The team at Manuka Woodfire Kitchen expand with nostalgic new neighbour, Shirley’s

Shirley's Fremantle Manuka Woodfire Kitchen
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We’re lucky enough here at Perth is OK! to have inboxes practically bursting at the seams with press releases for new venues – quite often for brand new swanky spots, with glitzy multi-million dollar fit-outs and a neat folder of styled images.

We don’t think we’ve ever received a press release about Manuka Woodfire Kitchen, and yet… We’re not sure another restaurant more frequently or consistently gets named by friends, acquaintances and colleagues as one of their all-time favourite spots.

It follows that when we heard whispers owners Jody and Kenny McHardy would be opening a wine bar, we rushed to find out more – stepping out of the diabolically hot afternoon into the cool surrounds of a still-under-construction Shirley’s.

“I think the best way one of my friends described Manuka is that it’s an unassuming sort of place,” venue manager enthusiastically Florian tells us.

Shirley's Fremantle Manuka Woodfire Kitchen

“You go there, you see the wood fire kitchen and and you think, ‘Yeah, it’s gonna be good.’ Then you realise that the food is actually excellent.”

“I used to go to Manuka quite often as a customer, and I met Kenny – and Kenny’s a bloody legend.”

“At the time, I was managing Whisper Wine Bar, a small wine bar on Essex Street. And people would just come in for a drink and say, ‘Where should we go for dinner?’, I’d say, ‘You have to go to Manuka: WA produce, excellent food. It always delivers.”

“We opened up with no profile,” explains co-owner Jody.

“No one knew who we were, and it was really word of mouth and regulars and people coming back, understanding who we were and enjoying what they got there. So by the time we were consistently busy, maybe 2018, 2019, we started talking about ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to have another property nearby,’ where we could have the overflow, or a holding bar.”

“That’s something we’ve never had at Manuka because we’re also a small space there – people will say ‘Oh, can I have a drink at the bar if I can’t get a table?’ But we don’t have one of those!”

“We were probably ready to do something like this before COVID, and then COVID happened and we had to flip our business, do takeaway, adapt, and then we just kind of had it in the back of our minds to wait for the right property. We looked at other properties before and nothing quite felt right – we were just very lucky this one came up around the corner.”

Around the corner is 6/124 High Street, Fremantle – the former site of sushi restaurant The Modern Eatery, and a mere 35m from Manuka.

Shirley's Fremantle Manuka Woodfire Kitchen

“We’ve kind of flipped things from Manuka,” Jody tells us.

“Manuka is very food driven, people know us as a food destination, which is amazing. Shirley’s will be a little bit different, a beverage-driven venue for sure.”

“We’re not doing WA only,” explains restaurant manager Ellery.

“So Flo can show off in the wine list, and we can go more crazy with the spirits. There’s a lot more room for flexibility, but keeping that core idea of good produce, good quality wine, and then build on that with zero restrictions about location.”

“Shirley’s is named after my ninety-year-old Nana,” Jody continues.

“And across the board there will be like a hint of nostalgia brought into it – you’ll see that in Kenny’s menu, bringing back old classic favourites but with a little modern twist and a little bit more snacky than a big meal you would get from a Nana!”

“With the drinks as well, there’ll be a few little hints of nostalgia come through. The dining room has a little bit of an art deco-y nod to it and there’ll be some vintage pieces and things too. So it’s just that really fun but familiar feeling that you would associate with a Shirley!”

While they’ve emphasised less of a focus on the food than at Manuka, we can’t help but be rather fixated on the draft menu Kenny took us through, designed for a pint-sized kitchen with wood-fired stove that he’ll share with first-year apprentice chef Chelsea.

“Looking at the name Shirley’s, going back to recipes and dishes that reflect on us growing up as kids, what you’d get at your grandparents’.”

“I inherited some little pie trays, so I’m going to do little party pies, like wagyu beef and comté cheese pies. Little things that are a little bit more playful.”

Alongside bougie party pies, he tells us about spelt brioche with quenelles of mushroom duxelles, potato galettes with black garlic mayonnaise, summer vegetable terrines, confit chicken wings with tamarind and coconut cream, not to mention the well-loved Manuka favourite – the gluten free focaccia.

(That, and the stockpile of meat he’s been accumulating: “I’ve been banking up my lamb ribs from Manuka, plus I’ve got my aged sirloin with bone marrow butter. It’s something I took off the menu at Manuka about a year ago and kept in my pocket!”)

“Manuka’s big dishes, sharing dishes – whereas this is more designed for the individual, so you can come in on your own and nothing’s gonna overwhelm you.

On the dessert front, expect to see more full-throttle nostalgia with trifle and boozy ice cream sundaes.

“Nice bar food, but all the recipes I’m using are right back from when I first started cooking 25, 30 years ago. Sort of digging up the past… And it’s quite refreshing actually ’cause we’re always looking forward, to the future. This is the first time I’m actually going back.”

“I feel like I’ve been so serious about my career for so long. I just wanna do something fun.”

Shirley’s is scheduled to very soon, and will be located at 6/124 High Street, Fremantle.

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