4Fourteen – 414 Bourke St, Surry Hills NSW

Another week, another interstate trip. I haven’t had too many overnight stays in Sydney of late and on the odd occasion where I have stayed overnight; I’ve taken the easy option of hotel room service. I was thinking of compiling a list of my favourite hotel club sandwiches. Unfortunately, I didn’t get around to detailing my findings, but I think that the Intercontinental in Sydney is winning. And they provide Beerenberg condiments.

So anyway, it was high time I ventured from the safety and comfort of my king sized bed with its six pillows and continue the pursuit of understanding why Sydney thinks its restaurants are better than Melbourne.

Last year, I chose Colin Fassnidge’s Four in Hand in an attempt to quash this theory and I was unsuccessful because it was so fucking awesome. Since then, I’ve ardently followed Colin’s entertaining tweets and have keenly waited for the opening of Colin’s latest venture – the opening of a standalone restaurant in close proximity to the other venues, 4Fourteen in Surry Hills.

Again I found myself dining alone as my dinner companion had to cancel at the last minute. This ended up not being a bad thing because the key feature of 4Fourteen is the massive bar that seats twelve patrons around the open kitchen. There was plenty to take in, so in hindsight I was glad that I didn’t have to suffer idle chit-chat (I’m kidding, Tat).

So what was there to observe? Firstly, seven chefs working at a feverish pace. Alas, there was no Gordon Ramsay-esque theatrics of swearing or throwing pots and pans to be witnessed. In fact, it was all very quiet and well oiled for a place that’s only been open for a few weeks. Colin and head chef, Carla Jones were working collaboratively at the pass, mingling with the two dishwashers and the servers that handed checks directly to chef for orders to be called. It seemed more like a team that had been together for a couple of years, not weeks.

The floor space is huge, with a loud, almost raucous (in a good way) atmosphere. It’s fun. It’s laidback. It’s comfortable. You feel like you want to be there for a good time and a long time. Amongst the large tables occupied by a fairly good looking 30-something after work crowd, there’s even more seating at the (other, alcohol) bar. I wish this placed existed at the end of my street.

The unfortunate side of sitting at the bar (nearest to the front door) was the occasional waft of cigarette smoke from the smokers outside each time the front door was opened. It could have been the wind that teamed up with the inclement weather outside. Nonetheless, it was a little off-putting.

The menu is a little confusing as it’s broken up into food categories of Fish, Meat, Salads & Starches and Pastry, as opposed to your run-of-the-mill courses. The only indication of whether you’re getting a dish that’s suitable for an entrée or a main is the price. It’s a bit confusing. Maybe that’s the point.

So, using price as my guide, I started with the Live Rottnest Island (WA) Scallop with crushed ginger, fennel and horseradish ($11.50).  I wasn’t too sure whether ‘live’ meant it was served ‘alive’, which would have been a tad macabre or… I don’t know actually. Obviously it was a real scallop and it was alive at some point; hopefully earlier in the day. It was cooked to perfection though and the accompanying fennel and ginger purees complimented each other as opposed to one dominating the other. There no apparent detection of the horseradish at all. Second time this year. Perhaps it’s too early in the season. Some wilted warrigal provided some welcome colour and another element of texture. 

As much as it was a very delicious scallop, I remained a little perturbed by the cost. It sure was a lot of flair and pomp for one solitary scallop… in the shell, served atop a bed of pebbles – all very pretty, but it was one scallop. Colin has since informed me that the scallops are flown in ‘live‘ from Rottnest Island, hence the cost and the live part. Quality aside, it left me wondering what I could have ordered instead for a few extra dollars and be a little more, I don’t know… fulfilled? The warm crab roll ($14.50) perhaps or the miso smoked salmon with lemon curd and fennel bread ($14.50). At least the bread roll from Iggy’s, served with a generous quenelle of butter ($2.50) was fulfilling enough (even though you have to pay for bread).

