105 Sutherland Street Paddington, New South Wales 2021
|Opening hours||Lunch daily from noon; dinner daily from 5.30pm|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Bar, Business lunch, Licensed, Long lunch, Pub dining, Romance-first date, Private dining|
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $40)|
|Payments||Diner's Club, eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||02 9326 2254|
The striking Luke Sciberras squid art still dominates the plush, masculine dining room. Paddington's top property agents still colonise every second table. The next-door bar still holds trivia night every Monday. So what's new at the Four In Hand? Just about everything else.
After 10 years at the helm, head chef Colin Fassnidge has left the building. His nose-to-tail cooking came to define new pub dining; his pig's ear schnitzels and braised lamb shoulders the fodder of many a deal done and dusted in this care centre for the eastern suburbs set.
It's a sign of serious intent by the Public House Management Group, who bought the pub late last year, that they have partnered with the ever-busy Guillaume Brahimi of the classic French fine diner Guillaume. Together with hands-on head chef Darrell Felstead (ex-Foveaux) he has created a menu that he calls "gastropub at its best".
It's not what I would call gastropub, but then, neither is it classic bistro or fine dining. I'm not entirely sure what it is. Rolling from duck liver parfait to grilled octopus with romesco to sticky lamb ribs with pomegranate to Balmain bug with red capsicum, anchovy and soba noodles to baked celeriac with carrot risotto, it's a mishmash of influences generally labelled "Contemporary" in self-defence.
There's the instant flavour hit of "Reuben cromesques" ($24), crumbed and deep-fried croquette fingers, richly filled with sauerkraut and shredded brisket, and served with lots of Swiss mayo. Pork hock terrine ($24) sounds like classic bistro food, but looks like shredded rillettes formed into a round, served with wilted, oily, cavolo nero. Also in the bit-too-busy box is cured salmon ($24), the thickly cut fingers and smoky quenelle of salmon mousse under a jungle camouflage of crisp fish skin and young leaves, strewn with a lightly pickled, oily mirepoix of provencal vegetables. That salmon mousse, though. It makes the rest look like passengers.
Then along comes one single idea, beautifully executed. A crisp, seared fillet of snapper served on a gorgeously green, bright-tasting parsley sauce littered with plump, nicely cooked mussels ($34). Here, for me, is the way forward. I can almost hear Brahimi's voice behind me. "Just a beautiful piece of fish, very simple, a glass of wine, what more do you want?"
Roasted beef sirloin with sauteed mushrooms, mushroom puree and smoked jus gras ($38) is a cheffy version of steak and mushrooms, if a bit messy.
On the side, Felstead throws out a challenge to Brahimi's dominance of the world of pomme puree, setting his Baked Potato Mash (a rich, smooth, heavenly gloop for $8 a bowl) against Guillaume's famed Paris Mash (a rich, smooth, heavenly gloop served at Guillaume). It's no contest. The world needs both Paris Mash and Pub Mash.
Frenchy floor staff are watchful and ready to engage; and the reduced, more affordable wine list still has enough to interest, including a fresh, juicy 2014 Rioja, the Olivier Riviere Rayos Uva ($60). Desserts run from chocolate cookie and milk gelato ($16) to a tonka bean-flavoured, risotto-like rice pudding ($16) topped with a lush white chocolate sorbet, raspberry compote and trails of dehydrated raspberry dust.
Felstead is a talented chef with classical training; the produce is first-rate, and in spite of the decibel level, it's a great space to be in. What it lacks is a clear vision of who and what it is. No longer a champion of the nose-to-tail movement, it now has to work out how best to champion everything in between.
Best bit: The Pub Mash.
Worst bit: It's bloody noisy.
Go-to dish: Snapper, parsley and mussels, $34.
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.