The mindset of diners, has noticeably shifted since the impacts of COVID-19. The unfulfilling pursuit of de-construction and complication has given way back to a rediscovery of the fundamental reasons why we dine out. To break bread with friends and loved ones in a convivial way, that simple but beautiful shared experience, that brings out the best in ourselves. Hemingway’s in Manly, just a stone’s throw from Manly beach with an endless horizon, is the perfect setting for that long overdue reset, leaving me speculating on how we let things get so convoluted in the first place. Thankfully, experienced French restauranteurs Sonia and Emmanuel who took over in the winter of 2014, held true to their vision of a Montmatre style bistro, where the vibrant hum of conversation and laughter was reward enough.
Originally a bar that paid homage to literature and the iconic American writer of its name, with stacked bookshelves and pictures of the great man adorning the walls; the connection and transition to a Bistro is not lost given his love of Paris and French culture. Whether you choose the sea breeze and alfresco setting, or the more moody interior vibe, the heart and soul of this people’s bistro will serve you well. The signature cocktail list is a perfect way to start, with the hundred-day barrel aged negroni and old fashioned, delivering stylishly on their promise. Clearly, the core from its previous iteration is still strong. The food menu does not diverge too far from the classic Bistro dishes that have delivered joy to so many over time, however some playful twists make sure they have a contemporary feel.
I decide to start with the chicken liver parfait baked in Cognac and Grand Tawny Porto, served with bitey cornichons, fig jam and baguette. It is more-ish, with great depth of flavour, and texturally on point. The generous baguette allows you to portion as you wish, and in my world there simply can never be enough bread! Whilst enjoying this dish, it is hard not to notice the genuinely warm meet and greet for everyone arriving, and like the bread, it is a basic gesture that instantly establishes the rapport between the diner and restaurant.
The unashamed Francophile within, simply compels me to order the Escargots à la Bourguignonne: Burgundy snails, roasted with garlic and parsley, served with mushrooms, red wine jus and baguette. Whilst I err on the side of caution and order only six, there is more than enough accompaniment to satisfy even the hungriest Legionnaire. Once again, the toasted baguette allows me to mop up the flavoursome jus – as nothing this damn tasty is going back on my watch.
When the Cassoulet de canard arrives it seems a bridge too far even for this seasoned diner, but a well chosen glass of red makes the confit duck leg served with beans, Toulouse sausage, tomato sauce, thyme, shallot and garlic far more approachable. Aside from which, my respect and love for a good Cassoulet lays deep within my culinary soul. The flesh of the duck is falling off the bone, and the side of rich gratin dauphinois seals the deal. Thankfully, I have long reconciled that reviewing food is a hedonistic pleasure that does not align with any svelte ambitions one may have – but you could easily share this dish between two.
The intimately lit room is filled with warmth, and embellishment of stories, giving way to brevity by this point of the evening, and it is evident to me that Hemingway’s has delivered on its promise. Honest, well-executed fare at decent price points, backed by an atmosphere and service that is both heartfelt and intuitive in keeping with its setting. With my evening nearly done, I order the tarte tatin for dessert, paired with a “Winter in Paris cocktail”. In good time, I leave very content as I slowly stroll the Corso pondering the profound writings of Hemingway and his sojourns in Paris…
By Dane Richards