So much more than a name. Here’s why Papi Chulo is worth all the fuss.
When Merivale announced they were opening up digs in Manly, there was a to-be-expected media frenzy. Everyone wanted to know the look, the inspiration, the menu, the drinks, how to get home if they didn’t actually live in Manly (hint: the ferry).
Perhaps they should have been asking what Papi Chulo meant. It might have given them a few clues over what to expect.
Take the ferry to Manly and see what Papi Chulo’s all about.
The vibe: Breezy beachside fine dining.
Cuisine: Deep South BBQ and South American
Ideal for: Dates, dinner with friends, sitting at the bar with a cocktail and a snack
Bartender’s choice: Terramoto ($16)
Try the...Balmain Bugs off the woodfire grill, served with kombu butter ($39)
By the way...They don’t take bookings for less than eight people for dinner, so rock up, put your name on the list, and pop next door to Wharf Bar for a drink.
Most of the definitions of Papi Chulo are too risque to print, but it’s along the lines of a Mexican sugar daddy. Originally the space was going to be a little more sleezetastic, a little more down and dirty, but you know what they say about the best laid plans.
They changed courses and went for a classically beautiful look. These days windows are thrown open, natural light bounces off mirrors, and there’s a certain tactile quality in the woods, stones, and brass finishings. It was definitely the smarter move. It’s got more staying power in an area that’s only getting stronger in the eating and drinking scene.
Many have been quick to pick up on the Deep South highlights of the menu – the smokey BBQ ribs, the smoked wagyu brisket – while overlooking the South American touch. It’s not to be missed. There’s the empanadas with tomato jam, the pulled kurobuta pork in a soft bun with pit beans, jalapeno, and nacho cheese, and – in the summer – a fresh and spicy ceviche scooped up with corn chips.
That being said, you might have noticed something of a theme running here. “BBQ is the cornerstone of the menu,” says Head Chef Christopher Hogarth. “Justin [Hemmes, CEO of the Merivale Group] wanted a rustic American feel.” Many of the dishes are cooked over the wood fire. “Seafood is the best thing to cook over it,” he tells me.
Sharing is the way to approach this menu. Start with a few of snacky small plates, and move on to something from the grill or rotisserie. Just don’t forget the curly fries. They may ‘just’ be fries, but there’s something special about them. Trust me.
It isn’t just the food that’s heavily influenced by American culture. “Whenever you go to a restaurant [in the USA] you get offered water or iced tea,” says bar manager Oliver Fereday. This is something they’ve recreated here; sit down and you’ll be offered your choice of iced English Breakfast and lemon, or Early Grey and peppermint (sweetened or unsweetened, depending on your tooth). Anyone keen for the harder stuff can order up a Hong Island Ice Tea – a Bourbon twist on the classic and named after Executive Chef Dan Hong.
The rest of the cocktail list will make you wish you had a day to work through each and every one. The Cravado is a definite crowd pleaser, and for good reason: the combination of Brazilian Cachaca coconut water, lychees, lime and mint is said to be the elusive hangover cure (according to this writer, not scientists).
At the more serious end of the menu is the El Jefe, which is a short and seductive combination of Olmeca Altos tequila, Mr Black Coffee Liqueur, and cold drip coffee. As for Oliver’s personal favourite, it’s the Terramoto. “The flavour combination seems to be one of the best balances,” he says, referring to the mix of pineapple lime sorbet (made in-house), prisoc, lemon juice and white wine.
For all you non-cocktail drinkers, there’s tequila. Lashings and lashings of tequila.
An entire shelf of the (fairly extensive) bar is dedicated to tequila, in fact. If the last time you tried this spirit was a cheap shot in university followed by a hugging of a toilet bowl, then it might be time to pay this drink another visit. It’s as complex and versatile as any other spirit; just let the good people behind the bar guide you through.
Particularly brave souls can go for the triple threat: a shot of tequila before, during, and after your meal, with different chasers for the different stages. You’ll throw back a sangrita (spicy citrus and tomato), an ingles (fresh mint, coriander, cucumber and shallots) and a pickleback (a blend of two house made pickle juice: dill cucumber and green tomato) before the end.
Go on. Are you up for it?
Address: 22–23 Manly Wharf, Manly
Opening hours: Monday to Friday lunch (12pm–3pm) and dinner (5:30pm–10:30pm); Saturday 11:30am–10:30pm; Sunday 11:30am–9pm
Phone number: (02) 9240 3000