No matter what your personal opinions are about the colossal empire of restaurants, bars, eateries and establishments that is Merivale, you cannot deny that Justin Hemmes and his posse know the secrets to success. Papi Chulo, the latest offering from this expert team, is no exception to this fact. It looks great, the service is prompt and professional, and the food, well, it's delicious. Tickety tick tick tick.
Located right next to the ferry dock in Manly, this stylish, self-proclaimed smokehouse and grill packs a fabulously relaxed punch to the senses the moment you step inside. Up the entrance ramp, you're drawn to the chunky, polished curving central bar stocked to the brim and hugged by cane stools, all atop a floor that shifts from teal and white chequered tile to polished charcoal timber. You might be inclined to think they've just taken a whole bunch of much-loved design elements and thrown them together, but like the combination of flavours behind the Deep South/South American menu, it works.
Said menu, designed by chefs Christopher Hogarth (El Loco) and Patrick Friesen (Ms G's) and overseen by executive chef Dan Hong, is all about meat. Of course, there are vegetarian options, but if you're heading to Papi's you need to leave the leaf-eaters at home, throw on the provided bib and tuck in.
But before you chomp into the wood-smoked, spice-rubbed selection ranging from pork ribs (the best) to Waygu brisket and black pepper pork belly (a little on the jelly side if you prefer your pork belly with crispy fat), there are two musts on the small plates selection. One: the pea guacamole, because fresh guacamole is undoubtedly a foodstuff sent from on high, and two: the raclette empanadas (I don't think cheese and deep fried pastry needs much explanation). And, surprisingly, the tomato jam that accompanies is a winner.
Drinks-wise, you've got a full wine list catering to pretty much any palate likely to pop in, and as you'd expect, there are plenty of cocktails. The Mami Chula might be "one for the ladies", but it's basically a fresh watermelon blend of Espolon Blanco Tequila, Midori, lemon juice and agave syrup. It's a delight, especially on a nice day, regardless of gender. If you're a touch on the insecure side, be warned, it's pink.
With a motto of breaking the rules, Papi Chulo certainly manages to blend its varied influences almost seamlessly, but, with such a reputation, it would be odd if this wasn't the case. However, as the first Merivale venture to hit the shores of Manly, this is definitely a flagship store for this side of the water.