The next dish was the suckling pig ($32). Colin and his team sure know how to cook pigs to perfection and this was no exception. An ample serving of fine slices of (loin?) meat featured a thin, glassy crackling that could have been the best pork I have ever eaten. The rest of the plate was well balanced with a perfect supporting cast: texture from bits of light and crispy crackling, cauliflower, both in crisp florettes and a puree, a great splodge of pistachio pesto, another splodge (or two) of prune puree, fried sage leaves and the most delightful, unctuous jus I have ever tasted. I was mad at myself for not leaving any of the bread to mop this sauce up when I ran out of meat.

A small side dish of cabbage salad (coleslaw) featured the aforementioned cabbage, thinly sliced radish and just when you though there wasn’t enough pork, crunchy dried bits of pork, dressed with a vinaigrette.

To drink with the pork, I chose the Joseph 2011 d’Elena Pinot Grigio ($67) from Primo Estate.

For dessert, I couldn’t go past the signature dish, Bounty ($16); an artful deconstruction of the popular chocolate bar, coconut ice cream dusted in cocoa, crackle, chocolate mousse, shards of fresh coconut and more shards of what I think was a coconut white chocolate, oh and more cocoa dusted over the top. Heavenly and great with a wee glass of the Sánchez Romate Cardenal Cisneros Pedro Ximenez ($10).

As is the case with Four in Hand, a great selection of cheeses are on offer for $9 per cheese. On the night, there were a couple of Spanish hard cheeses, piccante goat’s cheese, some Dutch thing and the two cheeses I opted for, an oozy washed rind and some soft cheese. I can’t remember exactly what it was but it was a stinky truffled cheese that was fantastic. The cheeses were served with house made lavosh, a thick slice of Granny Smith apple, some smooth and silky apple puree and a scary looking rusty, chipped knife thing. Something you could use to chiv someone if you weren’t happy with your cheese. Fortunately I was.

Service on the night was extremely friendly, efficient and knowledgeable.

I have to say that again, in my vain attempt to quash the Melbourne-is-heaps-better-than-Sydney-restaurant-scene theory isn’t gaining much traction. However, if Colin is considering opening another venture in the near future; please kindly consider opening it in Melbourne (preferably on the northern side of the city… around North Fitzroy, Northcote, Thornbury… somewhere around there. Thanks.)

4Fourteen
414 Bourke St, Surry Hills NSW
(03) 9331 5399
http://www.4fourteen.com.au/

Good For: Oinkingly good pig in a fantastic atmosphere
Not Good For: A quiet, romantic first date. Actually, that’s not true. I probably would go here.

4Fourteen on Urbanspoon

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COS Restaurant – 18 Leigh St, Adelaide

As an ex-pat Adelaidian, I have unrestricted license to bag South Australia for its idiosyncrasies and in total contradiction, I can easily defend my hometown to my heart’s content – particularly when football’s being discussed.

Most people are aware of the ongoing rivalry between Melbourne and Sydney or Sydney and Brisbane, but there’s also somewhat of a rivalry between Melbourne and Adelaide. Actually, it’s probably more apt to describe this as a fairly one-sided rivalry and most of Melbourne probably aren’t all that aware of it. If they are, they’re pretty coy about it…

“What’s that? Oh, it’s nothing. It’s probably Adelaide whinging that we’ve stolen something from them again”.

The Grand Prix hurt South Australian’s pretty hard. It’s still talked about like someone lost a close relative.

Fresh produce is a different story though. As much as I love Victoria and the ease in accessing seasonal, fresh produce, in my opinion SA reigns supreme in this neck of the woods. For mine, Adelaide’s Central Markets crap all over the Queen Victoria Market in quality, range and price. Then there’s the wine. Enough said.

When it comes to the restaurant scene though, Adelaide and SA has a bit of work to do. Other than reading a few things in national publications or indeed quality publications, like South Australia’s Sumptuous Magazine, there’s not much around to know what’s going on. Unless you have friends that are into that sort of thing. Most of mine aren’t. Review sites like Urbanspoon and other social medium (particularly Twitter) aren’t as widely utilised in Adelaide, as they seem to be in Melbourne or Sydney.

