23-33 Mary Street Surry Hills, New South Wales 2010
|Opening hours||Lunch Fri noon-3pm; Dinner Tues-Sat 5.30- 10.30pm|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Bar, Business lunch, Groups, Licensed, Long lunch, Open fire, Wheelchair access|
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||02 8204 0800|
|Free wine for Citibank cardholders here|
You can smell it the instant the heavy rustic door on the street glides silently to one side as you go to push it open. Smoke. Clean, fruity, beguiling, and permeating everything it touches. And I mean everything.
At Firedoor, the new wood-fired restaurant from Lennox Hastie and the Fink Group, the freshly made cultured butter that comes with the wood-fired bread is smoked. The jersey milk curd with the ruby-red wood-roasted peppers is smoked. The chocolate ganache with the banana ice-cream is smoked. And maybe it's auto-suggestion, but even the Oratoire St. Martin Reserve des Seigneurs ($95), a velvety, full-bodied Southern Rhone red from Ned Goodwin's on-brief wine list, tastes for all the world like smoked plums.
The chef appears to be partially smoked himself, barely visible in the haze of the open kitchen, shovelling coals from the massive refractory concrete double oven into the elaborate grill. He'd be used to it, having spent five years cooking with Basquaise wood-fired grill master, Victor Arguinzoniz of Etxebarri near Bilbao. Like Arguinzoniz, Hastie takes the grill seriously, installing adjustable racks to vary the heat intensity, and using different woods to bring out the best in different ingredients. Whatever saving there is on gas, is spent on ironbark, olivewood and orangewood.
And on the decor. An architect at the next table estimates $8000 for the gliding/sliding door alone. Then there are the handsome wooden counters lining both bar and kitchen, the room-long banquette and the long central share tables fashioned from old bridge timbers.
And on the ingredients. Hastie is next-level particular about beef, insisting on extreme aging to intensify flavour. Angus beef rib on the bone, priced at $156 a kilogram from O'Connor in Gippsland is dry-aged for 150 days (that's five months, people), cut to order with a band saw, showered with Olsson's fleur de sel and grilled over grapevines, adding an other-worldly fruity quality to the smoke, scorch, fat and deep, rich savouriness.
But this isn't necessarily a meatfest. I love the fish and seafood here, which change radically from day to day. Live WA marron ($42); simply split, warmed over applewood and dressed with naught but tangy pearls of finger lime, is what marron should be, the flesh just-set, the juices running from the head. Pippies ($28) are plumped up and popped open on the grill and strewn with sweet, slender garlic shoots and chilli. Murray cod ($38) is cooked with extreme precision, dressed with its own gelatinous juices and finely shaved turnips, with a remarkable clarity of flavour; the lush flesh as rich as scallop meat.
Vegetables are not side dishes but features, especially a scorchy half-head of cauliflower scattered with crisp hazelnuts ($18). Vegetables also star as dessert, with roasted spaghetti squash ($16) taking a bow under a heavenly smoked milk ice-cream.
There are some disconnects, with service more casual than it has to be, and not much to order for the early part of the meal.
I suspect a lot of people aren't going to get this. They're not going to enjoy just-set proteins instead of recognisably cooked meats. They're not going to put a value on the quality of the ingredients, the skill of the grill chef, the science of the fire, or the "one-thing-done-well" philosophy.
That's fine. Just don't come here because it's "Sydney's hottest restaurant". Come instead because you value the enduring, slow burn of integrity and skill over the leaping flames of fashion and hype.
Best bit The purity and integrity of cooking by fire.
Worst bit Too few options for the start of the meal.
Go-to dish 150-day dry-aged beef rib on the bone ($156 a kilogram)
Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide. This rating is based on the Good Food Guide scoring system.