DANIEL SAN is a relatively new (six months) humungous eatery/ sake bar/ pinball parlour/ music joint/ rock house/ Japanese inspired venue in Manly from bar baron, Fraser Short (Morrison Bar and Oyster Room, Watson’s Bay Hotel). It is a pastiche venue paying homage to Japanese culture, rock and roll and surf culture of the 80s. It fills the place of the now defunct Charlie Bar. It is on multiple levels and really does have a slight feel of being on the set of BLADE RUNNER, it just lacked robots and smoke.
I attended the SPECTRUM NOW FESTIVAL a couple of weeks ago and DANIEL SAN had a stall there. I did not get to sample but when asked where I was from and I said Manly, I was then told “well you must have visited DANIEL SAN then.” I hung my head in shame, my level of finances has kept me from regularly eating out and trying everything new but from my answer I knew I had to eat at DANIEL SAN, so booked it in for the following week with good mate Sebby T.
Firstly I was in heaven, there is so much to see, it is so kitsch, retro and it truly does embrace all the elements of rock, Japan and surf cultures and also joyously takes its name from the Karate Kid. It has a slight gallery effect to it and I did spend some time just walking around and enjoying everything to see from the haircut paintings, the giant wall of fake chicken cages, the pinball section (I can see some fun drunken sessions in here) and the tuckshop styled kitchen – imagine WHITE RABBIT GALLERY being a bar. The upstairs was opening later in the afternoon so I did not get to venture up. Sebby and I settled at our front-of-venue, complete beach view table and enjoyed a couple of cocktails, we had CHU HAI – Sippy sippy yum yum – Tanqueray, aloe vera, peach bitters and shiso – a mild delighftully sweet cocktail that went down like soft drink – i.e. too quickly. We realised this was going to be a problem so we switched to sakes – also a problem haha.
I moved to CHOYA PLUM WINE (heavenly) and Seb went to HAKUSHIKA KUROMATSU JUNMAI Sake – this one tasted like paint thinner so we ended up getting more cocktails and pouring it in to them.
Now the food here is ordered differently, it is bar service, with only the two of us, one would have to go to the bar and the other would have to stay at the table. I did not like this at all. It worked for us because we had an early lunch but I cannot imagine this being fun on a busy weekend night, most of the time you are yelling at barpeeps to be heard over music, how do you successfully order 3x HAKUSHIKA KUROMATSU JUNMAI plus multiple food items, why they could not have a separate section to place food orders I do not know. It appears they have a cooking caravan to one side in the tuckshop/ Miss Chu style, surely a register there and someone punching out orders for the kitchen would be better.
I had read a lot of reviews before venturing to DANIEL SAN and the biggest complaint I had read about was the staff, rude, ignorant, too busy to care, but for me the staff was possibly the best part of the visit, the food all did come out quickly and the staff were very friendly, one of them even spoke to me about how she had only started drinking red wine (a huge passion of mine) so we discussed suitable ones for her to enjoy :). She had not really drank any of the sake, but that was fine, I was happy to discover these for myself.
Now, the food; they have a nice selection. Snacks, a raw section (wish I had had the scallop sashimi – Japanese citrus snow, topped with crunchy dried miso), sashimi section, rolls, steamed buns, salads and some decent mains (Ora King Salmon Teriyaki, Sticky Lamb Ribs etc), a wok section and what we decided on – Robata Skewers, different things all skewered.
Overall the skewers were just bland and honestly, boring and not what I would expect from this venue, the hearts were dry with little sauce, nothing like the promo photo for chicken hearts I had seen in The Daily Telegraph article. After eating Hoy Pinoy skewers at Spectrum Now, I know how skewers can taste and none of these matched up. We ordered 1) Chicken Hearts – and an odd thing here – when I ordered the barman literally warned me “you do know they are really chicken hearts?” – well ummm yes I do 2) Broccoli 3) Osawa San’s Japanese Snags 4) Yakatori Thigh and 5) Glazed Pork Belly.
I completely missed the section with the asterix stating that every single one of our dishes came with rice and steamed broccoli – I ate a month’s supply of broccoli and Seb ate a month’s supply of rice (I ordered a bowl of rice as a side for him) – now this would have been more helpful as a reminder than “you do know they are really chicken hearts?”
The Japanese Snags were decent, the broccoli was just broccoli, the Yakatori thigh was just standard chicken skewers and the Glazed Pork Belly would have rocked with a bit of crackling on top but it was my fave. The one thing I just loved was the wasabi sauce with the pork belly, I would have bought a bottle of this to take home if I could, it was like a wasabi cream dipping sauce with nice peppery flavours, we kept it at the table to drown all the broccoli in and to put over Seb’s rice. All up the food came to just under $50-. I expected more, for these skewers I can see them being great for pissed people on Saturday night to soak up alcohol but in no way was it a gourmet lunch to write home about. Now my menu exploration was limited and perhaps this is just the skewers but after this food experience I am dubious of returning for food.
What I would return for is sake, cocktails and a beautiful summer venue playing pinball and catching up with friends in a beautiful venue.
For my score I would give the venue 4.5/5 strong sakes, for the service 3/5 Bloody Bulls (amazing cocktail) and for the food (based on skewers only) I would give it 1.5/5 – final score – 9/15 or 3/5 Spoons!
For more information you can go to their website HERE.