COS is a bistro-style restaurant in Adelaide that I’ve gone back to a number of times. It’s located in a side street called Leigh St, which links Currie St with the infamous Hindley St). In fact, with the number of restaurants that seem to be popping up in Leigh St, it’s starting to remind me of Hardware Lane, sans touts.

I reckon over the last four or five years, I’ve been there half a dozen times and I have recommended it at least another half a dozen or so people. The prices are reasonable; at least for a Melbourne person visiting Adelaide and it rates a sound 76% on Urbanspoon. Unfortunately it lacks the verbatim from punters, telling others about there experience. It seems more of the ‘in-vogue’ places are getting all of the review traffic and as COS is not offering Mexican street food or pintxos, which used to be known as tapas, albeit served on a toothpick (mum used to do that with Coon cheese cubes with cocktail onions. Little did she know she was ahead of her time), there aren’t many people writing on their experience.

COS have a plethora of oyster choices, featuring (no surprises) South Australian Pacific Oysters. You can have them natural, with lemon, lime and Tabasco syrup or an Asian lime, chilli and coriander, as a Bloody Mary shooter or perhaps their take on Kilpatrick, with speck and ‘killer’ sauce. Pardon the pun, but the world’s your (ahem) oyster.

On a recent visit, as much as I wanted some oysters, earlier in the day. I wasn’t feeling too oystery in the evening, which was a real shame. So, what to choose? I guess it’s hard to classify COS’ menu, other than bistro and a conduit to showcase local, fresh produce. It’s a little bit Mediterranean; chilli salt whitebait with lime aioli ($12.50) or braised, spiced meatballs with grana padano ($15.00) or you could go down the Central / South American route with ceviche of fish of the day with a ruby grapefruit, cucumber, radish, avocado, heirloom tomato and jalapeno salad ($16.50).

However, my dining companions and I settled on something to share after we’d demolished the warmed, house-made bread, dipped in a big bowl of fruity olive oil – the COS charcuterie plate, which featured a selection of finely sliced, air-dried bresola (the star of the plate), prosciutto, sopressa and pan fried chorizo with locally made pickles (cucumbers and mushrooms) and a stack of grilled sourdough ($12.50 per head). No complaints here, with the exception of who would eat the last piece of sopressa and sourdough.

For mains, the menu again sticks to the Mediterranean theme, with a bit of South America thrown in. The Suffolk milk fed lamb is served two ways; a prosciutto and rosemary saddle, a braised and pressed forequarter with accompanying fondant potatoes, seasonal mushrooms and beets, celeriac puree and a rosemary pangrattato ($35) or perhaps marinated chimmichurri gulf prawns, served with gazpacho salsa, avocado, lime and coriander salad ($32).

One of my dining companions settled on the roast ballotine of Barossa farm chicken, stuffed with roast garlic and a vegetable sofrito, red pepper and dried tomato fondant sauce, chorizo, purple garlic, gremolata and a polenta disc ($34). For the other two of us, it was about steak. One of my companions opted for the 300g grain-fed Coorong Angus scotch fillet, dry aged for 21 days ($40.50) and I went for what I think is the king of texture, a 300g grain-fed Coorong Angus entrecote, which was also dry aged for 21 days ($39.50). All steaks come with a choice of fat cut chips, truffle scented mash, duck fat roasted kipflers or hand cut fries and a choice of red wine jus, house-made mustards, green peppercorn jus, café de Paris butter, gorgonzola brandy butter or sauce béarnaise.

The steaks do require sides if you need something else other than starch (or more starch) and there is a good selection, from rocket leaf salad with pear and a balsamic glaze ($7.50), ceasar salad ($9), mixed heirloom tomato salad with olives, fetta and baby basil ($12.50) and several more to choose from. We settled on some reasonably healthy seasonal greens (Brussels sprouts, spinach and broccoli) with roasted almond & herb butter ($9).

