After spending five years at Pyrmont fine diner Lumi, chef Hiroshi Manaka moved back to Tokyo during the pandemic. He expected the move to mark the end of his Sydney stint – but he was lured back by Charlotte Bar & Bistro, a new French restaurant in McMahons Point.
“I was interested because the vision for the restaurant was very strong, reminding me of the time I spent in France,” he tells Broadsheet. “Every restaurant has a strong philosophy, concept and background – from the chef, to a focus on techniques, to spending time searching for special ingredients to create one-of-a-kind dishes.”
Before cheffing at Lumi, Manaka worked at a string of Michelin-starred restaurants across Europe, including Paris’s Agape Substance and La Bigarade. But it was Charlotte’s vision of nostalgic dishes from Provence and the south of France that won Manaka over.
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The concept is perhaps best shown in Manaka’s tarte Provençale: a bed of delicate pastry topped with a duxelles of tomato, mushroom and green kale, layered with a finely sliced rainbow of zucchini, eggplant, carrot, mushroom and kale.
Manaka’s take on escargot is more contemporary. Traditionally served in their shells and drenched in butter, at Charlotte the snails arrive de-shelled as a pair of gyoza in a red wine reduction, spiked with smoked bone marrow and spinach. “The [gyoza] filling is soft, but the skin is crispy. When you bite into them, all the umami flavour explodes in your mouth,” Manaka says.
When it came to rethinking cuisses de grenouilles (frogs’ legs), the chef swapped the amphibians for more accessible, yet texturally similar, chicken confit, keeping an array of classic sauces: brown butter, ginger and eschalot, garlic and parsley.
The main courses offer timeless French dishes: steak frites with champignons, roasted snapper in bonne femme (a sauce of citrus, tomatoes, herbs, parsley, tarragon and mushroom), and a decadent magrets de canard à l’orange (a whole dry-aged, roasted duck accompanied by candied mandarins, cashews and orange glaze).
One surprise is the signature en croute. “Everyone might be familiar with beef Wellington,” says Manaka. “In France, it’s called en croute and served in a single layer of pastry. It goes back as far as 1815, to Napoleon and the Battle of Waterloo.” While the classic iteration is filled with beef chateaubriand, Manaka’s comes with a trio of meats – 180-day grain-fed Black Angus, dry-aged duck breast and foie gras – under a layer of umami mushrooms, green kale duxelles and soy skin. It’s a dish so intricate that it must be ordered 24 hours in advance.
The 60-page drinks list heroes French wines. If matching with the en croute, Manaka suggests Bruno Duchêne's La Luna, an earthy grenache-carignan blend grown in Languedoc-Roussillon, on the shores of the Mediterranean.
You’ll find Charlotte at a two-level, heritage-listed building on Blues Point Road, where high-ceilinged rooms have received a stately makeover. Parquetry flooring, light brown walls and golden-globed chandeliers frame marble-topped bars, while burnt orange and royal blue seats and banquettes curve through the space. Downstairs, a public dining room leads to a French Riviera-inspired outdoor terrace; upstairs houses a private dining room and function room with its own bar.
“Sydney has an appreciation for culinary innovation,” says Manaka. “I hope that people familiar with French food will feel nostalgic and love eating our dishes, and that customers new to French food will grow to love it too.”
Charlotte Bar & Bistro
139 Blues Point Road, McMahons Point
Fri & Sat 12pm–3pm, 6pm–11pm
Sun 12pm–3pm, 6pm–10pm