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.

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Four in Hand – 105 Sutherland St, Paddington

My day job requires some interstate travel. These days, it’s Sydney and sometimes it’s an overnight trip. For most overnighters, I’m far too knackered to bother with anything remarkable for dinner. I’m probably more confortable at the hotel bar or a local pub over whatever book I’ve brought with me or, boringly catching up on work. How sad.

If I do grab something to eat, I’ll tend to head back to my hotel room and order room service. I cannot bring myself to sit at a table for one looking all forlorn, with my bottom lip quivering and all of the other tables of two; the couples and the other tables of four and six, looking over at me and feeling sorry for me because I’m eating alone.

Pathetic, isn’t it?

However my latest epiphany was to better utilise my occasional stayovers in Sydney. There are a whole bunch of restaurants north of the border that remain on my wish list and it would be remiss of me as a food blogger to let these opportunities pass me by, even if it meant [gasp] eating alone!

The likes of Marque, Quay and the other three-hatted establishments are probably a little too extreme for what really boils down to a simple meal out on a school night. Well, it’s probably a little more than that. Regardless, Four in Hand was my clear first choice, by a mile. After hearing a lot about Colin Fassnidge this year, I’ve remained intrigued at his refined take on the Nose-to-Tail food philosophy. Can you take such robust cuts of an animal and make them pretty? I was going to find out.

Four in Hand is a pub with a really good dining room attached… or is it the other way around? Anyway, the pub itself is your typical inner-suburban Sydney pub; tiled walls retained but not tired in looks… it reminded me a little of the front bar at the Lincoln in Carlton, albeit with a few pokie machines tucked away (nearly) out of view. With the youngish post-work crowd filtering in to take advantage of the $5 ‘happy hour’ schooners, served by the effervescent and quite attractive female bar staff, you would not expect there was a two-hat restaurant attached to this establishment. Only do you begin to realise that this is a little different when the specials board in the front bar reads Pork Rillettes and Crumbed Pigs Tail with Celeriac Remoulade.

After a few cleansing $5 schooners, I prised myself from the bar stool and made my way into the dining room, to be ushered to my solitary table for one [sob], near the window. On the converse, when you enter the dining room, you would not expect there was a bustling, lively pub on the other side of the door. It’s a great contrast.

The menu is fairly minimal, with six or so different starters and the same of mains. This makes good sense, given there’s so much care, attention and effort invested into some very pretty dishes. The over-sized mirror on the wall next to the kitchen lists the specials of the night; freshly shucked natural oysters and a tempting cumin-spiced 12-hour lamb shoulder served with baby carrots, colcannon, minted yoghurt and rosemary jus ($88 for 2 people). One of the number of waiting staff that served me on the night tried to coerce me: “it could feed one and if there’s any left over, we could organise a doggy bag”. Then I see the beast of a shoulder being served to another table. I don’t think so.

There was to be no ordering off the menu on this night. I was here for the whole experience and I given it may be some time before I visited Four in Hand again, I may as well go out with all guns blazing, taking no prisoners, etc, etc. There were two degustation menus to choose from; a five course degustation menu ($90 + an optional $60 with matching wines) or you could really give it a nudge with the Chef’s Menu; an eight course degustation menu ($120 + an optional $70 with matching wines).

I ambitiously opted for the latter and proceedings were duly opened with some top notch sourdough (from Iggy’s, which seems to be the bread of choice in good Sydney restaurants), good butter and a Delgado Zuleta ‘La Goya’ Manzanilla Sherry as a palate cleanser. This was closely followed by the kitchen’s amuse-bouche; a smoked fish, paprika and basil soup, aptly served in an espresso cup (the colour of the soup resembled a good crema). The soup was light and refreshing. A citrus zing hit the sides of my tongue, finishing on creaminess. A great start.

Soon after, my first course of seared Bonito with avocado, apple jelly and cucumber arrived. A very pretty dish, unusually served in a tuna tin atop some pebbles. An interesting touch but I’m not sure as to what it represented. It made me feel like I was eating a bloody good tin of cat food (note: this is a weird compliment) due to the tuna and jelly components. A 2010 Domäne Wachau Gewürztraminer, was a light and fruity accompaniment to the dish.

The second course was to become my favourite of the night. Sometimes you eat or drink something that instantly makes you smile because it’s so damn good and this dish did just that. A small mound of well seasoned, fresh crab, lobster and corn kernels were served in a shallow bowl with a soft, yielding braised pig’s tail. An accompanying petite jug of rich, fishy bisque was poured at the table by one of the waiting staff to complete this unforgettable dish. The saltiness of the bits of corn and seafood were heavenly against the sweetness and unctuousness of the pig’s tail and the creaminess of the bisque which also provided the slightest ever back note of spice. A perfect marriage of flavours and textures. In short, the most defining superlative is that it was just fucking amazing. The accompanying Denis Pommier Petit Chablis Chardonnay was again a great match, particularly with the creaminess of the bisque.