I am happy to declare that this is probably the best steak I have had in a couple of years… well flavoured, great texture and perfectly cooked to order (medium rare). The let down was the red wine jus. It was the right consistency, but it simply lacked flavour. The “hand cut fries” were also disappointing. As much as they were probably hand cut, they were more like soggy, clumpy strings. It was good to see a small mound of seasonal freshly grated horseradish on the plate, but it lacked punch. The condiment winner by a mile was the house-made mustard. It was hot, a little tangy and had a wetter consistency than a mass-produced mustard. If they sold this by the jar, I would buy nothing else ever again.

My dining partner’s fat cut chips were what I should have ordered. They were fat cut chips, as advertised. My other dining partner’s roast ballotine of chicken featured two generous slabs of moist chook, perfectly seasoned. The accompanying bits and sauces worked well and the red pepper and dried tomato fondant sauce was stunning, flavoursome and colourful.

To drink, we were happy to relieve COS of a bottle of 2010 Atlas ‘Section 32’ Cabernet / Malbec ($50) from the Clare Valley.

Service on the night started well but slowly went south as the night progressed. After our mains were served, we struggled to receive any service and as a last resort (waiting at least 15 minutes with visibly empty glasses), we had to top up our own wine glasses. We could have also been convinced to crack open another bottle of Section 32, had the staff afforded us the opportunity. But it didn’t happen, which is their loss I guess. Our table was simply cleared of everything and robotically, dessert menus were plonked on the table.

If I lived in Adelaide and had the opportunity to take interstate or overseas guests out for a casual dinner and give them a good idea of what South Australian produce is all about; without the fuss and exorbitant cost, I’d take them to COS (if I knew the service was going to be OK). At the very least, this is one thing Victoria can’t take away from South Australia.

COS Restaurant
18 Leigh St, Adelaide
(08) 8231 7611
http://justcos.com.au/asp/home.aspx

Good For: Showcasing South Australia’s fine, fresh produce… That’ll teach them bloody Victorians!

Not Good For: Fries, jus and consistent service. Minor infractions.

COS Leigh Street on Urbanspoon

North by Northwest: Cutler & Co’s Seaonal and Regional Produce Dinner

Getting to visit Cutler & Co has been a task. It’s not like I haven’t wanted to go there either. Firstly, there’s the gift voucher I received for my birthday last October that I still haven’t used (even though I have been assured it will still be honoured… and I will use it in the next couple of months. Promise).

Then there was my recent week’s stay in hospital, where from my window at St Vincent’s, I was compelled to gaze upon Cutler & Co’s facade whilst miserably consuming hospital food. There was a glimmer of hope when, after a few opportunistic tweets, I was to receive a ‘care package’ of tasty appetisers. But then I was discharged and my hopes were duly shattered.

Third time lucky came in the form of a phone call late last week from Essjay, asking if I would like to join her and Ed for dinner at Cutler & Co to celebrate Autumnal fare:

Me: When is it?
Essjay: Monday
Me: F*ckit! It’s my daughter’s fifth birthday. I can’t go [sobs hysterically]

Well that’s how I remembered the conversation. Crestfallen, I told Kate when I got home and surprisingly, she said I’d be mad not to go. She was sure that our daughter wouldn’t be too scarred for life. I wasn’t too sure, but who am I to argue with one’s better half? So I called Essjay back and it was game on.

I was extremely interested in celebrating seasonal and local produce from a particular region. I guess if we all lived on farms or had more time in our lives… or at least the inclination, I am sure we’d all be eating fresh, seasonal produce and enjoying things when they should be enjoyed – in their prime. Thanks to microchip technology and the like, we get stuff all year round these days, regardless of whether it’s any good or not. Gone are the days where you only could get asparagus when there was an ‘r’ in the month… or is that yabbies? I can’t remember. The point is most of us do not care enough to do too much about it.

Fortunately, Andrew McConnell and the team at Cutler & Co do care and last night was the first of a series of seasonal feasts that showcase the food and wine of regional Victoria. Their plan, as Mother Nature moves us into each new season, is to focus on a different part of Victoria and create a menu that highlights the freshest produce available for that region.

