In Short: Coya in Sydney’s leafy suburb of Cromer is one of those very special opportunities to experience the culmination of refined culinary creations in a relaxed and welcoming environment. Chef Saleh has used his decades of world-class talent to take diners on a journey through tastes and textures that are infused with flavours and techniques from both east and west. Coya is a rare gem in Sydney’s foodscape and needs to be at the very top of every foodie’s list. Tip: The degustation menu offers one of the best values you’ll find anywhere to experience food that is truly of a global caliber. Yes, it’s that good!
Just wow! I mean, there’s not much else I need to say about what Chef Ashraf Saleh @chefashrafsaleh2468 has created at Coya @coyacromer in the in leafy valleys of Cromer on Sydney’s North Shore. Who would have guessed that when our friends at AGFG recommended we try Coya out, that it would turn out to be one of the very best foodie experiences we’ve had in Sydney, nestled in these quaint surrounds?
So many times, we’ve visited restaurants that have wowed us with their space and views, only to have the food feel a little like a second thought. Not so with Coya. Chef Saleh is clearly a master of every ingredient he brings into his kitchen. From presentation to palate, every aspect of Coya’s menu is executed with a clarity of purpose. While the flavours have undeniable influences of the East, they are also complimented with refinement and techniques of the West. Combine this perfectly balanced and sophisticated fusion approach with an uncompromising attention to the quality of ingredients, and Coya has to be one of the true hidden treasures of the Sydney food scene.
Our warm and engaging host for this very special evening is Kit, and knowing exactly what us blogging types need to get our job done, she seats us in the perfect location to watch Chef Saleh’s kitchen in action.
So, every adventure starts with the first step, and our first step into Coya’s inspired creations is the delicate starter of Tasmanian Salmon Nayeh. Tender layers of ocean infused salmon are crowned with a garden of colours and textures. Crisp cucumber, chilli, lime, coriander, and sumac vinaigrette all play like high notes atop the bass tones of succulent salmon to create an orchestral explosion of flavours with each bite. What a way to open the show!
Every restaurant has a dish that is a customer favourite. It’s the plate that the kitchen knows will hit a home run every time it leaves the pass. At Coya, that dish is the King Prawns. Sumac and piquillo pepper puree coalesce to glaze unbelievably fresh prawns that glisten like carefully placed jewels on a flourish of raspberry vinaigrette. There’s all the sensation of the sea you’d expect from such quality seafood, with a uniquely refined and subtle heat from the peppery glaze. It’s easy to see why Chef keeps this winner on the menu!
Like satisfying veggie meatball morsels, the Fried Cauliflower offers up a crunchy and moist, sweet citrus, vinegary sensation that is head and shoulders above our previous experiences with this dish in other eateries.
Black Angus Short Ribs is the next plate of the magic to grace our table. Impossibly tender meat infused with distinct Middle Eastern notes is crested with burnt broccoli and a rainbow crown of veggies. Again, quality comes through in the mouthfeel and depth of flavour that has an interesting complexity to excite the tastebuds, but never confuses with conflicting tastes.
From the turf back to the surf, the Cone Bay Barramundi has been pulled fresh from the water and onto the plate in what tastes like minutes. There’s nothing to overpower the delicate flavours of the fish, but the complementing sage, artichoke, capers, beurre noisette, and saffron potatoes all do their part to lift the barra up with texture, and frame it’s natural nuances perfectly.
Fermented pumpkin, pomegranate, and herb vinaigrette spark the tongue to life as they mingle with the sweetly smoky Grilled Eggplant and Haloumi. Haloumi anything and I’m sold, but this goes to a whole new heavenly haloumi level. Coya has nailed this dish in every way. It’s beautiful to behold, and tastes even better.
So, just when we thought Chef Saleh had blown us away with his arsenal of clever culinary creations, he pulls out another unforgettable masterstroke. The Shish Barak parcels up slow-cooked duck into pockets of pure joy. The delicate, yet unmistakably, rich duck flavours are cloistered in tender dumplings that lap up the porcini veloute. Each envelope explodes in the mouth with a combination of sophistication and comfort at once. Bravo Chef!
From one showstopper to another at Coya! The Umm Ali, or Arabic bread pudding, is equal parts pretty and panache. Like a king on it’s thrown, a dollop of rich ice cream supports a regal headpiece of pistachio anglaise, all atop a base of vibrantly sweet fruits. Too gorgeous to eat, we topple this king from his perch and are rewarded with decadent delights for our unceremonious overthrow.
But wait, there’s more! No, really! The hits just keep on coming…one last hurrah in the form of the Passionfruit Souffle Mousse. It’s a fluffy cloud of passionfruit bliss with every spoonful. This dessert’s playfulness starts with its florescent colour, and continues with the impossible lightness of its texture. The flavour is turned up to ten, and reminds me of my childhood treats when passionfruit was the go-to tropical temptation. I love everything about this bowl of joy as it closes out a meal that reminds me that there are real hidden treasures in the Sydney foodscape still to be discovered.
