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Manta at Woolloomooloo Wharf is the latest venue to join the stable of Sydney Restaurant Group.

Scott Bolles

The blue-chip strip of Woolloomooloo Wharf is one of Sydney’s most tightly held cluster of restaurants, where operators are famous for sitting on their investment. Now, after 17 years, restaurateur Rob Rubis will hand over the reins of his seafood venue Manta to one of the city’s most prominent restaurant groups.

“Yes, we settle [on] April 29,” Rubis says of the deal. There have been rumblings in recent months as Rubis was entertaining offers from interested parties. The final sale price has not been disclosed but incoming owner Sydney Restaurant Group is already king of waterfront restaurant real estate, with a dozen venues parked on the edge of Sydney Harbour.

The waterfront strip attracts celebrities from around the globe.
The waterfront strip attracts celebrities from around the globe.Supplied

With a stable that includes Sails on Lavender Bay, Ormeggio at The Spit, Ripples, The Nielsen and Ventuno, Sydney Restaurant Group’s foray into Woolloomooloo is one of the last pieces of its harbour puzzle.

Rubis points to the longevity of the wharf’s restaurant stalwarts: steak and seafood venue Kingsleys; the Fink Group-owned Otto Ristorante; and restaurateur Steve Anastasiou’s Asian-inspired eatery, China Doll.

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Rubis bought Manta Ray in 2006, around the time that wildlife educator Steve Irwin died after being pierced by a short-tail stingray barb. Out of respect, he dropped the Ray from the restaurant’s moniker.

Grilled King George whiting with a panzanella salad.
Grilled King George whiting with a panzanella salad. Jim Rice

It has been a good innings from Rubis, even if he admits he hasn’t always been on his game at spotting visiting celebrities, a regular fixture on the wharf and in his restaurant. Rubis recalls bumping into Jon Bon Jovi in the Manta toilets.

“One day there was all this talk about Elton John being in town, there were a heap of people on the wharf and I said to one of the staff that he must be at Otto. ‘No, I’m here,’ Elton said, looking up from one of the tables.”

The director of the new venue owner Sydney Restaurant Group, Daniel Drakopoulos, says the group will keep the name when they take over next month.

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“There’ll still be seafood, any change will be incremental … we’ll introduce some cool new snacks, and we’ll make it a bit more fun,” Drakopoulos says. A 2025 renovation is also part of the plans.

Rubis is happy to leave Manta in the hands of good operators. “There are a zillion new restaurants opening, and it’s getting harder as a single operator. It’s easier if you have [a few venues].”

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Scott BollesScott Bolles writes the weekly Short Black column in Good Food.

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