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HomeFoodPier review: What’s the plan for Manly Wharf?

Pier review: What’s the plan for Manly Wharf?

The $110 million-dollar acquisition of Manly Wharf and Manly Wharf Bar last year is the most exciting thing to happen at Manly Cove since P!NK got turfed from the Skiff club and that drunk bloke did a belly flop off the Pavilion pier and went viral (links of those at the end).

Local artist Tristan Grindrod depicts Pink eating at Guzman after leaving the nearby Skiff Club hungry last year.

It’s an exciting project for the new leaseholders, Artemus Group, too.

It must be perplexing and a little disheartening, then, that the first question asked by so many locals is what their big plans are for the revolting underground toilets.

“We are very aware of that issue,” reassured Dean Romeo, a man wearing so many hats (literally one, and figurately several) that it’s better to refer to him as Artemus’ man on the ground.

Dean Romeo, Artmeus Group’s man on the ground at Manly Wharf.

Artemus? Let’s start from the beginning.

The new owners of Manly Wharf, Artemus Group, are known for their significant transformation of old wharves in Brisbane, creating the Howard Smith Wharves (HSW) entertainment precinct, more on that later. In 2023, they purchased the lease for Manly Wharf from Robert Magid’s TMG Developments, which had acquired the long-term leasehold in 1995. The land at the wharf, as well as the nearby Aquarium site, is owned by Roads and Maritime Services.

One of Artemus Group’s founders, Adam Flaskas, has moved to Queenscliff, and several team members, including Dean, are following suit. Co-founder Paul Henry is already a local.

Adam Flaskas

He says he sees the Manly Wharf has having “unbound potential”.

“We are committed to revitalising waterfront precincts and transforming them into thriving community and cultural hubs. We hope to bring that same energy, community focus and vision to Manly,” he said..

“We are champions of local talent and suppliers and are proud to be building a legacy for future generations to enjoy.”  Most of the Manly Wharf Bar (Hote/Restaurant) staff have been retained.

It’s “early days”, Dean later reminds me when asking about the future for existing tenants. Don’t expect diagrams and big announcements just yet – the only change punters will notice right now is that the Manly Wharf Bar is skewing towards an older crowd and its menu is significantly matured as well.

Taramasalata

We met with Dean last month and were treated to the new menu offerings. With the new, higher prices not a factor in this exchange, we got to sample the food with reckless abandon. Free food always tastes best, but it was undeniable that this was a quality not seen before at the Wharf. And, while I mistook the Taramasalata (pictured above) for a delicious creamy cheese dip, it alone has occupied my cravings several times in the weeks since. They still do the wharf pizzas, have kids’ burgers and a seafood platter, but the quality, of the seafood in particular, has noticeably improved.

Former Culinary Director of Hunter Street Hospitality and Rockpool Bar and Grill, Corey Costelloe is currently consulting on the menu, Dean tells us.

Tuna Crudo

Together, Costelloe, group executive chef Shaun Hyland, group kitchen manager Mat Brazier and Manly Wharf Bar and restaurant’s new executive chef Chris Augustyn have curated a new Mediterranean-style menu that focuses on a wholesome and uncomplicated approach, featuring smaller grazing plates, pub classics, burgers and bowls along with an impressive range of local meats, simply grilled with additional sides.

Standout dishes include Clarence River baby octopus with lemon, chilli and oregano, prawn salad with green papaya, coriander, chilli, peanuts and a nahm jim dressing; whole butterflied whiting from Coffs Harbour, NSW; and a 600g CopperTree Farms 45-day, dry-aged, bone-in ribeye.

I particularly enjoyed the Tuna Crudo (pictured above) which uses a Yellowfin Tuna with capers, shallots, chives and lemon. Also the “line caught” Coral Trout, which was basically perfect, which it would want to be for $44.

Manly Wharf Bar. Photo: Steven Woodburn

There are many more renos on the way at the Wharf Bar, though a recent spot of red paint will be tweaked after it didn’t land quite right in the main bar. Things will be moved around and painted (and repainted) at Wharfy quite a bit over coming weeks, but Dean reassures us it will not just be another popular venue to kick out the locals and jack up the prices after a gentrified makeover.

Dean reassures us it will not just be another popular venue to kick out the locals and jack up the prices after a gentrified makeover.

“It’s true that we don’t want this to be a nightclub late at night anymore,” he said.