Coya is a triumph of culinary craftsmanship that warrants respect and admiration for Chef Saleh’s kitchen with every mouthful. This is an experience in careful refinement and deft execution backed by decades of honed talent. What’s so impressive about the entire Coya concept is that it provides the opportunity to experience truly world class creations in an atmosphere that is accessible to all. You must go, and go now!
Updated Visit, February 2021
There are restaurants that find a good thing and stick with it, hoping that it’s a waterfall of incoming revenue and then there are chefs that continue to innovate, striving to create dishes that keep locals excited, and draws in new diners from across the city and beyond. It was abundantly clear on our return visit to Coya, that Chef Saleh is definitely and firmly is in the latter camp of innovation and incremental improvements in taste and quality. The proof is on the wall as the AGFG scoring of Coya has increased its rating year on year and now holds a coveted 2 hats.
We dined at Coya and sampled their 6 course degustation menu. For $66 I beg you find a better valued degustation in Sydney!
We started with Blue Swimmer Crab Potato Bugnes which are tiny croquette like creations with a crispy crumbed exterior that gives way to a beautiful soufflé soft potato filling. So light, with the sweet crab flavour punctuating its way through the potato. The sauce that sits under bugnes really adds a tangy, heated dimension to each mouthful. Truly delightful trio of bugnes.
From the seafood themed start, Coya’s menu then diverted to the vegetable garden with a Zucchini Flower. While zucchini flowers have become ubiquitous on menus across the city, one look at the plate that was placed in front of me quickly reinforced that this was no ordinary zucchini inspired dish. What intrigued me more was that Chef Saleh was working barely two metres from me.
There was no sound of deep fryers spitting and bubbling away, yet here was a plate of a zucchini flower so that was insanely crisp! Not stuffed with one cheese, but 4 different cheeses. Gorgonzola, parmesan, mozzarella and ricotta delivers a balanced melody of sweet, creamy, and salty flavour. To cut through the richness of the cheese, is a peppery sauce and a slivers of carpaccio zucchini freshens the palate.
You know how I alluded that Coya innovates, and that was true in the first 2 dishes, but then there is one dish that has curried such a loyal following, and that is the King Prawns. Simply put, it cannot be removed from the menu because it just is so popular! Well if you see the photo below, you would agree, that it is a showstopper. The raspberry sauce with it’s swirly flowery pattern with plump prawns on top is stunning to look at! It was outstanding two years ago, and that level of excellence continues. Beautiful to look at and even more exciting to eat.
A unique nonetheless delicious little plate is a Shanklish. Levantine heritage flows through this offering. Sheep’s milk cheese is the central element. Sitting atop the cheese are spices that really accentuates the flavour. It is paired with mini red Tigerella tomatoes with it’s slightly acidic yet sweet flavour. The Shanklish is dressed with a drizzle of pomegranate caramel herb oil. You may think that this could be a creamy dish, yet I found it light and clean. Again like with the all the dishes, its complementing elements that delivers a beautifully balanced tasting experience.
We were treated to an additional dish which was Barramundi Fillet. Like many great menus, the title may be simple, but execution and elements are anything but simple. If you want a lesson on how to treat fish, come to Coya and try this barramundi. Beautifully crisped up skin gives away to just perfectly cooked fish. It just flakes apart! I adored the barberry sauce. Think sweet and sour sauce, but it definitely a more refined version and its subtle sweetness is just perfect to swish the fish through.
While a fillet of fish may take a few minutes in a hot pan, Braised Beef Cheeks needs countless hours of patience. Here at Coya the beef cheeks just fall apart and is rich and bold in flavour. A generous serving of the sauce glistens and is velvety in texture and excites. It really crescendos the experience at Coya.
It’s not a complete trip through south eastern Mediterranean without a Turkish delight inspired dessert. At Coya their Turkish Delight Crème Brulee is a triumph of a dessert. A perfectly caramelised top is a given with this level of cooking. After a few gentle taps, the caramel gives way to a luscious creamy filling. I love the play between the vanilla and rose flavours. It’s light and definitely a dessert without any regrets, except maybe I was spying for any leftovers, of which they were none at all.
Chef Saleh most probably appreciated that Sammi may have preferred something chocolatey to finish, and was not wrong. A Chocolate Gâteau Cake was just the prettiest dessert that had Sammi filled with glee! A rich, moist almost lava like chocolate cake. A perfect quenelle of vanilla ice cream is the best partner for this gâteau.
We came, we ate, we loved! It’s as a simple as that. While locals would love Coya to be their hidden secret, we are here to tell you if you do not have Coya as a must visit in 2021, then you are surely missing out on an amazing culinary journey that delivers flavours of the Middle East with immense skill. Chef Salah sources local ingredients, and his menu demonstrates decades of experience in each plate.
*Coco & Vine dined as guests of Coya and AGFG. However, all images and opinions are our own.