You wouldn’t be blamed for thinking Social Manna was just another cafe, but little details suggest otherwise. The metallic blue sphere labelled “umami butter”. House-baked sourdough on the counter. Liam Atkinson (former Ku De Ta head chef) in the kitchen.
Social Manna is by chef Sandro Puca, who started his career with Russell Blaikie and David Coomer, and more recently held head chef roles at Il Lido and Rochelle Adonis. He describes himself as a “ghost chef” having always worked behind the scenes for others, and this new cafe is his first solo venture.
“This is an expression of 20 years of knowledge and know-how,” says Puca. “I’ll be honest with you, it’s fucking scary. This is the most challenging and at the same time most rewarding accomplishment. I’m still pinching myself.”
Social Manna’s creative menu shows hints of fine dining, much like Hampton and Maley just a few streets away. Dishes range from one of Perth’s best chicken and waffle variants to immaculately “loaded” banana bread and, of course, healthier options.
“It’s just simple,” says Puca. “Coming from that brasserie-cafe background, I feel as though that’s what’s missing in Perth. All the cafes are cookie-cutters. They’re all Nordic starkness, which is the coffee machine on the bench and block-colour wall. Nothing’s quirky anymore.”
Cakes, muffins, pastries and sourdough bread are baked in-house daily. There’s a cabinet full of sandwiches and salads. Diners are free to slather their toast and croissants with compound-butters and jams from the breakfast bar, reminiscent of mid-’90s venues such as 44 King Street. The building dates to the 1920s and has been occupied by butchers, hairdressers and dry cleaners. There’s a slightly industrial feel, and trinkets scattered around the cafe pay homage to both the venue’s history and Puca’s own journey.
Coffee is supplied by O’Çonnor roaster Pound, but the beverage of choice is a range of DIY sodas inspired by the venue’s 1929 “refreshment parlour”. Diners can mix their own drink with a range of flavoured syrups including peach and thyme, blood orange, and a darkly spiced cola.
“We like it because it reduces the impact when it comes to waste,” says Puca. “We use Soda Streams and constantly use the same bottles. We don’t use any products from Coca Cola.”
The cafe’s name refers to Puca’s belief it is a windfall; “Manna from above,” he says. He’s keen to downplay his own importance and breaks down while talking about being inspired by his mother, who is battling a rare form of cancer. It’s a humbling and emotional moment, and it would seem that Puca stepping out from the shadows is long overdue.
“It’s never about me, I’ve done my time,” he says. “I want this place to grow. Social Manna is its own entity. It’s taken on its own life force and it would be selfish of me to take credit for that. I just gave it a breath of life.”
253 Albany Highway, Victoria Park
This article first appeared on Broadsheet on February 22, 2019. Menu items may have changed since publication.