The Coogee Bay Hotel is celebrating 150 years this year, and with winter keeping the crowds down, it’s a good time to get reacquainted. Mosey down a carefully curated corridor depicting the history of this icon on your way to the hotel’s 2022 update, the Marra Bar & Grill. Marvel at the fact that the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown was actually the first time since the war that this historic hotel closed its doors. Move through the Marra cocktail bar where framed wall-posters from the hotel’s Selina’s days advertise headline acts like Nirvana and the Violent Femmes: if these walls could talk, what would they say? For history you can taste, check out the legacy menu of retro cocktails and snacks, from 1920s Charlie Chaplins ($22/each) to 1970s bangers and mash ($28). For a contemporary tipple, the tomato-garnished Marra Martini ($23) is easy to like, combining Tanqueray and Stone Pine rhubarb gin.
Marra takes up prime real estate facing the equally iconic Coogee Beach. A raised arched roof, seemingly lined with fairy lights and brown paper, gives it a cocoon-like feeling on a blustery night, but no doubt would feel sandier and coastal during the day. The floor team is sweet and well-intentioned, with accents that remind you backpacking is once again a thing. Oysters ($6/each) “from the East coast of Australia” are eventually narrowed down to the aquamarine waters of Pambula. Served freshly shucked over ice with plenty of liquor, they are so good, we instantly order a second pair. Most of the menu centres around the Josper grill. Teaming a charcoal grill with a door you can close gives chefs the temperature control of an oven. It ensures your rump cap ($33) arrives both moist and smoky, even cooked to a perfect medium. Ignore the chips in favour of wickedly creamy Paris mash ($12) and minted peas ($11) and you’ve moved from pub to high-end steakhouse. I was slightly less taken with the pizza, its base lacking the characteristic char, but appreciated the simple, Josper roasted beef ($29), brie and grilled red capsicum topping.
What bumped my night from ordinary to memorable was teaming it with the Giant Steps Primavera Pinot Noir ($27/glass). This is just a joyful drop, and one you can also pick up in the hotel’s bottle shop to take home with you if you love it as much as I did. The by-the-glass list here is amazing, with a Coravin system allowing them to offer glass prices of bottles you might not easily afford to drink, like the Californian Orin Swift Mannequin Chardonnay ($30/glass). It’s straw gold but surprisingly elegant with caramel, balanced oak and lemon. There’s also plenty to like at the list’s lower end.