Following on from our weekend away in the Hunter Valley we had two weeks of holidays booked for a Sydney ‘staycation’ and one place we were quite keen to hit was Papi Chulo, partly because we were heading to Oxford Tavern for a taste of what ‘Black Betty’ has to offer a few days later and of course what better way to spend a day than to travel by ferry on our beautiful harbour.
As soon as we opened the door the aromas of smoking, meats and barbeque sauce came at us thick and fast and oh boy was it intoxicatingly good. That is the perfect way to feel when you enter a smokehouse and grill and it really set the mood from the outset. Light and bright the entire space is well designed and very inviting, little tables here and there, generous spaces up at the bar and a wonderful view out to Manly Cove made for a picturesque setting.
Set menu for 2+ – $65.00 per person
- Pea guacamole with tortilla chips
- DIY Kingfish ceviche tostada, jalapeño, lime
- Smoked hot wings, comeback sauce
- Roast cauliflower, romesco, parmesan, brown butter crumbs
- Grilled Fremantle octopus, crispy pork, green apple, kale
- Papi Chulo BBQ platter
- Vietnamese coleslaw
- Curly fries
- Warm chocolate chip cookie, vanilla malt ice cream, butterscotch sauce, macadamia brittle
- Strawberry sundae, shortbread ice cream, strawberries, meringue, macadamia shortbread
We knew we needed a BBQ platter, the rest was just an added bonus. So with the set menu you get the best of it all, a great selection of what Papi Chulo offers. Not only was America’s Deep South represented but South America too with ceviche and tortillas on the menu – it is an ode to The Americas in a way.
Pea guacamole with tortilla chips.
I’ll preface this with saying I had never seen or even heard of a guacamole made with peas before but let me tell you it was a revelation. Texturally it was just as you would expect from a guacamole but then the similarities fade, the peas were so vibrant and fresh and lime woke them up even further (if that is possible).
It was zingy, fresh and so moreish we couldn’t stop. Great little additions of crisp fried onions and a sprinkling of micro herbs sealed the deal completely and all of this was scooped up with the house made tortilla chips. Still warm and deftly salted they suited the peas and made for a superb way to start.
DIY Kingfish ceviche tostada, jalapeño, lime.
Seeing as we knew our hands would be getting quite messy from the BBQ platter still to come the make your own element of this dish suited us just fine. I adore kingfish so it was great to see it used in a Mexican kind of way. There was a nice level of heat produced by the fresh jalapeños and while the chilli fiend in me would have loved more I knew it was exactly what the dish needed. Complementing the kingfish and the chilli was a perfect amount of sweetness from pineapple and a fresh burst from the compressed celery which also added such a wonderful texture. Both the crisp toasted tortillas and lettuce were adept at carrying the ceviche yet each offered their own nuances to the dish.
Smoked hot wings, comeback sauce.
How can you tell if someone knows how to deep fry something? You just look at the amount of oil left behind. When we saw the smoked hot wings it was evident these were cooked with great skill. Not a single wing had any oily feel to it, the dry rub seasoning was intact and they were juicy as one would hope. Again my tolerance for chilli meant that these were not even close to what I’d call ‘hot’ but it didn’t matter because they tasted so damn good, the smoking really added some complexity and it was all rounded off nicely with the comeback sauce that comprised of chilli powder and super creamy mayonnaise.
Roast cauliflower, romesco, parmesan, brown butter crumbs.
If there is only one way to get people to eat cauliflower I bet this is it, not that you could probably tell it was cauliflower at first thanks to the massive mound of grated Parmesan encompassing the whole dish. Charred and crunchy there was something magical about the cauliflower that had me going back for more. Part of it was due to the creamy romesco with its nutty undertone and sweet red capsicum front as well as the addictive crumbs that soaked up all of the brown butter they were cooked in. Best cauliflower ever.
Grilled Fremantle octopus, crispy pork, green apple, kale.
To be honest I am not the greatest fan of octopus of any kind because it is so damn hard to find it done right. Braised and then barbequed for added complexity the Papi crew did well to create a pleasant dish where the octopus wasn’t tough and chewy but instead quite soft (compared to most) and easy to eat. The whole dish was reminiscent of a Thai beef salad with onion, mint, parsley and the sweet & sour of green apple filling the Thai profile but with some crisp pork nubbins giving a really good depth to everything. If I am honest it was the pork I enjoyed the most here.
