With a name that nods to the classic 80s action flick The Karate Kid, Manly's bustling Daniel San is a world away from the quiet contemplation of a traditional dojo. Instead, this beachside "chow down bar" is a noisy, neon-drenched mega-restaurant with a massive room full of rock and roll pinball machines out the back. Think of it as a room for young flowers, not old prunes.
Fitting its seaside locale, it's an informal spot where you can drop in for cocktails which include a refreshing Daniel San Bellini ($15), made for summer with blood peach, Calpis and sparkling wine. The Miyagi Mai Tai ($18) is another popular choice, offering a nice tropical kick, topped with mint leaves a mini umbrella. There's also a sake list which ranges from the fragrant Nambubijin Tokubetsu Junmai ($7) to Choya Plum Wine ($9), which has a nice thickness and dessert wine style sweetness.
Executive chef Ben Orpwood (ex Toko) has learnt from many masters and has crafted a menu which emphasises the clean favours of contemporary Japanese, taking in a raw bar, steamed buns and yakitori hot off the robata grill. You can't go wrong with oysters with yuzu vinaigrette (half dozen, $21), while the soft and fresh chicken hearts yakitori ($8), though maybe not for the squeamish, comes highly recommended.
Much of the fare is casual and commendably light, like the twist on the rustic Italian classic caprese salad in the form of the colourful Japrese salad ($14), which subs out the mozzarella for moist discs of marinated tofu.
While the focus is on modern Japanese, they can still do the traditional stuff, like sashimi (six pieces, $16-18.5) which lives and dies on its freshness. These generous sized pieces pass that test with flying colours. It's also available in a massive boat ($55), perfect for a group to share. Other mains include a grilled Angus steak ($26), cooked perfectly to medium rare and given a dash of heat with mustard, miso and radish.
They've saved the best for last though with a scrumptious milk and white chocolate tofu dessert prettily studded with microherbs ($14). Even better is a crazily good yuzu marshmallow bomb ($14). The more dishes around Sydney that use the citric kick of yuzu the better, and this is a particularly good example, a kind of twist on the bombe Alaska with spiky meringue and a bed of yuzu sauce.
Despite some early reports of slow service, it's now a slick operation and they get bonus points for pumping the likes of David Bowie and Iggy Pop on the stereo rather than the bland background music way too many Sydney restaurants favour.
As the wise Mr. Miyagi once observed, balance is all important. It's a lesson that applies not just in karate, but in life - balance bad, might as well pack up, go home. Thankfully, Daniel San gets the balance between exuberant fun and serious cooking just right.