Since moving to Sydney 18 months ago, I’ve noticed that many Sydney-siders seem to construct part of their personal identity around their area of residence (way to generalise right?!). You are a Northern Beaches person, or a North Shore resident, or maybe you’re an Inner Westie, or a Shire guy. I’ve met people who never venture out of their comfort zone – Northern Beaches teenagers who never venture across the Harbour Bridge, or Inner Westies who never venture outside of a 10km radius of Newtown.
I’ve fallen into this trap myself. Living and working on the North Shore, I’ve built a life where I shop and socialise close to home. I only cross the bridge when I’m meeting Westie friends in the city for a meal, before scuttering back to my comfort zone. I rarely visit the Northern Beaches, though we have a close friend who lives right in the heart of Manly, almost on the beach itself.
That’s why I was so pleased to have the opportunity to dine as a guest with K at Murray’s Brewery Bar at Manly Beach. Even though I only live half an hour’s drive away, I never think to travel to Manly for a meal!
Murray’s Brewery Bar Manly is the first restaurant in Sydney to be owned and operated by one of Australia’s leading beer brewers, Murray’s Craft Brewing Co. It occupies some pretty prime real estate on North Steyne near the Novotel, directly overlooking the water. The bar has really been designed to take advantage of the location as well, with sliding doors/windows that open up to the boulevard, and ample balcony seating for those who want to kick back with a beer and stare out to sea.
I actually thought that Manly was a really interesting place for a brewery to decide to open a restaurant (why not the ‘hipper’ inner city suburbs?) and I asked Ashley, the manager of the bar about their decision to move into this area. She admitted that while the Manly market was very hard to tap into, it made a lot of sense. While takeaway joints are dime a dozen in the area, there’s only half a dozen places that can provide a higher quality and more sophisticated dining experience.
The Murray’s group are aiming to turn their Manly outpost into one of those more sophisticated offerings, tempting locals with unique, but accessible food and a menu that was regularly updated. Business is going well too – even on the Wednesday that we dined, half the restaurant was consistently full with a slightly older professional crowd, and younger casual drinkers kept the barman busy at all times.
Full disclaimer here – I’m not usually a beer person! While I enjoy a tipple as much as the next person, my fatal downfall is my insatiable sweet tooth. When I go out I tend to order ciders, sweet white wines, or something else with a bit of sweet tang – e.g. a vodka orange. Beers don’t often make it onto my preferred drink list, unless I am travelling in Asia and having a light refreshing beer with a spicy meal.
In the interest of trying something new though, we tried three beers between us – Whale Ale, Rude Boy Pilsner and an Angry Man Pale Ale. All three beers were quite refreshing and tasty in their own way – though with my tricky sweet palate, I stuck with the Whale Ale for the rest of our meal as it was lighter in body and taste, and had slightly fruitier undertones than the other two. K loved the other two beers though, and polished them off pretty quickly!
Murray’s is quite unique in that it really tries to create a quintessentially Australian experience by combining great craft beers with a more sophisticated menu. While you still have your standard fish and chips and meat pie on the menu, at Murray’s, it’s a Whale Ale Beer Battered Fish and Chips with Pea and Mint Puree, and a Porter Pie with Homemade Gravy and Kale.
Murray’s management arranged for us to try three main courses and two desserts, so that we got to sample a few of their specialities!
Marinated spatchcock with mint and parsley slaw and toasted pistachios
We ordered this dish (special of the day) on special recommendation from both our hostess and the manager, who proclaimed it her favourite dish on the whole menu. I was delighted by it! The spatchcock had been marinated for five hours, and had a slightly satay-like flavour to it – smokey and with a real bite. The coleslaw was the winner though – it had a Thai/Vietnamese fish sauce dressing instead of the traditional mayonnaise and the pistachios really gave it a satisfying crunch and flavour.
Porter Pie with homemade gravy and kale
We were informed that head chef Ryan Smith was a passionate supporter of the Porter Pie. While most head chefs tend to do a lot of ordering and instructing in the kitchen, the manager informed us that he personally came into the kitchen every morning to make each pie to his own particular standard.
The kale was a nice touch as well. While I’ve never cooked with kale before, I understand that it can be really difficult to cook well. This was beautiful though – buttery and undoubtedly artery-clogging, but soft and a nice introduction to eating kale for someone who’s not really tried it before.
The pie filling was stunning. The meat chunks were soft, well-cooked, and pretty much dissolved as soon as it entered your mouth. The sauce was more subtle than I expected, and wasn’t as in-you-face-porter as I had imagined it would be. Absolutely perfectly cooked, and the whole chunks of vegetable inside were a nice touch.
Salmon Salad with Grapefruit, Coconut and Soft Herbs
Since our return from our December holiday, I’ve really been craving the super fresh salads that we ate almost every day in Vietnam where the ingredients are purchased directly from the market on the very day that you expect to eat it. This salmon salad was a nice reminder to those kinds of salads, but with more advanced technique in the way that the salmon was seared in a caramelised chilli sauce. The coconut was unexpected, but gave a nice crunchy texture that was missing in some of the other components of the salad.
Creme Brulee and Trio of Sorbets with Honey Wafer
K remarked when the creme brulee was placed in front of us – “Oh, is that it? I thought it would look fancier”. His assumptions wouldn’t be untrue in many other restaurants – desserts are generally plated up with real artistry. A creme caramel might be accompanied with a raspberry coulis, an almond wafer and other decorations. But that kind of food porn tends to distract you from really enjoying the flavours of the key component of the dish because your eyes are too busy trying to take in the little artistic details.
This creme brulee on the other hand was a no-nonsense, unpretentious, good ole creme brulee. Super smooth and creamy with a tinge of the in-house grand cru ale, the top was beautifully caramelised and gave a satisfying crack when I broke it with my spoon. The sorbets were particularly refreshing as well, and cleansed the palette beautifully after eating the richer creme brulee.
On a slightly random note, I really enjoyed was the consideration of their clientele’s waistlines! When you order a pie at most pubs, it will arrive with a large serving of chips and a tiny mouthful of salad – if you’re lucky. Murray’s menu on the other hand, has a large vegetable element to each of its dishes and I really fell in love with the generous helping of coleslaw with the spatchcock.
Is Manly too far for you to travel? Never fear, Ashley told me that the Murray’s group are considering opening a second restaurant in the city over the next two years. The restaurant will feature food with more of an Asian influence, with thanks to the culinary skills of one of their new recruits, a chef of Thai heritage who has just finished training. Keep an eye out for that restaurant – I think it’s going to be a winner!
Overall I rate Murray’s Brewery Restaurant and Bar a 9 out of 10.
Note: I dined at Murray’s Brewery Restaurant and Bar as a guest for review purposes. My experience was free of charge, however all words and opinions are my own.