Once synonymous with backpackers, ferry rides and the type of seaside fare stuck in an '80s time warp, Manly has suddenly come over all hip and heady. From Merivale's South American-inspired wharf cantina to the profusion of small bars and diners that have mushroomed overnight, Manly is fast shedding its 'insular peninsula' image to become Sydney’s hang-out du jour.
Donny’s Bar is the latest addition to the growing culinary set, but chalk it off as just another small bar riding the northern beaches foodie wave and you’d be doing this quiet achiever a huge injustice.
Tucked away on a sliver of Market Lane one of the few places where you can rub shoulders with a real Manly-ite Donny’s works industrial warehouse chic to the full: think exposed brick walls, glass bottle light fittings and a bar clad with reclaimed train sleepers. A Manhattan loft-style venue, this is the type of place where you can start with drinks and a boogie on the ground floor, then make your way up to fine dining nirvana on the upper level.
Pull up a stool at the copper swathe of a bar and ask the bartender to surprise you. And he or she certainly will. Cocktails are divided into classics and more adventurous signatures don’t miss the Bonsai ($18), a refreshing gin and lime-mint slurp of summer in a jar. If you thought the drinks were good, wait till you try the food.
Chef Richi Dia, born in Japan and raised in the US, is at the pulse point of fusion cuisine and the menu, whether it’s the tapas bites or more substantial dishes, bears the hallmarks of his style: uber-fresh ingredients and impeccable presentation. Start with the roasted scallops ($22). Gently seared, the scallops arrive with dollops of earthy beetroot puree, tender asparagus and a sprinkling of crushed pistachios a textural burst in every fresh bite. There are plump prawns and chorizo ($22) too, the hint of chilli appearing on the palate only as an aftertaste adds a kick to the smokey chorizo and juicy prawn.
Think you’ve had crispy salmon? You haven’t till you’ve tried Donny’s delectable Tasmanian salmon ($32). If the ingenious sesame and prosciutto crumb combination (like a nutty, healthier take on bacon bits) or the medley of garden-fresh asparagus and jewel-bright baby carrots don’t have you swooning, the perfectly cooked salmon coral pink and melting on the fork certainly will.
Served with a zesty basil sauce, this is a dish that will have you dreaming of summers by the beach with a glass of chilled white in your hand. For carnivores, try Donny’s interpretation of the surf 'n' turf: roasted rosemary chicken served with moreish garlic king prawns ($27).
On the weekend a band gets the crowd grooving on the makeshift dance floor whilst in the loft, Manly-ites are quietly laughing at their good fortune. This is definitely one local secret they won’t be in a hurry to divulge.