19 Whistler Street Manly, New South Wales 2095
|Opening hours||Mon-Sat 7am-4pm; Sun 8am-4pm|
|Phone||02 9976 5000|
Showbox Coffee Brewers is full of surprises. To start, it's at Manly but not next to the ocean. Then there's the warehouse-meets-diner interior, all polished concrete, steel tubing, raw brick and red and cream Laminex tables. And the all-day menu runs with the popular surge towards wholefoods and ''ancient grains'', yet feels original and not easily categorised.
Opened in mid-February by Bo Hinzack - previously behind Mosman's The Penny Royal - with chef Alexandra Rispoli at the stove, the idea was to ''avoid normal'', Hinzack says, which is why there are no bacon and eggs to be found (to the consternation of some customers). Hinzack likes the community of Manly and felt there was potential in the area to open ''something fresh''.
A menu focused on health and freshness isn't unusual in beach suburbs but it's so often limited to the tired juices-salads-smoothies routine. Rispoli, formerly behind Neutral Bay's Cucciolo Pasticceria, has developed a menu that's wholesome, colourful and pulls inspiration from Vietnam to the Middle East and Hawaii. This is why you might find yourself eating a doner kebab for breakfast.
''The word kebab's a dirty word for most people, but we wanted to change that, to make it the best kebab you've had, and something you'd eat at 10am, not 3am,'' Hinzack says.
The doner kebab arrives wrapped in foil, looking just like that 3am special. Yet it opens to reveal roti-like bread wrapped around soft, falling-apart, slow-cooked beef, blackened, sticky eggplant, pumpkin puree, and pearl barley, with a hit of chilli from home-made hot sauce and cooling yoghurt and cucumber. It's a perfect example of a cleverly poshed-up version of an everyday dish.
Meanwhile an earthy, dark, paper-thin buckwheat crepe is served piled high with sweet-salty-spicy Vietnamese flavours: a tangle of green apple and mint slaw piled over delicate snow crab meat, with savoury fish sauce and chopped fresh chilli, and crushed peanuts adding all-important crunch.
A Hawaiian dish of chopped raw fish known as poke makes an appearance with a bowl of black, nutty wild rice, topped generously with glossy cubes of salmon sashimi. The rice is studded with tiny fresh soy beans and carrot, chilli and coriander, adding contrast and texture, crowned by a soft-yolked egg ready to be sliced open and stirred through, and sharp pickled Japanese-style ginger.
Only the carrot and coconut discs are a slight disappointment. Marked as gluten-free and likely to appeal to those generally forced to avoid pancakes, they're a stack of dense little pikelets of shredded coconut and carrot. They're beautifully presented with labna, crystallised honey, tiny puffed buckwheat grains and cinnamon-dusted walnuts, but are doughy and heavy. Next time we'd go for the gluten-full French crumpets with prosciutto, chilli and maple syrup. Superfood fans will go for the ancient grain and seed loaf with almond butter and agave paired with the mudhoney smoothie: raw cacao and almond milk blended with banana, cinnamon, yoghurt and honey.
And as the name suggests, there's also a significant effort with coffee, with Mecca's Dark Horse blend used for white coffee, Reuben Hills' house blend for black, and an ever-changing list of smaller roasters for filter, from Byron Bay's Marvell Street to Melbourne's Seven Seeds. A macchiato has a beautiful crema and a long, soft finish.
The name, by the way, can be attributed to circa late-1930s Seattle theatre that showcased a diverse range of music - from punk to Aretha Franklin - and attracted a loyal community. Swap the music for coffee and drop it in Manly in 2014 and you've got the idea of what Showbox is aiming for. Lucky Manly.
The picks ... Poke; doner kebab.
The coffee ... Reuben Hills and Mecca for espresso; a rotating list of small roasters for filter.
The look ... Industrial meets filter.
The service ... relaxed but informative.