The great shutdown of 2020 was a particularly bitter pill to swallow for the team at Estate, the three-in-one venue occupying the ground floor of the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Coogee. Its owners had only just unveiled the venue's multimillion-dollar refurbishment nine days before the sprawling beachside haunt was shuttered. So it’s a credit to the vision of head chef and creative director Matthew Butcher, that the split-personality concept behind Estate’s latest incarnation has emerged just as savvy post-lockdown, as the fragile new normal of going out in Sydney continues to evolve.
Not unlike its nearby neighbour, the Coogee Pavillion, Estate has maximised its appeal by having differently styled spaces geared to the needs of very different crowds. Making the most of its beachside location, the alfresco Terrace is pitched at a younger, casual clientele, who can kick back with friends, vodka soda in hand, as evening moves in over the Coogee sands just across the street. This leafy courtyard has its own dedicated bar, housed in a gleaming stainless steel Airstream-style trailer, and laidback, Coachella vibes that effortlessly transition to an after-dark party atmosphere with live music, DJ sets, a projector screening beachy flicks and twinkling bistro lights strung overhead.
On the opposite end of the property, take a trip south of the border. The Taqueria is an eye-popping space channeling a cartoonish brand of Mexicana – all zesty tones, Aztec patterns, decorative cacti and Macho Libre posters plastered on the walls. While the name might suggest its food offering is the prizefighter, it’s the cocktail menu that really packs a punch. There are five different varieties of Margarita, which you can spice up with house-made chili-infused tequila if you’re in an especially fiery mood. Otherwise, go for a refreshing Paloma – a tart mingling of Calle 23 blanco tequila, fresh lime and grapefruit soda – or a fun and fruity jungle juice, the contents of which change daily.
The tacos make for an ideal sidekick to your Marg, coming in five varieties – chicken, pumpkin, fish, steak and a weekly rotating special, which on our visit was pork belly and pineapple. Otherwise, a sharable serve of nachos loaded with cheddar, salsa, lime cream and, of course, house-made guacamole, also available as a vegan option.
Between these two casually up-beat spaces you’ll find an altogether different kind of establishment. Simply called ‘Kitchen’, its sophisticated, minimalist styling and top-shelf wine list set the tone for a fine dining experience, but a surprisingly playful menu lets you know that no airs or graces are required. With floor-to-ceiling picture windows looking out to the Sydney coastline, it’s no surprise that seafood features heavily.
There are obvious crowd-pleasers, like flame-grilled Queensland king prawns – their smokiness is amped up with charred lime and a dusting of cayenne pepper while the aniseed bite of a pickled fennel salad spars with the meat’s creamy sweetness. But then, there's a menu item like the hiramasa kingfish sashimi, semi-cured with enough citrus to almost qualify as a ceviche, which mingles with the strange yet surprisingly successful bedfellows of fresh mint, wasabi, diced avocado and crisp puffs of sesame brittle.
It speaks to a creatively curious kitchen that isn’t afraid to take a few risks – as does the slow-cooked short rib, which riffs on the classic American red cup drink, braised and glazed in bourbon and Coke, marrying melt-in-the-mouth textures with a sticky sweetness. It comes with a trio of accompaniments: an earthy onion puree, silky pumpkin mash and a rich, gamey croquet made with the often discarded intercostal meat (the bits between the ribs). A humble half-head of iceberg lettuce becomes the unlikely hero of the meal, using both fresh and pickled walnuts, parmesan shavings and a razor-sharp blue cheese dressing for a nod to both Caesar and Waldorf salads. It’s a revelation.
Desserts should inspire joy, and this is exemplified in Kitchen’s ode to the violet crumble: shards of tempered chocolate guard a delicately floral, lavender-hued gelato, while a salted, dry-ice honeycomb wraps the whimsical confection in a haze that elicits ‘ooohs’ and ‘ahhhs.'
It’s quite the surprise to find such ambitious cooking shoulder to shoulder with two sister venues that have such rigidly stamped does-what-it-says-on-the-tin identities. By contrast, the Estate Kitchen plays by its own rules, dares, experiments. You may come to Estate’s Terrace or Taqueria seeking the familiar, but a meal at Kitchen is all about the discovery of the unexpected.