Course number three was a well cooked piece of roasted kingfish, smoked eel, beetroot reduction, beetroot leaves and a soft pillow of gnocchi. An exceptional range of textures, lightened by the beetroot leaves. The smokiness and saltiness of the eel played off against the sweet reduction. Just make sure you eat this dish with a little care and caution as the potential splashback from the beetroot could ruin one’s shirt if not careful. As for wine, my notes go as far as telling me that the accompanying drop was an ‘Italian white’… Great note taking, Paul.

We then moved into the serious stuff, crossing from the lighter dishes into some more hearty fare. Pig; head to toe or nose to tail… or something similar was a great example of an uber-rich dish done well, leaving you (greedily) wanting more. A piece of perfectly cooked pork belly, a chop from a rack (complete with crackling) and pickled snout were served on a dark wooden board with a number of accompaniments that worked very well to off-set the richness; kale, pickled turnips and a vanilla puree. Rustic food with some serious polish. An obvious match was from the lighter spectrum of reds in the form of a Tuscan Sangiovese (Casabianca Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG).

The second meat course was liquorice-braised beef brisket, an ever so tender slice of veal (tenderloin?) on top of a smoked puree, a small stack of some very precise onion rings and a carrot and Manzanilla sherry puree to accompany a generous length of roasted bone marrow. The sherry in the carrot puree was a masterstroke, another addition incorporated to off-set the richness, in this case the marrow. The liquorice sauce was subtle, sticky, rich and oh so warming, as was the familiar McLaren Vale Penny’s Hill Shiraz to compliment the dish.

I could have happily rolled out out of the front door at this point, but there was still a way to go. You observe a lot more  when you’re dining by yourself and earlier in the evening, sitting on top of a cabinet just below the stair case, I spied what was the largest cheese board in the world. An array of eight or nine, maybe ten, seriously good imported cheeses; three types of goat’s cheese, a very ripe d’Affinois, comté, cheddar, a couple of washed rind cheeses and a couple of blue cheeses. Had I not been five dishes into an eight-course meal, I would have loved to try them all, but I duly settled on the d’Affinois, comté, one of the blue cheeses and one of the washed rind cheeses.

As the cheeses were being taken into the kitchen to be sliced and served, three wine glasses were placed on the table, each filled with a different dessert wine to compliment the final courses. If my memory serves me correctly (as my notes surely don’t) there was a Botrytis Semillon, a Rutherglen Muscadelle (the ‘new’ name for a tokay) and a Pedro Ximenez – or something similar. Clearly, things were getting a little hazy at this point.

The cheeses were, as expected, exemplary and served with the lightest and bestest ever house-made lavosh I have ever come across. If Colin ever takes the Luke Mangan route and touts a whole bunch of stuff for people to take home, this is one thing he should consider selling… in addition to jars of pickled pig snouts.

The penultimate course was a prune puree, Armagnac cream, and hot ginger crumble. It’s a damn shame the cold months are over as I’ll be madly trying to replicate this crunchiest crumble ever recipe next winter, although the waiter hinted that Demerara sugar was used. Brilliant!

I barely had the room to manage the last course. Alas, it wasn’t the ‘4’s’ Chocolate Snickers, but chocolate and beetroot; a chocolate delice on a beetroot sauce, beetroot cubes, beetroot and ginger sorbet, chocolate tuile and a fine dusting of cocoa… I think I managed to remember everything. Sometimes you can come across some pretty naff pairings of beetroot and chocolate, but this hit the mark. The best example I have tasted of how and why these two ingredients can work so well together, in addition to the other things like the contrasting textures – crunchy tuile versus soft delice and the heat from the ginger against a cold sorbet.

Some Cointreau and chocolate truffles with a well made short black managed to find the last of the vacant room in my tummy, to round out what was a most exceptional and memorable experience.

As much as I don’t like eating alone and some will argue that you do not need good friends to enjoy good food, I am yet to agree. Sharing in conversation and sharing the experience are just as much, especially when it’s this good. Let’s hope I can rid myself of this self-effacing, oh-woe-is-me attitude so I can continue to discover Sydney’s other delights when I am again on my lonesome. I also hope Four in Hand hasn’t set the bar too high.

Four in Hand
105 Sutherland St, Paddington 2021
(03) 9362 1999
http://www.fourinhand.com.au/

Good For: Convincing staunch Melburnians that the Sydney food scene is smoking
Not Good For: Nothing, really. It was all too good.

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Catalina

Sydney is truly beautiful; the views are stunning from every angle. Yes, Melbourne has its pockets of beauty, but overall its looks can be best described like that of a brooding Emo.

But alas, beauty comes at a price. Especially on Sundays and Public Holidays when everyone in Sydney applies a 10% surcharge to everything, which apparently was outlawed in May 2009 through an amendment to the Trade Practices Act, yet this is ignored by restaurateurs.

