7 Market Pl Manly, NSW 2095
|Opening hours||Mon 6pm–12am ; Tue-Fri 4pm–12am ; Sat 12pm–12am ; Sun 12–10pm|
|Features||Licensed, Bar, Wheelchair access, Vegetarian friendly, Accepts bookings, Gluten-free options|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||02 9977 1887|
Manly's eating and dining scene can be a funny old thing.
New places seem to rapidly come and go among the mix of itinerant tourists and fiercely loyal locals.
Big ventures, such as Manly Pavilion, have fallen flat. Others, such as Hemingway's, have become institutions, and in between there is a whole lot of mediocrity.
If the crowds at the recent rush of new places, such as Merivale meathouse Papi Chulo and trendy bar Donny's, are anything to go by, people have been quick to embrace the latest round of openings, though.
We can't get a seat in the upstairs dining section on a Friday night at Donny's, a laneway bar inspired by co-owner and ex-Merivale bar man Matt Clifton's six-year stint in New York.
Instead, we squeeze onto the end of a tall bar table in this tiny venue that is cleverly split into a bar downstairs and a loft-style dining area and open kitchen upstairs, reached by the narrowest of spiral staircases - a dangerous route for the intoxicated, the high-heeled or the plain clumsy.
The vibe is intimate and buzzy and the fitout is beautiful, with exposed brick, raw wood, hanging plants and copper finishes.
In another life, this would be my dream New York loft apartment.
Dumplings, awkwardly chunky jars (this trend won't die, unfortunately) of wine and cocktails seem to be the most popular choices.
A small wine list is mostly Australian and Kiwi drops over $10 a glass, but an easy-to-drink Cape Mentelle Shiraz ($9) and Casa Lapostolle Sauvignon Blanc from the Rapel Valley ($8) both scrape under.
The cocktails, which are big on house-infused spirits and fruity flavours, are good but not great. The Mandarin Ginger Sidecar (Hennessy VS, mandarin, ginger, lemon, $18) is the runaway favourite. Elegant and strong, it is served in a coupette with a sugary rim. The Fairy Floss Martini (Absolut Vanilla, blueberry, cranberry, topped with Persian fairy floss, $18) and Chilli'n'Coriander Margarita (Olmeca Tezon tequila infused cayenne syrup, lime juice, coriander, chilli salt rim, $17) don't taste as exciting as they seem on paper and the Cuban (dark chocolate, raisin-infused Havana Anejo, espresso, chocolate bitters, $16) uses a shot of fresh espresso but is still overly watery and sugary.
The bar food is also bordering on the unexceptional. The dumplings are fairly flavourless, while the grilled haloumi (with cherry tomato salsa, snow-pea shoots and balsamic reduction, $15) is so salty that you will need another four Fairy Floss martinis to wash it down.
The best choices are in the "a little more pekkish" category - a handful of more inspiring, bigger dishes similar to those on the restaurant menu. They include garlic prawns with chorizo ($22) or roasted scallops with beetroot puree, toasted pistachio, cherry tomato, asparagus and lime aioli ($20).
The menu has an Asian bent that is also reflected in the bar's name. Donny is not Clifton's father but, rather, a fictional character from one of Matt Clifton's favourite ancient Asian stories. Donny embodied the "perfect environment for a social gathering" and has been given a modern, western makeover in Clifton's bar.
The bar might have a way to go yet, but the pumping crowds seem to agree with Donny.
You'll love it if … you're looking for a boisterous new small bar in Manly.
You'll hate it if … drinks in jam jars drive you mad.
Go for … Mandarin Ginger Sidecar, roasted scallops.