It’s no secret I dine out often, and seek to try new places whenever possible. But I still have my favourites; places that blow me away that I go back to time and time again… and then when I find a new gem – I become obsessed hard and fast. Manuka Woodfire Kitchen has just entered that list.
I first learned about Manuka when I was at Truffle Kerfuffle last June, watching owner and head chef Kenny McHardy in a cooking demonstration only weeks before the restaurant officially opened its doors. With my immense love of woodfire ovens and cooking style, I made a mental note to visit the Fremantle destination. I’m hating myself for taking so damn long to get there!
Kenny’s resume is impressive, having worked in the kitchens of Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Wareing in London, Melbourne’s Walters Wine Bar and more locally at Cocos, The Red Herring, The Garden and Due South. Now he and his wife Jody are at the helm of Manuka, bringing warm hospitality, big smiles and a generous spirit. They’re the kind of people you feel like are old friends even when you’re meeting them for the first time.
With Taste of Perth running on 29 April to 1 May this year at Langley Park, and Manuka being a newcomer to the star studded restaurant lineup, it was the perfect opportunity to head down there with my boy Jeremy for dinner one night.
The space is warm and intimate, the staff upbeat and providing great banter throughout the course of the evening.
I really enjoy meals where you just leave the meal in the hands of the chef. You get to try some things that you might not normally order offering you variety and a sense of mystery. That’s exactly what we decided to do on that evening, with our only real choice picking a drink each to kick off the meal.
For me, I selected the Swings & Roundabouts sparkling cocktail which also had chambord and strawberries ($17.00). Light, fizzy and delicately sweet it hit the spot and provided a cheeky mid week tipple. Jeremy opted for the negroni ($16.00) which was Hippocampus gin with campari, cinzano and orange. I really liked that the alcohol list here was full of Western Australian options – they’ve purposely supported local businesses which is something I definitely appreciate.
As the drinks came out we also were treated to a round of roasted olives ($7.00). I’m actually not a huge olive fan, but the small black ones in the batch were easy to eat!
I’ll say this up front – I really loved my entire meal at Manuka. But above all else, it was the flat bread with Cooladerra Farm olive oil ($9.00), baked fresh to order that left us both completely blown away. Kenny told us some liken it to a savoury doughnut and I can see why! Super fluffy inside, flavoured with spices like cumin seed, fennel seed and cinnamon, and of course a generous lick of salt all over.
The loaf was steaming hot, and the plush centre soaked up the pool of olive oil like they were long lost friends embracing. I honestly could eat this over and over again – and never tire. Amazing. That’s all I can say.
The blackened carrots and baby marrow with goats cheese, hazelnuts and a date and coffee puree was a stunning vegetarian dish. Texturally they were still slightly crunchy and had a little smokiness. The puree was excellent, sweet and sticky to coat the other ingredients – and offset by the creaminess of the cheese.
This is the kind of dish that makes you really appreciate vegetables, and I found myself going back in over and over again for more. We basically licked the plate clean!
The wood roasted chicken pieces with miso sauce and red cabbage ($21.00) was a flavour bomb. I always worry that chicken breast will dry out but this was super juicy and the miso was umami smacking good. This is a dish that Manuka will be selling at Taste of Perth, so I definitely encourage you to try it there or at the restaurant itself.
Loving seafood as much as I do, the Shark Bay king prawns with hot sauce and celeriac remoulade ($24.00) was right up my alley. Heads still attached, flesh just cooked through and a hot sauce that made my lips burn on impact.
This is the kind of dish begging for you to attack the meat with your hands, tearing at the shell and sucking at the head to gobble up every inch of deliciousness.
Though we were feeling might full by that stage, we decided we had room for one more dish. But what a super-sized dish! The 13 hour slow braised lamb shoulder with roasted celeriac ($36.00) is hearty and generous, with meat that’s falling apart and coated in a thick gravy. The roasted celeriac was conveniently pre sliced and had a slight parmesan crust between each layer offering seasoning and flavour.
A wonderful way to finish our meal at Manuka – and send me over the edge in terms of being oh so full!
I’m really looking forward to Taste of Perth this weekend on 29 April and especially excited about the new addition for this year – Electrolux Chefs’ Secrets. People can participate in cooking classes with the likes of Hadleigh Troy (Restaurant Amusé), Scott Bridger (Bib & Tucker), Joel Valvasori (Lalla Rookh), Robert Murphy (Bistro Guillaume), as well as Sydney’s hottest chef, Nelly Robinson (nel.). I love picking the brains of seasoned professionals like this, so I’m definitely going to be taking notes and hoping to translate some of those tips into skills for at home.
See you guys at Taste of Perth!