17B Whistler St
|Opening hours||Wed-Fri 4.30-10pm; Sat-Sun 3-10pm|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Bar, Events, Gluten-free options, Groups, Licensed, Long lunch, Outdoor seating, Romance-first date, Vegetarian friendly, Wheelchair access|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $ 20- $ 40)|
Hip hop music, natural wine, cocktails on tap and a shady Manly back lane location? You’re either jumping on the ferry to get here right now, or you’ve just run screaming from the room. Talk about polarising.
But listen up, because Banco, the cozy, hidden-away bar / diner from Kurtis Bosley of Dee Why’s Corretto, is quite the surprise packet.
While it feels like something from New York’s Lower East Side with its lovely little central bar, tiled shelves and rows of wines, some of the best dishes on the tight menu are straight out of the British gastropub playbook.
OK, maybe not the Tuscan bread with Vegemite butter, or the miso-glazed eggplant with labne, but Gloucester-born head chef Dan Webb turns out the sort of classic Scotch egg you’d normally have with darts and a pint of bitter.
It’s a beauty, the whole egg covered in minced pork, crumbed and fried ($ 26) served with soft leaves and a warmly curried mayo. Extra points for par-boiling the egg so the yolk remains soft, which, according to Heston Blumenthal, takes precisely two minutes. Any less and you can’t peel it, any more and it won’t still be runny after the frying. Simple is never actually simple.
Manly can give restaurants a hard time and bars an easy one, so it’s good to see Banco align itself with a dining culture as well as a drinking one. Pre-batched, effervescent cocktails come straight from the numbered taps at the bar – cute, although it doesn’t mean they arrive any faster than if they were made from scratch.
The mini lobster roll ($ 30 with caviar) is one of those “if you know, you know” things; not on the menu but it is on every second table, plump with rock lobster and mayo.
Next to me, a couple slowly work through 12-hour braised lamb shank with butternut squash mash, peas and mint, and make a point of telling staff how good it is.
With just Webb – last seen at O Bar and Crow’s Nest’s Annatto – and one other in the small kitchen, the menu has its share of prepped-and-ready dishes.
Ham hock terrine ($ 28) is like a pressed jambon persille, and needs only slicing and dousing in a perky piccalilli with a clutch of crisp Melba toast. That mustard pickle is another beauty, apparently inspired by the chef’s aunt, who owned a pub in Gloucestershire.
The big hit is the wagyu beef curry pie ($ 42). Of course it is. The Stoneaxe wagyu beef shin (marble score 6) is gently spiced with a Madras curry powder and baked inside straight-sided, flat-topped pastry in the round Scottish style.
Webb makes the pies with Ryan Broomfield of Broomfield Pies in nearby Cromer, then takes it a step further with a squish of parsnip puree, apricot chutney, a shreddy tzatziki and – ha ha – pappadums. We’ll be needing a red wine, then.
Stargazer Rada ($ 89), a soft and savory pinot noir and pinot meunier blend from Tasmania is one of several wines from female winemakers championed on the list, alongside vegan, biodynamic and “slightly funky”. Bosley and bar manager Jacopo Montis also focus on on-trend amaro and other bittersweet digestifs.
Even desserts can be paired, with an homage to England’s Terry’s Chocolate Orange made with Ecuador 70 per cent dark chocolate ($ 14) matched to a 2005 Domfrontais Calvados. A play on sticky toffee pud ($ 14) that crumbles cake over cold rum-roasted pineapple feels a bit bitsy, but can be elevated by either an Antinori Vin Santo or a Dubonnet.
Banco is a little place with big ideas, and feels like a great fit for the fast-changing neighborhood. Some dishes need a greater whack of acidity – a shaved red cabbage salad ($ 10) is bland – and while the food sounds a bit brawny, it’s actually quite precise and edited.
Part old school and part gangsta, it’s the sort of restaurant and bar remix that will appeal to both.
Vibe Hip-hop laneway bar with British gastropub grub.
Drinks Classic cocktails, batched cocktails on tap, half a dozen local beers and a lively wine list that champions small and natural producers.
Vegetarian Vegan tasting menu available.
Pro tip The unlisted lobster roll is available at dinner until sold out (IYKYK).
Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide. This rating is based on the Good Food Guide scoring system.