199 George St The Rocks, NSW 2000
|Opening hours||Noon-10pm daily|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Licensed|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||02 9250 3160|
Luxury hotels love the power of a celebrity chef – think Heston at London's Mandarin Oriental. Or, should I say, they used to. Sydney's Four Seasons Hotel has done the celebrity thing twice in past years, first with Hamish Ingham at The Woods, then with Mark Best at Pei Modern.
Each were worthy incarnations, and each lasted two years before the new broom swept clean.
Now the name has changed to the inoffensive Mode; the sort of name that survives rigorous consumer testing and committee debate.
But this isn't just a name change. The hotel has spent big-time on moving the nine-metre-long bronzed bar to centre stage, and encasing the dining space in frosted, fluted glass.
Lucchetti Krelle interiors tend to work for both client and diner: you can now sit up at the bar on a velvet stool under pearly Tom Dixon pendant lights and watch the chefs work the wood-fired oven and grill in the drama of the open kitchen. Nice.
And the menu? I was expecting Italian – the new executive chef is Francesco Mannelli from Balla, Bistrode CBD and est, and the new restaurant manager is Simone Cordedda – but it's more about business-end-of-the-city staples such as school prawns, kingfish sashimi, fresh burrata, beef tartare, whole fish of the day, roasted spatchcock and grilled T-bone. Easy, comfortable food, finessed into city dining.
The only real surprise is a daily special of far north Queensland's latest premium seafood, champagne lobster ($28) which has been split, grilled-then-roasted, and served with miso butter, fresh karkalla and dark red bull's blood leaves. There's such charm in its sweet simplicity, I'd have 10 of them if I could afford it.
Grilled calamari salad with brussels sprouts, lemon and chilli ($24) is a well-mannered dish, good for a working lunch. Chicken liver pate ($19) is served with grilled sourdough, and disconcertingly pink and loose.
A thick, pan-tanned fillet of john dory ($42) shows real technique – precisely cooked and nicely matched to a fresh-tasting herb-green celeriac and caper salad, with half a dozen mussels lolling about.
But really, you shouldn't make "Fremantle octopus, potatoes, leeks and radishes" ($37) sound like a riff on Spain's wonderful paprika-spiked pulpo a la Gallega, and then just serve the tentacle with a leek and potato puree. It also feels like an entree's worth of food for a main course price.
Speaking of price, there is real value to be had across the Oz-dominated wine list – yes, in a big, luxe, city hotel – like a soft and supple Torbreck Juveniles GSM for a very fair $65.
So you win some, you lose some. Wins are the sparkling new space, sitting at the bar, Bendigo Pottery tableware, good bread, high comfort levels, good wine prices and the fun of being among fellow diners from France, Japan and America.
Losses include a safe menu, sometimes slow delivery and grabby food prices.
It's my guess that all the management really wants, post-celebrity, is a nice, typical hotel dining room with a nice typical hotel menu for a nice typical hotel audience.
And it's very possible, with the new Mode Kitchen & Bar, that it hasgot exactly what it wanted.
Best bit: The wood-fired grill and oven
Worst bit: Dining with a safety net
Go-to dish: Roasted john dory, mussels, celeriac & caper salad, $42