“We will definitely want music and DJs, at times, but our focus is a more cultured one. Overall, we want it to be a bit more elevated than that but for people to still have a great time. And safer. We want to make this a more family friendly spot – we are hearing that there isn’t enough of that in Manly. That’s one thing that has really stood out for us.”

Dean says he has been working hard forging local partnerships, and they are using their weekly meat raffle to fund charities such as Local Kind and the local lifesaving club.

“Ultimately, we can’t just rely on the tourist trade for this establishment or the entire wharf precinct here. The locals have to love it, too. We will be trying to get a handle on what locals want over the coming months,” he added.

The toilets are – if you’ll excuse the pun – number one in local minds, but the wharf precinct in general has a tendency to underwhelm, despite high regard for mainstay Hugo’s, wing slingers The Bavarian and the reliable old friend that is Guzman Y Gomez.

“With no disrespect, the previous owners were landlords first and foremost and perhaps just looking at the wharf in terms of the best available rent.”

“With no disrespect, the previous owners were landlords first and foremost and perhaps just looking at the wharf in terms of the best available rent,” said Dean.

“We aren’t coming at it with that view. If you come up and see what we’ve done with Howard Smith Wharves in Brisbane, you will see that the whole precinct works together, each business either complementing another or offering something the others don’t. There is something for everyone.”

Howard Smith Wharves, Brisbane.

What has happened in Brisbane

With the smallest of arm twists, I let the Artemus group fly me up to Brissy to see it for myself. My flight and one night stay was covered by the group, with my extended stay and additional flight costs self-funded.

It was a wise move, because I was steadfastly impressed and now personally looking forward to what’s to come at Manly.

In Brisbane, I met with Artemus Group’s CEO Luke Fraser, who denied allegations (levelled by me) that he was, in fact, Pete Evans.

Artemus Group co-founder and CEO Luke Fraser

Pete, I mean Luke, met us at the entry of Howard Smith Wharves on the day of their Italian Fiesta event. Every table packed, and each venue buzzing, it was an interesting experience walking from one end of the wharf to the other, as we passed through what felt like themed grown up fantasy spaces, rather than a collection of restaurants.

It starts with a seductive, dimly lit Asian restaurant (Stanley) not dissimilar to what’s already down at its Manly counterpart with Queen Chow. A Japanese place, cocktail place (a DJ in the… ceiling?) and then a beer hall with its own Felons brand fermenting away above hungry pizza eaters. But then more: a seafood section, a larger hall (Barrel Hall) where live music plays, movie nights are held, and ping pong tournaments run weekly.

The Fiesta event at HSW – the kind of fun Armetus Group hope to bring to Manly Cove.

Then, through to an outdoor garden where an old boat has been converted to a children’s play area (instagram image of that further up) and folks sit on the grass with their wine and eat oysters. And on and on it goes until one is so fatigued by the festivities on offer a stiff drink can’t be refused. Ok, it’s an Aperol Spritz from the Fiesta crowd, but it did the trick.

As the evening progresses and conversation becomes more excitable, it’s clear that Manly Wharf is in the hands of people with good business brains and bold ideas. There’s a lot of talk about legacy, sustainability and transformation.

Almost all of the ‘tenants’ at the Brisbane wharf precinct are owned and operated by the Artemus Group. And, without it being explicitly stated, it’s obvious that this is the direction Manly Wharf is likely to take. Who will stay and who will go, at this stage, is anyone’s guess. But expect major change and a few boundaries pushed. Will the locals like it? The whole concept depends on it.

Manly Boardwalk linked Manly Pavilion to the ferry wharf, and was in place for 33 years. Photo: State Library NSW

Manly Wharf has a long history, and in many of its previous iterations, it was a destination in itself. From the fun pier up top, to the amusement park below, it’s hard to argue against the belief that the whole place used to be a lot more fun.

The Artemus Group are a serious operator, and one with some big sustainability and food waste diversion programs that will be well received by the Manly Community. But as I stood amid the cacophony of beers brewing, kids playing, cutlery clanking and an Italian trio crooning in the early winter sun, I reckoned it will be the reintroduction of fun with which Manly resonates best.

Wharf Bar is open 7 days a week from 11am until late.

Wharf Bar
Manly Wharf, East Esplanade
Manly NSW
www.wharfbar.com.au
IG: @manlywharfhotel
FB: @manlywharfbar

psst.. those links as promised

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