Review: The Bistro at Manly Pavilion skews Italian with new chef

Manly Pavilion holds a special place in the Northern Beaches.

There are of course many time-tested institutions in the area, but few can boast the same sparkling, impressively serene location of this venue. Perched on the water’s edge, in a restored heritage building, it’s rightfully a top choice for long-lunches, evening cocktails, and more relaxed dinners.

Perhaps most importantly, Manly Pavilion is as isolated as you can get while being this close to the wharf. You have to walk all the way to one side of the West Esplanade to even find the stairs leading up to Manly Pavilion’s resident restaurant, The Bistro.

It’s the equivalent of being on a backstreet in the CBD – unassuming, and yet hiding a tremendous amount of flair.

Aside from the awkward entrance – which is always roped off in such a linear fashion that it feels like a gaudy socialites club – The Bistro is unremarkable in its design. There’s no character, but it doesn’t necessarily need one.

The spacious terrace overlooks the harbour in the most spectacular fashion. It’s different from city-to-harbour views because the view is framed by those low cliff faces. This is the kind of inspired vista you can offer when you’ve been part of Manly’s Federation Point for close to 90 years.

During the day, hungry yachts and keen paddleboarders take up the view. If you could see all the way below you, that would include Manly’s small popular of even smaller penguins. At night, the terrace is typically empty and the doors are shut. You’ve still got that nice perspective, but the harbour feels further away. Fortunately for The Bistro, the food and wine are good enough to make up for it.

This is largely in part to new chef Manuel Bellanti, who has recently joined the kitchen following a short stint at Seta in the CBD. The chef, born in Sansepolcro just outside of Florence, takes the Mediterranean style of the restaurant and runs with it.

He joined The Bistro just before the COVID-19 pandemic kicked off, and it’s obvious he’s trying to make up 2020 with bold choices. He makes a statement.

That statement is perhaps best seen in the char-grilled octopus with capsicum puree, caper powder, and baby herbs. It’s a risk from Bellanti, but he does pull of something likeable, if not divisive.

Personally, I will without fail order the octopus if I see it on the menu, regardless of any odd sound flavour combinations. This is an odd sounding flavour combination.

The results are complicated. If you order octopus, you expect octopus. This is more like a really nice, incredibly tender sausage. There’s no balance in texture, as you’d expect from the notoriously hard-to-cook sea creature. But for what it is, it’s one of the best dishes of the night.

Forget the spinach and taleggio arancini. Served with aioli, the flavours are muted and the usually creamy taleggio is largely tasteless. Instead, the fresh and vibrant flavours of the beetroot salad make a more likeable starter. The easy mix of sorrel, caramelised goat’s cheese, and a light orange dressing speak strongly for simplicity.

Bellanti is clearly at his best when he’s stringing up pasta dishes. This much is evident in the saffron malloreddus, gloriously chewy and perfectly soaked with the briny flavours of a seafood medley – prawns, calamari, octopus, mussels and salmon. The tomato, garlic and white wine sauce smartly plays in the background for this generous mix of seafood.

If meat is more your style, the crispy crumbed veal cutlet with a simple rocket and parmesan salad won’t go astray. Well-cooked, the veal is tender and a nice contrast to the pasta, especially if you’ve got a side of truffle mashed potato to fill the table.

As for what to pair with it. The Bistro isn’t too generous when it comes to wines by-the-glass. Most of what you’d want to try on the wine list requires you to commit to a bottle. But there are some good choices here, mostly tipping towards Australian producers. If money is no issue, the D’Arenberg Dead Arm Shiraz 2017 should go down well, or there’s always the Henschke Mr Edelstone Shiraz 2015 if you’re occasion is particularly special. If you’ve gone hard on the seafood, a bottle of Pierro Chardonnay 2019 would be a wise choice.

Manly has always struggled when it comes to offering a truly destination dining experience. A few neighbours – Pocket Pizza, Chica Bonita, 4 Pines, and Manly Thai Gourmet in particular – hold court fine when it comes to casual eats. But for something a bit more up-market, the food almost always comes second to the views. That’s still the case at The Bistro; it’s not a memorable meal, but it’s good enough to deserve such an envied location.

Do order: Saffron Malloreddus with seafood medley.
Don’t order: Spinach and taleggio arancini.

THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

West Esplanade, Manly NSW 2095 | (02) 9949 2255

Chris Singh

Chris Singh is the Deputy Editor of the AU review and a freelance travel writer. You can reach him on Instagram by following @chrisdsingh.

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