Chef Christine Manfield has a way with explosive flavour and texture clashing that many have copied but few have nailed. The ex-teacher-turned-chef, author and international gourmet tour operator opened Universal around five years ago, and we’re here to tell you Manfield’s restaurant is still kicking goals.
The restaurant, with its red and orange lacquered interior, little (but excellent) corner bar and seating that spills out onto the Republic Courtyard is a sure-fire bet for a good time. Service under manager Ric Patterson mixes knowledge and breezy approachability. And then there’s Manfield’s intricate food.
The menu’s staggered into small tasting plates. The idea is choose-your-own-adventure, which could go anywhere from sous vide lamb and peas to the funky, acidic smoked quail with nubs of soft, northern-Thai-style sausage spiked with lime, chilli and coriander. Crisp, curry fragrant sticky rice balls are either an excellent veggo option (they do a whole vegetarian menu here, too) or perfect as a mid-course snack. They’re bound with salted duck egg and topped with a mess of feathery chilli slivers, chopped cashews, green onion, all crunched up and sweetened with fried curry leaf and crisps of deep-fried shallot.
Wine-wise, we’d recommend just drinking what you like rather than trying to match every course. Though if you’re in the market for a wine party, talk to sommelier Charlie Casben. There’s an emphasis on natural and biodynamic gear here, not to mention an impressive sake selection and (woo!) glasses of JJ Prüm riesling.
Desserts are reliably as ace as ever. ‘Go nuts’ – the new working of the Gaytime dessert – comes in a toffee tube which you smash open to reveal beautifully house-churned caramel-ripple ice cream stuffed with toasted hazelnuts and topped with a toffee ganache.
There are a few things you should know before eating here. First and foremost, it’s not cheap. Those little plates add up – especially if you go for matched wines. Also, there’s the neighbouring Phamish. The popular Vietnamese restaurant seems to cater solely to chatty smokers hanging around the courtyard in white pants wearing sunglasses at night. So there’s that.
But really, if you’re dining in this neck of the woods, you’ve got to expect a few upturned collars. And a face-full of Marlboro light is a small price to pay for a table at Universal.