Although we’ve turned a new leaf moving into cooler weather and swapping Tigerlily bikinis for our favourite Seed scarf, it doesn’t quite stop us Sydney-siders from heading to the beach every once in a while for either a quick dip (ouch!), sea-side cocktails or rugged up picnics.
Enjoying a picnic at Manly Beach is an unwritten rite of passage for every tourist and local. You have chill vibes, stunning views of the beach – and surfers – as well as your close group of friends sharing an array of all-time-favourite snacks. What more could you want?
Our picnic food items change as the seasons evolve. In Spring we go for rosé and sliders, in summer it’s prawns and white wine, whereas in autumn we trade in the crisp, cool ciders for peppery shiraz and bring out home-made warm salads consisting of pumpkin, walnuts and apple.
A hero ingredient in Australia’s ‘fall’ has been, and always will be, chicken. Manly Charcoal Chicken – a promising take-away joint in the heart of Sydney’s acclaimed beach town – offers the protein in many forms and at a reasonable price, making it the perfect stop-off for picnic food pick-ups this season.
I visited the chicken shop towards the end of summer – there was a chill in the air and knowing that I would soon treat myself to a selection of warm meats was honestly quite thrilling. My friend Ali and I prepared ourselves by not eating a whisper of food throughout the day before making our way to Manly’s acclaimed chicken shop.
We ordered potato salad, chips, a schnitzel wrap, a chicken parmesan, devil wings and marinated wings. I wasn’t kidding when I said we were hungry…
In a (hopefully) non-glutinous way, we slowly sampled each dish over chat about boys and the usual dramas of everyday life. Typical. With each course, the top button of our jeans began to pop, but we didn’t resist trying a peice of everything.
The potato salad was actually a highlight for me – even though the hero ingredient didn’t play a part – but the performance of flavours and textures dancing in my mouth was an absolute delight. Most chicken shops and cafes NEVER get potato salad correct. It’s usually relatively sweet and doesn’t have that home-made quality you look for. This was by far the yummiest autumn salad I’ve tried from a takeaway cafe.
The wings were the perfect selection of easy, autumn finger food – just don’t forget napkins! The devil wings weren’t overly fatty and the marinade was in the middle of the sweet and spicy spectrum.
Everyone down here in Oz loves a good chicken parma. Personally, I’ve never seen the appeal. It has melted cheese, chicken schnitzel, and tomato sauce. It’s like a grown-up’s version of fish fingers and mash. The basic ingredients of chicken parmesan are huge favourites of mine, but for some reason the fusion of the three doesn’t do anything for me.
I decided to see if Manly Charcoal Chicken could woo me with their version, and I’ll be honest I was surprised with my own reception. It was good! It was nice value for the price and it possessed so much flavour. It had a more gourmet taste than the version on offer at a fine dining Italian restaurant in Darling Harbour – where I last sampled the overly-popular dish. I was really pleased – even more pleased that I could trust the risk I took in ordering it in the first place. It’s the worst when you order the not-so-go-to's and it turns out to be even worse than imagined.
All the food we shared together inspired us to have a few cocktails at the local bars after we let our stomachs deflate. That’s the beauty of Manly – you can arrive with the intent to swim, followed by a picnic on the beach and then end up (accidentally) clubbing ‘till the wee hours of the morning!
This season, follow your impulse to continue the DIY social scene with well-priced yummies and a non-itchy picnic mat. And don’t forget mates!