As CVs go, Kenny McHardy has a pretty good one; working under Marcus Wareing in London and at Walters in Melbourne, before setting up Due South in Albany. Down in the Great Southern he had a kitchen brigade of his own, an in-house butcher, produce that would be the envy of many and a from-scratch approach that grabbed headlines. Now the lone chef in a minuscule kitchen at Manuka, you may think he’s taken a step back. Think again. He’s out on his own dollar and he’s turned up the heat on not just the Freo dining scene, but his wider Perth peers.
Call it a primal arrogance, but we all like to think we’re a dab hand at cooking with a flame. In truth, we’re not much cop; at least when you square up against McHardy. Using the pizza oven – a remnant of Box Pizza – at the centre of his kitchen, he works the fire to great effect. Chicken breast, so often a plump yet bland protein, renews faith in what good chook can taste like. Skin on, crisp, with a char that sits on the right edge of burnt and a subtle hit of miso, it’s one of those mouth-full, punch-the-air moments. At a time when some chefs feel it’s incumbent upon them to preen and over complicate, here’s a chef who knows just how far to push it. Baby beets, toasted hazelnuts and ricotta, are a simple thought and a scene-stealer. Earthy, fresh, rich and balanced; it could be the Manuka mantra.
McHardy’s success isn’t just about kitchen skill. The produce has to be on form and he’s done the yards in this respect, taking the time to source local, well reared and grown produce. It stretches to the drinks where a WA-focused wine list is a broad look at what we do well here, with beer from Colonial Brewing Co in Margaret River sitting well within this ethos. All bare brick and laid back feel, with a menu that offers comfort and cheer, Manuka Woodfire Kitchen should be on everyone’s dining to do list.