Until recent times Coogee has lay dormant; sandwiched between Bondi's buzz and grungy Maroubra, unable to create an identity of its own. All but a couple of fetid hostels and handful of dodgy takeaway shops existed in the beachside suburb. That's until Merivale kingpin Justin Hemmes snapped up the iconic Coogee Pavilion in 2014.
A casual eatery went in on the ground floor, followed by a rooftop bar, and glimmers of life were seen in the area for the first time in, well, ever. But the middle level remained untouched for six years.
After meticulous planning and a complete redesign, it's now home to Mimi's: Hemmes's most ambitious and perhaps most anticipated project yet. I guess it's only natural to expect great things from a restaurant that took six long years to come to fruition.
No expense has been spared on the fit-out, which is as aesthetically pleasing as the Eastern Suburbs flock that fills it. Think French farmhouse meets Mediterranean retreat, complete with art deco details and 50 shades of linen. It's all 'grammable; even the bathroom.
The open kitchen, led by executive chef Jordan Toft, hums along efficiently. Four long marble benches are flanked by custom Josper grills and ovens at one end, with a service counter at the other. Seasonal produce sits on display, Chez Panisse-style.
On a nice day, the windows all arched and glorious can be opened to allow the ocean air to flood in. The room is calm (and did I mention 'grammable?). In an oasis as peaceful as this, with unflappable service to match, lunch can easily progress into afternoon snacks and a few vintage cocktails, until you're rendered blissfully unaware. Unaware, that is, of the impending bill about to hit the table.
Here's the thing: Sydneysiders are used to dropping serious cash in return for a decent meal. Add a coastal location to the mix, and we expect to pay double. But the prices at Mimi's are eye-watering. Care to kick things off with a "bump" of caviar (wheeled to you on a trolley), and chilled sea urchin, followed by grilled lobster with hand-cut noodles, or suckling piglet? I'd consider liquidating some assets before booking a table.
If Toft's stint at Bert's tells us anything, it's that he favours high-end produce, cooked simply and often over embers. Take, for example, a skewered snack that is barbecued abalone and pancetta. Simple, salty, and $16 each. Ouch.
The heavy price tag would be far easier to swallow if every dish was perfect. Instead, pipis and a scant tangle of too-thin pici arrive floating in an anaemic broth, supposedly flavoured with pancetta and chilli. Neither of which I could confidently discern.
But there is cause for hope. You might find it on the one-per-person list in the form of a squab bun, aka char siu bao's Russian cousin. Made with a yeasted sour-cream dough, the three-bite snack is stuffed with a rich mixture of squab, liver and a good dose of pepper, then meticulously pleated and fried. It's excellent when loaded with sour cream.
Another triumph is the Queensland mud crab, cocooned and baked in a salt crust – a process that involves heating, resting, and heating again until the flesh pulls away from the shell and sets just the right amount. Theatrically unearthed tableside, the meat is sweet and magically seasoned.
A saline Julien Brocard chablis is crab's best friend, and not the only gem to be savoured by the glass. Another is a funky Radikon "Slatnik" from Friuli, a solid match with any of the vegetable-driven dishes. The remainder of the wine list corrals some of the world's best labels and requires deep pockets.
Among the desserts there's a decent mix of fruity, creamy and frozen things, including a super-light yet intense chocolate sabayon tarte with a banana liqueur cream.
There's no doubt Mimi's will bring fresh crowds to Coogee's shore, but with a price point comparable to Quay, the challenge will be keeping them there.