And this is a shame, because the prices at Catalina already push into the $50 bracket for some mains and another 10% on top of that just becomes a little crazy, irrespective of the stunning views. This is not a Melbourne person baulking at Sydney prices, in fact it’s far from it. If a dish is fantastic and becomes an experience as opposed to a plate of food, its price is totally justified.

Which bring me to others’ reviews on their dining experience. One person on another site gives Catalina 10/10 for food, service, ambience and value, stating that they dine there a couple of times a week and “… for those that are finding faults with the price / portions of the meals – your (sic) obviously not well equipped to be dining at this restaurant.”

Well equipped? What the fuck does that mean?

OK, this is a long, drawn out way to get to my point, but here it is. I do find fault with Catalina’s prices and in particular the portion size. In most instances, the dishes themselves fell down in the flavour department. If you are paying mid-thirties for an entrée and mid-fifties for a main course, the dishes on offer should be pushing into OMFG experience territory.

My Tuna Carpaccio with soy and citrus dressing was six small discs of paper-thin tuna (probably no more than 20 grams of protein on the plate), flavoured with a ho-hum dressing (as advertised) and a scattering of micro herbs. I’ve had better and it was just very pedestrian. My fellow diners also reported their dishes weren’t exactly rocking their worlds either; the natural oysters with tobiko (flying fish roe) lacked some punch from the accompanying lime and chilli and the seared Queensland sea scallops with zucchini and goats cheese croquettes and tomato frito was under seasoned.

However, there were some good news stories from other parts of the table; the confit pork belly with cuttlefish, fennel purée, pancetta and lentils received a big, fat tick. In hindsight, I should have stuck with my initial choice of Catalina house smoked salmon with soft boiled duck egg, truffle mayonnaise and brioche. I somehow think I would have been very happy with this dish.

Mains again, varied in terms of our satisfaction. More so there were elements of dishes that were disappointing. In terms of flavour, my special of kingfish with chorizo, squid and chickpeas was bang on. Equally so was the quality and doneness of the fish. Unfortunately the chickpeas were underdone and mealy, which was a shame.

Two fellow diners opted for the double roasted pasture-raised free range Burrawong duck à l’orange; it was reported as OK, if not a little dry. However praise all round for the pan fried snapper fillet with potato and garlic mash; lemon caper butter and the 200 day grain fed beef tenderloin with gnocchi romaine; truffle, mushroom and pancetta salsa.

Catalina bake their own excellent quality sourdough bread and this is offered generously from taking your order through to the main course.

For dessert, we took on two of the dessert selection plates, which feature five smaller desserts from the menu. We were served the classic lemon tart with mascarpone, a dark chocolate mousse with salted caramel centre and caramel ice cream, a Vanilla bean crème brûlée with marmalade ice cream, white chocolate, fromage frais, cherry cheese cake with sour cherry ice cream and the honeycomb parfait with chocolate brownie and caramel. All desserts were well presented. Unfortunately the first forkful of the dark chocolate mousse with salted caramel centre brought with it a great big hair. Very off-putting, however the extremely apologetic server removed the dessert plate and a new one was eventually brought to the table.

Aside from the hair, the desserts were wonderful. Each one met or exceeded our palate’s expectation and the standouts were the sour cherry ice cream and the hairless version of the dark chocolate mousse with salted caramel centre was my favourite.

Our unofficial way of rating a place it by its cheese selection. For $43 we received a portion of cheddar, brie and blue. The brie and blue were perfectly ripened and in their prime. The cheddar was a bit lacklustre in the flavour department. The accompanying walnut bread was excellent and the quince paste, muscatels, etc, were of your normal garden variety.

Throughout the day we stuck with the 2010 Shaw & Smith Sauvignon Blanc, which attracted the expected 300% mark up. We drank more than a few bottles of wine, so we were mindful that our price point wasn’t too steep. Catalina’s wine list is extensive and mostly expensive. We paired our cheese with the 2009 Punt Road Botrytis Semillon ($92).

Would we go back? Probably not, given it’s Sydney and we’re in Melbourne and there are 100’s of other places to experience.

Was it worth it? No. I’ve had much more memorable meals at $250 per head… although there was that stunning view.

To top off a day of highs and lows, the cabs we ordered to take us to our next point of call refused to take us because of the distance (a 5 minute drive), so we hopped on a Watsons Bay-bound ferry and enjoyed some cleansing beers on the deck of the Watsons Bay Hotel, watching the sun go down over Sydney. At least we ended on a high.

Catalina
Lyne Park, Rose Bay NSW 2029
(02) 9371 0555
www.catalinarosebay.com.au

Good for: the stunning vista, catching a sea plane to hang out at Summer Bay
Not good for: owners that stroll around with self importance, reeling off chef’s names as close friends and associates. We don’t care.

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