Danno’s Cafe, in Dee Why, has been one of my favourite venues on the Northern Beaches for quite a while now, it is where my passion for burger obsession reached epic heights and while under the enchantment of previous chef, Burger Josh, and his freaking out-of-this-world amazing burgers, I managed to put on about ten kilos and my love for burgers blossomed into an addiction. Sadly Josh departed Danno’s and has moved on to pop-ups with exciting things happening for him in the burger world of Sydney. After his departure Danno’s closed down to get some renovations completed and start the hunt for a new chef, they have found their new chef and announced last week on the book of face that they were re-opening with Chef Ashraf Saleh and a new menu. So off I headed to see if Ashraf could make a burger anywhere close on the Josh scale. I was happy to slip in, order a quick burger, snap a couple of shots and depart, but nope, caught up with Danno, we became friends when my habit commenced for burgers (we also share a love for all things superheroes #geeks) and I got to meet Chef Ashraf who proceeded to cook up a storm so I could taste and shoot, I may have gained another ten kilos in this one sitting :).
Chef Ashraf (above) comes to Danno’s with an epic resume; he grew up in the Middle East, beginning his career as a chef in the late 1970s at the Sheraton Hotel in Saudi Arabia. In the early 80s, Ashraf embarked on a journey through Paris, London and Sweden in a quest to further refine his culinary expertise. In 1988, he was chef at the ANA hotel on the Gold Coast.
From 1990 to 2002, Ashraf assumed the Head Chef position at some of Sydney’s top and most awarded winning restaurants, including Criterion, CMC and Cadmus. In 2002, Ashraf relocated to the Lower North Shore where he was appointed Head Chef at the Point Blue Restaurant at McMahon’s Point.
After Point Blue, Ashraf started working at the Ensemble Theater in 2006. In 2010 Ashraf moved to the Food at SBS. His passion is to innovate with new flavours, east-meets-wests. It was Ashraf’s degustation experiences that were particularly praised by both customers and critics. A few more places the chef has worked at are St Honore Bakery, The Porch and he has has taught a culinary cooking class at North Sydney.
Oh did I mention his last gig was Executive Chef at Manly Warringah Sea Eagles. He is also incredibly friendly and gets out there to say hello to everyone eating, his enthusiasm and passion are incredibly affecting.
The reopened Danno’s has a new menu but will also be embracing what it became known for; burgers. Out of everything pictured in this article, I have tasted it all excluding the pulled pork burger. My thoughts are that Ashraf is not Josh, Josh is the epitome of burgerdom, I have eaten all but two of the burgers Josh has ever served over the last year or so, and I have eaten two unicorns in my life (a perfect 5/5 burger) and Josh has cooked both of them so for Danno’s to bring on a new chef and promote burgers scared me, it would take a wizard to match Josh on his burgers and while I have only tried Ashraf’s Chicken Katsu burger I can say it does not get close to the greatness of a Josh burger BUT – Ashraf is not Josh and he has his own style and for the first time I ate more than a burger at Danno’s Cafe and the new menu is freaking epic!!! If you are planning on visiting Danno’s in the hope of recapturing the burger bliss you encountered there in the past you may be highly disappointed but you need to know – this is a new venue with the same name, the food is different and it does burgers but they are not filthy whore burgers that will violate you, they are burgers from a chef with a lifetime of experience who is trying something different. Pending your reasons for visiting Danno’s keep that in mind.
Besides Ashraf’s desire of East meets West and his lifetime of experience he has evolved his food over the last years to be incredibly healthy, due to illness and the need to start eating cleaner Ashraf’s meals have an overwhelming cleanness to them. To me they have a Japanese influence, even though this is not in his resume it appears his evolvement as a chef has led him to a cleaner and more delicate level of cooking, something that is ingrained in Japanese culinary culture. This appeals to me a lot. Starting at the top food photo (and also the last photo) we have a colourfully artistic and divine salad, it is a combo of their salads but is closest to their ROCKET AND BOCCONCINI WITH ORGANIC HEIRLOOM TOMATOES AND BASIL OIL $17- (you can also add chicken for $5). A balanced work of art that would be perfect for a post or pre-beach lunch.
Above is the Chicken Katsu Burger, to me it basically resembles a clean Schnitty Burger, it is also HUGE. It is a chicken Katsu/ Sando with avocado, aioli, mixed salad served on a brioche roll with a side of chips. Did I mention how huge it is? it is like one and a half times the size of a standard brioche and while clean and fresh and healthy, this is not what I want in a burger, I thought it lacked sauce, the flavours were nice but I have described Josh’s burgers like “dirty rough sex,” this burger doesn’t get to first base on that burger scale but if you want an epic schnitty burger this is what you want. A healthy burger if you will? I prefer a coronary with my burgers. But LOOK AT THAT PULLED PORK BURGER below – that looks coronary and I will be back to try it. Ashraf is currently working on an entire page edition to the menu that will solely be a burger menu, based on what I have seen and tasted I am excited.
That being said, I suggested to both Danno and Ashraf to push the other, healthy, food for the cafe, as mentioned earlier I was a regular at Danno’s but only ever ate burgers, as of this week I could live on Ashraf’s ORGANIC BREAKFAST TRIFLE WITH COCONUT MILK, CHIA SEEDS, MANGO, YOGHURT, MIXED BERRIES and FLOWER PETALS $16-. Possibly the most stunning looking meal I have ever photographed – seriously I filled my memory card and the fact this is gluten and dairy free and just radiates beauty was enough for me to completely devour the entire thing after a burger and a salad :). This would be my Northern Beaches healthy meal dish NUMBER ONE, just phenomenal, I normally worship a protein breakfast and my all time favourite Northern Beaches Breakfast is the Paleo Plate at ALBERT AND MOORE, it is epic, but I would make an exception for this trifle, it’s close second.
The burgers are coming, the above PULLED PORK BURGER (a special and I gather about $19) will be on the burger menu when it releases, it is on a wholemeal bun, has slaw for salad, 1000 Island dressing and cheese that made me feel sexually aroused. I will have this burger ASAP, I also know they are currently serving a slider dish as a special that will also be on the burger menu. I look forward to trying the entire burger menu. I should also mention that they will be having a seasonal menu and that I do believe they will commence serving dinners in the not too distant future.
The last dish I inhaled with aroused joy was a sampler of their main, the AROMATIC SWEET CHILLI PRAWNS, WITH CUCUMBER SALAD AND RASPBERRY COULIS (the photographed dish is a sampler but the main is $23- and it’s gluten free). Another sublimely presented culinary artwork. The prawns and their own sauce were cooked to perfection and while I loved the look of the raspberry coulis I didn’t think the prawns needed it until I dipped my prawn into the coulis and then I pretty much just started licking the plate. It was INSANE. I want that sauce in a bottle, screw that, I want to bathe in it. I would also be happy for a simply cooked prawn, charred on sticks perhaps and then served in the raspberry coulis, definitely one of the best sauces I have had in a long time.
Danno’s Cafe used to be a brothel mecca of burgerly shenanigans but now it is a superb restaurant that makes some sublime food, the burger I have tasted was not up to what the people have grown to expect from Danno’s, or rather Josh, but I am very much looking forward to seeing how Ashraf and Danno evolve the place over summer. I will be returning.
Please note I had intended on buying my burger but the dishes presented were on the house.