‘Famous since 1996’
The restaurant industry is all about restaurateurs connecting with people. On that front, Mick Ellison is the master. The seemingly laidback restaurateur, who has run one of the most successful eateries in town for 13 years, stands in the front window of his restaurant surveying the street, answering questions from tourists and greeting locals by name.
His restaurant, Mano’s, is Main Beach’s equivalent of the local pub – a place that people drop into after work or on their way home; a place to have a chat to Mick ‘the publican’.
“We closed the original Mano’s after ten years in Main Beach and I did other things,” Mick tells us, “but Main Beach was always at the back of my mind.”
It’s the reason he returned three years ago to the street that was once the coast’s premier dining strip. As part of ‘The Village Centre’ of Tedder Avenue, he’s taking part in rebuilding community, staking his claim on the strip with a new Mano’s for a younger generation of diners.
“The challenge for us is to bring something new to Main Beach – a place that fits the times,” he says.
“All I wanted was a cool little local bar, but this place was available. It had location on the corner, and so we struck a deal,” Mick says, denoting a change in attitude between landlords and tenants on Tedder.
“I wanted a big 3-sided bar so that people could stand around it like this,” he says pointing to a couple of guys lounging against the bar ‘chewing the fat’. “Everyone said the curved roof had to go, but we buffed it up and gave it some polish, and it looks great.”
Mick notes changes in the Main Beach demographic. The retirees are still here, but they’ve been joined by a younger generation who are taking up residence in the suburb.
“Lots of my regulars come in,” he says, referring to the older generation, “but their kids are a lot more used to spending money on themselves than their parents. Brisbane owners come down for weekends and we get lots of boaties and their families in here as well,” he adds.
It’s inevitable that we talk change with someone who’s been in the industry for as long as Mick has, his perception of what the market wants heightened by his time away.
“Food has changed a lot in the last ten years,” he says. “People want to eat what they know, but something more casual in a lighter style. They are staying on for a drink, grazing, feeling comfortable, with no waiting for the bill.”
He cites the choice of seating as an example of market-driven change, people wanting to perch on high stools, chat and share nibbles and drinks as they look out on the street rather than settling into a corner for a complete meal.
“People are here to enjoy themselves and they don’t want to wait. We’re doing share plates that you order and pay for at the bar: fresh Pan-Asian food.”
A quick browse shows us a one-page accessible ‘comfort’ menu of bar snacks, baos, bowls and share plates, with pizzas and burgers to satisfy larger appetites.
But with Woody Zen as Head Chef (ex-Rick Shores, Hideaway kitchen and Junk), this is a place where seeing the menu list is very different to tasting the food. Dishes are taste-driven and everything is made in house. It’s a huge point of difference.
What’s behind the scenes counts! Carefully managed to avoid waste and unnecessary cost, the menu is always evolving to suit seasonal produce and market trends. Managed as a team, there’s also a happiness and harmony among staff that’s evidenced in both food and service.
Specials add interest for locals, with Wednesday being curry and trivia night, and $1 specials on wings on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Overall, though, bestsellers are the noodles, wagyu burger with Asian slaw and bao.
It’s easy to see why the bao are such a hit! These soft and luscious buns, handmade by Woody, are filled with either softshell crab or pork belly that’s been marinated for hours to achieve both tenderness and flavour.
Handmade duck and coriander spring rolls burst with flavour. A tender bug roll with lettuce is lit by sriracha and fresh chilli. Dumplings lusciously mop up the soy sauce, basket by basket. The tender squid has a crisp gluten free crust, the thin crust pizza moves up a notch with a kick of jalapeno. Moving from plate to plate, we taste each dish, food envy no more!
This is not just bar food. It’s great nosh for a smart drinking crowd; simple easy-to-eat-with-one-hand dishes with an edge of Asian flavour. It’s a fine line to tread.
Succulent pork bao and a pint of Sapporo? Yes, we could do that! What’s more, the whole menu is available to take away! You can ring ahead and pick up on the journey home.
There are points of difference at the bar as well. From a $5 ‘house’ entry point, there’s Stone & Wood’s pale ale on tap, Guinness and Asahi, as well as a well-chosen selection of wines and stunning cocktails primed for a ladies’ night out!
When we visit for Friday lunch, the alfresco area looking out on the street is filled with groups of varying ages. With the kitchen open until late, it’s the ideal place for a stopover; a place to linger and watch the street.
A few handfuls of guys are seated around the bar talking to Mick and the Irish barman.
It’s then that I realise the significance of the roof. Spread out like wings across the bar, its overarching frame envelops patrons, just like the welcome of their host. It’s the welcome of friends we feel when we visit.
‘Famous since 1996…’
What has Mick seen in that time, I wonder, of both celebrities and notoriety? From racing car drivers to wheelers and dealers, from locals to moguls, Mick has hosted them all, made them all feel welcome.
“I just wish I’d kept a journal of those times,” Mick muses, without giving anything away.
There’s got to be a book in that…
1/19-21 Tedder Ave, Main Beach Ph: 07 5526 4022
Open: Mon – Thurs 3pm – late; Fri – Sun 12noon – late
NOTE: Good Food Gold Coast dined as a guest of Mano’s.
This is an updated version of a review first published in 2016.