Mix work with pleasure: The industrial space celebrates all things Mangan. Photo: Steven Siewert
Australia's productivity would reach dangerously low levels if all offices were as hip as this. Inspired by the buzzy, converted warehouses of New York, celebrity chef Luke Mangan has rolled his head office, product and retail space, tasting kitchen and new wine bar into one open-plan party nestled between the galleries, garages and industrial warehouses of Waterloo's Danks Street.
Think of those poor sods whose desks now sit just metres away from devilled snow crab on garlic toast and Ata Rangi Crimson pinot noir. How will they get anything done?
Considering this warehouse would have begun life as an empty, grey, concrete box, Mangan's crew have done an impressive job transforming it in an intimate and interesting way to house the heart of the chef's business.
There are jolts of colour and graffiti, and a cohesive mix of textures and spaces. A rough concrete floor and a sleek, black-tiled open kitchen sit beside a shipping container-turned-coolroom and piles of wooden crates holding mineral water, oils, vinegars, mustards, relishes, spices and cakes to be sent around the world.
So New York.
Most importantly, however, it is warm.
A concrete warehouse can be as hip as it wants, but if it's not cosy in winter, you won't see me in there.
Thankfully, industrial-strength heaters radiate over the long, black bar.
Lunchtime seems the busiest period, when Danks Street is abuzz with cafe-goers, delivery men and corporates on their lunch break.
Mojo riffs on the corporate lunch vibe with a smart menu of wines and simple, fresh tapas plates that come out at lightning pace to be enjoyed while you perch at the bar or the handful of tall tables.
Not surprisingly, Mangan's own wines feature heavily on the moderate-size list. In fact, it sometimes feels as though you're worshipping at the altar of Mangan here. Crates of goods piled up behind the bar list the astonishing variety of Mangan restaurants they're bound for - destinations such as Surfers Paradise, Singapore, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Jakarta, P&O Cruises shops, etc - and every second thing has his name on it. Hell, there's even a Luke Mangan car parked out the front.
But if you can see past Mangan mania for a second, you'll find some decent wines and delicious snacks - the 2010 Perrin Reserve Cotes du Rhone from the French Rhone Valley ($11) was elegant, rich and the kind of wine you could drink every day. Mangan's own rose´ ($8) and TarraWarra shiraz ($9) from the Yarra Valley were also lovely, but the acidic chardonnay ($9) did little for me.
A menu of snacks, share plates and bright, fresh produce traverses a strange but engaging mix of flavours with Asian-inspired oysters and nam jim alongside Moroccan cauliflower with harissa yoghurt, baked chicken drumettes and tinned chilli sardines with pico de gallo.
The chewy Iggy's bread with beautifully rich sheep's yoghurt labna, dukkah and olive oil ($2.50) was the standout.
Sliders with prawns, pineapple salsa and chipotle aioli were not quite as flavoursome as promised, while the lobster and Vietnamese salad on doughnut-like bao buns were fabulous but cost $19.50 a mini bun.
Nothing is particularly cheap, but head chef Wayne Lee does it all with a simple pizazz. To finish, sidestep the chocolate and jam lamington for simple vanilla ice-cream or salted chocolate almonds.
There's plenty on offer here but, like any good New York warehouse, dig a bit deeper to find the best bits.
YOU'LL LOVE IT IF ... you just want an easy spot for wine and snacks.
YOU'LL HATE IT IF ... celebrity chefs ruin your appetite.
GO FOR ... Perrin Reserve Cotes du Rhone, Iggy's bread with sheep's yoghurt labna, devilled snow crab on garlic toast.
- 02 9002 5346
- Cuisine - Tapas
- Prices - Wine by the glass $7-$18, snacks $2.50-$6, small plates $9-$19.50.
- Features - Business lunch
- Chef(s) - Wayne Lee
- Owners - Luke Mangan
- Opening Hours - Wed-Thu, 4pm-midnight; Fri-Sat, 11am-midnight; Sun, 11am-3pm.
- Author - Rachel Olding