Last night’s ‘North by Northwest’ dinner focussed on the produce available in Autumn from Northern Victoria in the form of a five-course degustation, matched with local wines.

Proceedings opened with an amuse bouche of some simple, house-cured Manzanilla olives paired with a 2011 Galli Estate ‘Artigiano’ Pinot Grigio from Sunbury. The flavoursome and meaty olives were a great accompaniment to the clean, crisp and fruity wine.

Our first course combined cured and lightly smoked rainbow trout (from Wilhelmina, near god-forsaken Murrindindi, where I hate camping) with the mild, fresh herb of chickweed, a sharper citrus hit from some sorrel, texture and crunch from the smoky, almost bacon-like rye seeds, tangy crunch from pickled onion and cucumber and a fine quenelle of mustard cream. The 2010 Williams Crossing (by Curly Flat) Chardonnay from the Macedon Ranges complimented the citrus from the sorrel and still allowed the mild smokiness of the trout to come through.

Next up was a densely pressed pheasant terrine; three blocks garnished with bitter leaves, a sweet reduction, spiced almond crumb and topped with Cutler & Co’s signature foie gras cigar. As much as I tried to save my cigar to the very end to be enjoyed on its own, in a corner, by myself, I did the right thing and tried it with the terrine. With the exception of the most awesomely light and crunchy cigar filled with creamy, rich foie gras, the terrine was probably my least favourite dish of the night. By all means it was pleasant pheasant, but nothing remarkable to truly distinguish it as pheasant. It was just lost. Maybe it was just lost on me.

As for the wine, the 2010 Vinero ‘South Gisborne’ Pinot Noir, made by Cutler & Co’s Sommelier, Liam O’Brien, was an absolute cracker. Smooth, fruity with lots of cherry flavour. It was a perfect match.

My favourite dish of the night was the Sher Wagyu scotch, served with hay-baked carrots, watercress puree and char grilled garlic shoots. This was some of the most meltingly tender beef I have ever, ever eaten. Someone made the comment that it absolutely trounced Blackmore Wagyu and I tend to agree. The meat was perfectly cooked to a blushing rare to medium rare and lightly anointed with a delicious jus.

The char grilled garlic shoots and watercress puree provided different levels of freshness to counteract the richness of the Wagyu. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the sweet roasted hay-baked carrot, but I would honestly need a non-hay baked carrot to determine the difference the hay made as I failed to detect and flavours imparted by the hay. No surprises in the well matched limited release 2008 Heathcote Estate ‘Block A’ Shiraz. Ballsy, but not overly tannic… it was on the fruitier side, which is my preference.

The penultimate dish was the Holy Goat ‘La Luna’, served with poached quince and flaxseed lavosh. We were fortunate to be drinking a ‘project wine’; a 2009 Chalmers Passisto Malvasia/Picolit from the Murray Darling region. There was mild concern at the table as to how this sweet, but not too sweet wine would pair with the creamy, almost nutty and tangy goat’s chevre. It worked a treat and more so that the quince flavours were picked up in the wine. My favourite wine of the night (slightly pipping Liam’s Pinot).

Our last dish was a warming, rich pear and suet pudding with chestnut ice cream. The quenelle of ice cream could have been bigger, but that’s just me being greedy (it was adequately proportioned to the pudding). The pudding was light, not overly sweet, nutty from the chestnuts and a sign that winter will soon be on its way. The accompanying Harcourt Valley’s Bress ‘Bon Bon’ Cider aptly accentuated the pear in the dessert and was well balanced between the acidity cutting through the richness of the dessert, and its sweetness with neither the cider nor dessert dominating the other.

The night was a great celebration of produce at its prime, presented in the best possible way by one of Australia’s best chefs. If last night was anything to go by, I will look forward to seeing what the following seasons and regions bring to Cutler & Co’s table.

[farfromfamished dined as a guest of Cutler & Co]