tasty trio of dips, and warm, house-made spelt bread helped mop it all up. Did I go overboard? Yes I did. But it was worth it.
A couple of light dishes came our way next which was probably just as well.
The lemonade-compressed watermelon with goat’s cheese and spiced basturma (it’s air-dried beef) was good but the scallop ceviche was better—a favourite in fact. The toasted hazelnuts were a welcome buttery crunch.
On to the Maestro kibbe, a warm parcel of minced meat with cinnamon and pine nuts, served with mint yogurt and house pickles. Kibbe is usually fried but since—in a sweet-as-pie coincidence—both Moses and Ozcam grew up in baked-kibbe households, Maestro & Co. has bucked tradition in favour of nostalgia.
The M&C menu is a mix of small and big plates designed to share. I have popped this sentence here to show you where the small plates end and the big ones begin. The set menus are a great option at a reasonable price—$29 for lunch and $55 for dinner—although they do not include the Cone Bay barramundi, which is one fantastic reason to opt for al a carte.
Served on a braised pistachio cream, the marriage between crispy and creamy was a dream and then – THEN! – there was the glorious pop of pomegranate. This dish won the day. I made it a certificate. (No I didn’t).
If you’ve already been to Maestro & Co. and you went for the set menu, don’t feel bad. The slow-roasted, oyster cut lamb shoulder was a pretty close second. Served with smoked eggplant begendi, it landed both major meat clichés by first, falling off the bone and then melting in my mouth.
Try not to judge me, but after all that food, we still had dessert. Rosewater meringue, seasonal fruit, frozen citrus and halva. It looked too good to eat. We ate it anyway. It was a light, bright contrast to the depth of our mains.
For the health conscious (or, of course, celiacs), all but three menu items can be made gluten free and vegetarians are reasonably well covered.
You’ll find Young Henrys, Dad and Dave’s and Two Birds on tap as well as a small but sturdy wine list. Like the food, the cocktail menu features classics with a Middle Eastern spin—think espresso martini with rum, orange and five spice— but barstaff can whip up the usual suspects too.
Bookings are recommended, especially on Friday and Saturday nights. Brunch is available on weekends.
That beetroot dip tho*.
*You know this spelling is ironic, right? Good. Just checking
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Image credit: Federica Portentoso