Papi Chulo BBQ platter.
The reason to go to Papi Chulo is the Papi Chulo BBQ platter. Everything is cooked ‘low and slow’, hot smoked over wood for a minimum of six hours. A combination of Suffolk lamb ribs with Papi’s BBQ sauce, 150g each of Ranger’s Valley wagyu brisket, pulled Kurobuta pork shoulder, and smoked maple black pepper pork belly, as well as super soft sugary buns for good measure.
Deciding to start messy I was right into the lamb ribs. Wonderfully smoked and coated in a thick honey bbq marinade they were very good but lacking temperature to make the excessive fat palatable. More smoke was needed so the pork belly was up next. Again the temperature was quite low and coupled with it being dry it was everyone’s least favourite. Hoping things would pick up I portioned up the brisket and gave it a go. I am happy to report it was superb, soft and supple, dipped in the bbq sauce was a winner. Finally it was time for the pulled pork and finally we had a hit. Perfectly cooked and oozing flavour the pork shoulder and sauce stuffed into a tiny bun was super.
With Lex being the avid condiment hater a coleslaw is something she would never normally eat, but as it was set down on the table we could see it was no ordinary sloppy sauced-to-the-max coleslaw but a vibrant mix of crisp vegetables and herbs. As per its namesake the sauce was quite Vietnamese with equal parts lime juice, fish sauce, palm sugar and white vinegar. While vinegar is Lex’s worst enemy it was so subdued everyone got along fine. Shredded cabbage both purple and green, sliced onion along with mint and coriander worked so well with the sauce it was the best coleslaw Lex had ever had and it was up there on my list too.
Fries, but curly. If you’d never had them before you would probably be wondering why everyone loves them so much, they are just fries. You’d be wrong. I’m sure there is no scientific reason for the love of curly fries but they always seem to be better than regular fries. Heavily curled with great crunch and well-seasoned these did taste better than normal fries, and that is just fact.
Warm chocolate chip cookie, vanilla malt ice cream, butterscotch sauce, macadamia brittle.
Not only does the set menu include a vast selection of dishes as well as the BBQ platter but you even get dessert. Seeing as there were three of us that meant two to share and after the amount of food we had already consumed that was plenty.
First up was the cookie, and it was quite a monster drizzled with a rich butterscotch sauce, topped with ice cream and generous sprinkling of macadamia brittle. Since I am not big on the whole cookie thing I found it way too sugary and buttery, it wasn’t under cooked but just felt unfinished. When eaten together with the smashing vanilla malt ice cream it was pleasant but my favourite part was the salted caramelesque sauce.
Strawberry sundae, shortbread ice cream, strawberries, meringue, macadamia shortbread.
While cookies aren’t my thing meringue is so the strawberry sundae was a perfect dessert in my books. By using both fresh and freeze dried strawberries the dish had a depth to it that carried through each and every mouthful. Meringue and super cool shortbread ice cream worked like magic as did the actual shortbread. Quite a playful dessert and most importantly it was refreshing and the best thing to finish on.
Although we had come for the whole barbecue smokehouse thing we found it was all of the other savoury courses that outshone the meat platter by a good margin. Everything was there ready to work so well with the smoked meats but a lack of temperature and general dryness meant it was not able to go toe-to-toe with all the other offerings.
That being said every other savoury dish we had was a knockout, a collection of tastes from not only the Americas but around the world really surprised us and it was these dishes that make me want to go back. I am also sure the BBQ platter can and will be better next time, but we will have to see if ‘Black Betty’ at the Oxford Tavern can take the crown.
With a few hours to kill before dinner at Cho Cho San we needed somewhere to chill and seeing as we were in Manly we knew it had to be 4 Pines Brewery for a few local craft beers before heading back to Sydney Cove. After a number of Pale Ales and even some Hefeweizen on my part and a few ESB’s for Em it was time to head across the road and jump on the ferry for the trip back.
One of the best things about the ferry at this time in the afternoon is watching the sun go down as you head back to Circular Quay, it is quite a magnificent scene and something everyone needs to see for themselves. I ♥ Sydney.
22-23 Manly Wharf
Manly NSW 2095
(02) 9240 3000
Papi Chulo Website