Valentina Merimbula

Jackie McMillan
10th Mar 2023

With another excellent oyster lease view of Merimbula, the (now-hatted) Valentina Merimbula is exactly what a regional fine diner should be. Set upstairs in a tiny brick arcade the dining room is surprisingly well kitted out. There is a white Pueblo-style adobo island bench with inset ice buckets, and wall shelves holding a variety of well-lit sculptures including curved women and nicely crafted crabs. Over the window tables billowing neutral-toned fabric cuts down glare and creates intimacy.

Wrapped in matching bottle green aprons, the floor team are professional without losing that warm regional hospitality. Switching out wagyu for Narooma swordfish on the longer tasting menu ($120/each) is done without fuss, and they’re undeniably chuffed when we coo over black garlic butter and local (well Bermagui-based) Honorbread. The wine list is bespoke and well chosen, with the 2022 Little Frances Gruner Veltliner ($90) - made with mere hours of skin contact - performing well across all courses.

As you should in this region, the menu kicks off with local oysters dressed with ginger and lime. Small snacks, including sardines, scallops and wagyu bresaola, play second fiddle to excellent anchovy toast, where a salt-cured fillet is married with a pickled one and served with ricotta and pickled eschallots on toasted bread. Steamed clams with chilli, garlic and white wine give you a wonderful connection to the briny waterfront view. The freshly caught swordfish ($52) comes with mussels done right eaten not very far from where we saw them growing wild. A pretty pink pyramid of raspberry sorbet encased in Champagne zabaglione is nested in apple and sorrel granita. It’s followed by moist frills of Tête de Moine with quince paste and house-made bark. I can’t wait to dine here again on my next Sapphire Coast sojourn.