The Blind Barrel – I’d walked past this place a thousand times or more, but somehow never really seen it. It’s metres from the beach with a busy Wentworth Street front, next to the now closed Fish Café and moments to Ben and Jerry’s ice cream parlour on the corner. It. was. right. there. Across from the Manly Observer office at WOTSO on South Steyne. Why hadn’t I really seen it? Why was the Blind Barrel a Blind spot?
With a giant barrel out the front, plenty of chic black tones, black walls, leather stools and dark wooden seating, the venue has a late night tall dark and handsome stranger swirling a good quality whiskey on the rocks feel to it. Which is probably why on a bright sunny day surrounded by barefooted surfy types, I felt this wasn’t the venue for a casual light lunch or a catch up with a friend. It seemed like an excellent venue, just not the one I was looking for.
And it turns out for a long time it was only an evening venue and dinner service, so that “not for daytime” conditioning must have somehow set in early and proved hard to break.
Hard, but not impossible.
Thanks to the proactive efforts of the Blind Barrel’s new chief custodian, Sav, I was lured in to sample the menu recently and was very surprised – and delighted – by what I found. For those with little patience and no interest in back story, let me cut to the chase: the food is exceptionally high quality and moreish to boot. The cocktails are banging. Give it a try.
Now, for the more patient of my readers, let me tell you how the Blind Barrel came to be. The venue is a family affair, with Sav Dua recently taking over the reins from his brother Ujwal, who is now focusing on his wife Sarah’s thriving business With Love She Bakes. The Head chef is Dad Anil Dua, with mum Neelam working everywhere in between.
Who are you?
The family’s main business was Fish Café next door, which had a strong following of seafood devotees for almost two decades. But Fish Café could not survive COVID and rental pressures and instead the family has turned its concentrated attention on the Barrel. Sav, who was primed for a lucrative life in mathematical finance, instead fell in love with this little venue and out of love with corporate Australia.
Blind Barrel, with its promise of elevated American bar snacks, comfort foods, moreish burgers and now extremely high-quality seafood offerings, tries to do too much. At least, I thought they were trying to do too much and were confused by their identity, until each dish I tried smashed it out of the park and I found myself enjoying each one of their personalities. In a world of clean lines and neat perfectly angled pitches, perhaps it’s actually refreshing to find somewhere that punches out flavours from various corners of cuisine and doesn’t try to explain itself clearly.
The chowder has it
This was my first proper sit down with my husband since lockdown and Sav was allowing me to sample the menu for free; this should of course be factored into how much I enjoyed my lunch. But when I asked him to join us for a chat he very sincerely asked I be honest in my review, to which I reassured him I don’t have any other mode below blunt.
That’s why I was so relieved when our first sampler came out – the seafood chowder – and it blew my brain out with its perfection. I’d had a few knock-out chowders on the rainy docks of San Francisco and any attempt to enjoy one since then has fallen short. Until this.
Just the right consistency between creamy and easily stirrable, the chowder ($19) had generous chunks of freshly cooked fish, Hervey Bay scallops, squid, Tasmanian black mussels and prawns in a cream-based velouté. Having dad/head chef Anil move over from Fish Café to the Barrel has been a boon for the venue’s fish fare. Every seafood dish was perfect. Garlic butter NZ scampi was deliciously light and zesty despite the dairy and slid out of its shell in one perfect piece.
Flavour wise the best I can describe is somewhere between a lobster and a prawn. It’s a pricier menu item at $34 for entrée and $55 for main but the quality and depth of flavour is there to justify the price.
The Texan chill con carne ($18) is made with chuck beef and no beans, which is a strange kind of chilli con carne for my mind but with no filler and better-quality meat I wasn’t going to complain. Intensely delicious with a salty zingy feel on the back of the palate brought forward with some crumbly jalapeno corn bread, it’s clear that Barrel cares about its food and won’t compromise on ingredients. Anil Dua is also a very clever king of flavours. My husband quite likes salty food, and I don’t. Yet, we were both equally satisfied with the seasoning of each dish without modification. That’s quite an incredible feat.
The burgers were great (it was a burger, no complaints) and my midday mocktail with a jalapeno juice was an ideal accompaniment. We are skipping over the steak because, while delicious, they had received the wrong cut of meat in their delivery and so my assessment won’t be true to their usual offering. You try the New York cut and let me know how it is.
Worth every calorie
But let’s finish on a high. The bacon truffle mac n cheese. As I told our Instagram following at the time I was eating it, another day another calorie well enjoyed. This is a dish which needs to be eaten with few distractions so you can enjoy the flavour bomb behind every single morsel. It’s rich but not “sickly rich”. It has big cheese flavours that are harnessed. Perfectly seasoned, smoky, with a different flavour depth from both smooth and strong cheeses and a subtle truffle taste that turns up if you pay attention to it but can be easily ignored if it’s not your thing. It’s good. It’s really good.
While initially uninviting, once inside, the venue itself is actually perfect for a lunch time catch up. It’s not too loud, there’s plenty of space and while the tones are dark and a little moody, you can see the water and feel the sun and fresh air breathe in and out through the venue.
This place is almost always too quiet, and I now see it is unfairly so. I’ve been back unannounced since and it was just as good. But everytime I walk passed there’s almost no one inside. “If only they knew”, I thought. So now you know, give it a go. A lunchtime meeting, a Christmas party, a date, or a family catch up – the Blind Barrel has a broad enough menu and such a malleable identity it can be pretty much whatever you need it to be on any given day.
With a quality menu, ace location and the love, dedication and skill of a long-time Northern Beaches family it deserves your attention, particularly in this volatile post lockdown period when so many local businesses are teetering. So please, it’s time to take a seat.
The Blind Barrel is open seven days for lunch and dinner service.
The Blind Barrel
Shop 4, 25 27 South Steyne
Manly, NSW 2095
Transparency check: This is an unsponsored and genuine review. The meals were provided free for review and our attendance was not anonymous.