55 North Steyne Manly, New South Wales 2095
|Opening hours||Daily noon-late|
|Features||Licensed, Bar, Accepts bookings, Views, Outdoor seating, Gluten-free options|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||02 9977 6963|
|Free wine for Citibank cardholders here|
If Mr Miyagi wandered out of Hollywood's 1984 cult movie The Karate Kid and into Manly, here's where he would be found, snacking on a Californication roll and playing pinball while waiting for the waves to roll in.
The latest venture from bar baron, Fraser Short (Morrison Bar and Oyster Room, Watson's Bay Hotel), Daniel San – named for the karate kid himself - runs the length of the Novotel Sydney Manly Pacific Hotel overlooking the surf, with a further rooftop function area called Dojo to come. And with its all-over-the-shop homage to Californian surf culture, Ginza-inspired neon, rock'n'roll and beach-shack chow-downs, it's a hoot. Throw in a wall hung with plastic bags filled with plastic goldfish, blasting '80s rock (INXS, David Bowie, Queen, Dexy's Midnight Runners), the odd strategically placed drum kit and a mix of bench, booth and table seating for 350 beach bunnies, and it's the Hard Rock Izakaya Manly had to have.
Benjamin Orpwood, former head chef of Toko in Surry Hills, wrangles his menu into raw bar, salads, steamed buns, share plates, robata skewers, rock'n (sushi) rolls, with a separate list for kids. Big groups go straight to the deluxe sashimi and sushi boat ($65), a feast of raw fish and maki rolls arranged on a miniature wooden dinghy. In fact, it's probably best to come in a group, as couples have to suffer continual separations as one goes to queue to order food and wine at the bar while the other holds the table.
This sort of enforced casualness is not, in fact, very relaxing, as you're either always on the go, or keeping an eye out for your food delivery, which can swing past three times before it finds you.
But the food turns out to be good drinking fodder, sort of pub-Japanese with some good ideas, a clear highlight being anything off the robata grill. Tar-tacos ($14), two spicy, jewel-like mounds of tuna and salmon tartare, come with a pile of crunchy deep-fried gyoza wrappers. A sashimi salad of thickish slices of raw salmon and tuna has nicely dressed leaves and slivers of red cabbage. The "Californication" inside-out roll of shreddy crab and avocado ($12.50) is simpler than your standard Californian roll, but tastes fresh and clean.
Of course, there's a "porkie" a steamed bun (flabby) of glazed pork belly (dry) with spicy cashew sauce ($5), and chicken karaage ($14.50), which appears to be lightly battered spiced white and dark meat pressed together, with tangy wasabi mayo to liven things up a bit.
The beachside barbecue charms of the robata grill win the day. Three little skewers of halved, glazed chicken hearts ($8) are good and livery. The best yakitori is, as always, chicken thigh ($9.50), the strips of meat concertina'd on to skewers, glazed and grilled until scorchy. A fuller wine and sake list is on the way, and it's hard to get excited about the short list of middle-ground players. Japan's Okinawan Orion lager ($13) is winner though, serving up yeasty, grassy refreshment; and a Kapuka Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough ($9/$42) is easy-going and citrus-crisp. The soft-serve machine for the green tea ice-cream is on the blink, so dessert is given a miss.
We're getting some pretty fine variations on the modern Japanese theme at the moment, from the very-now Cho Cho San to the elegant Sepia Bar and the street-smart Chaco Bar. This is more your beach bar, bistro, pub, izakaya diner slashie with a fun, short-attention-span fitout, but it, too, is ready for its day in the sun.
Best bit: Water views by day.
Worst bit: Neon lighting makes everyone pink.
Go-to dish: Yakitori chicken thigh robata skewers $9.50.
Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide. This rating is based on the Good Food Guide scoring system.