Creating culinary highs in the 'burbs

CREATIVE: Chef Ash and wife Kit with COYA's king prawns with sumac, chilli jam and raspberry vinaigrette - despite regularly changing the menu, this dish never leaves. Picture: Simon Bennett
CREATIVE: Chef Ash and wife Kit with COYA's king prawns with sumac, chilli jam and raspberry vinaigrette - despite regularly changing the menu, this dish never leaves. Picture: Simon Bennett

AT $135 for a whopping 13 courses, could this be Australia's best value degustation?

But there's a catch. Every course at COYA Cromer - from the decadent scampi with Fromager d'Affinois to the lemon passionfruit cloud, via a wagyu beef with horseradish cream, and bamboo rice with wildflowers that taste like sea spray - looks too good to eat.

Chef Ashraf Saleh clearly takes pride in his work at the modern Australian meets middle eastern eatery. Originally from Saudi Arabia, he has worked in Paris, London and Sweden. Now in Beacon Hill, he's up early every day to source fresh food from seafood and vegetable markets and has great relationships with local suppliers for interesting foraged plants and edible flowers. His plates have to be seen to be believed - each colourful dish looks like it should be hanging on an art gallery wall. "Guests say it's like eating all colours of the rainbow," he laughed. "I don't have to work too hard at it, I just cook the food and let it shine."

SIGNATURE DISH: COYA's king prawns with sumac, chilli jam and raspberry vinaigrette - despite regularly changing the menu, this dish never leaves.

SIGNATURE DISH: COYA's king prawns with sumac, chilli jam and raspberry vinaigrette - despite regularly changing the menu, this dish never leaves.

During lockdown, Ash and his charming wife Kit say they were buoyed by "kind, really supportive locals" ordering takeout, which was as decorative as if they were in the restaurant. "The phone never stopped," he said, adding that comfort food such as beef cheeks were big hits.

WORK OF ART: The scallops lollipop. Picture: Simon Bennett

WORK OF ART: The scallops lollipop. Picture: Simon Bennett

It's certainly a lot of food. We rolled out of COYA very full - but very happy. But as my funny dining companion said, it's not one of those degustations where they need to take a wall down to stretcher you out afterwards. For those less gutsy, there are four, six and nine-courses ($55/$66/$99), and vegetarian options.

DREAM FOOD: The lemon passionfruit cloud. Picture: SIMON BENNETT

DREAM FOOD: The lemon passionfruit cloud. Picture: SIMON BENNETT

It seems like madness opening a tiny restaurant in a quiet suburban street in the middle of the beaches, but it turns out there's method to it. Chef Ash loves that his current setup only holds 25 diners - it was 60, and he won't be changing back once COVID-rules relax.

SCAMPI: Kit Saleh with the decadent scampi with Fromager d'Affinois. picture: Simon Bennett

SCAMPI: Kit Saleh with the decadent scampi with Fromager d'Affinois. picture: Simon Bennett

When we leave, we buy his colourful (of course) new cookbook - French Middle Eastern Cuisine - and ask him to sign it for us. The next day, I notice his inscription: "Cook With Love". It's perfect, because that's exactly how his food feels.

  • 1/61-63 Carawa Road, Cromer. Open Weds-Sat. Phone 9981 7053 or email kit@coyaonline.com