1 Barangaroo Ave Barangaroo, NSW 2000
|Opening hours||Lunch daily noon-3pm; dinner daily 5.30-11pm|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 8871 7171|
It's the first major restaurant opening of the year (if you fudge the fact that it actually opened on December 28). It's also one of the biggest restaurant openings of the year.
Woodcut has it all. A rock-star location by the water at Barangaroo, with a broad, shady terrace.
A star chef with a formidable CV in former Bridge Room owner/chef Ross Lusted.
Multiple open kitchens, ringed with seats that put you right on the coalface. It even has controversy, with its casino landlord, Crown Sydney, about to hear the findings of the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority's inquiry.
And yet when you walk in – masked, sanitised, and QR-coded – all that melts away. You're in a world wreathed in countless young staff members, deep levels of comfort, an unusually high level of detail and finish, and a genuinely intriguing menu.
This is the grown-up restaurant that Ross and Sunny Lusted always wanted to open, with its focus on raw materials transformed by wood, coal and steam.
Navigating the menu takes time, so order an Americano from the bar (although you might, as I did, receive an Old-Fashioned instead) and do your homework.
Tip: toss out any old ideas of entree/main/dessert, and build your order around the cooking method instead.
From the raw bar, a raw fish plate ($36), comes as a vivid, painterly carpaccio of ocean trout, kingfish, tuna and snapper under a chardonnay vinegar dressing, studded with tiny capers and a very fine dice of crisp, fresh pear.
From the wood-roast, an outrageously colourful John Olsen canvas of fruity, smoky, red and yellow lipstick peppers with Bruny Island olives ($23) is a highlight.
Pair it with black garlic bread ($7), where two thick wedges of Pioik Bakery sourdough are brindled with black garlic butter ($7) and plancha-grilled until ridiculously, overwhelmingly, irresistibly rich.
From the steam kitchen, where three gleaming American steam kettles have been installed at great cost, come just-opened pippies ($32), tossed with roasted chickpeas and chickpea leaves in curry-scented, buttery juices. Classic and classy.
From the main kitchen, under chef de cuisine Daniel Leyva, comes my favourite Woodcut dish of "brick" chicken ($23).
Brined thigh meat is cooked in an Oigen cast-iron pan under a steel weight until crisp-skinned, doused in acidic Middle Eastern barberries and sent out with warm, winey grapes. Couldn't be simpler, couldn't be better.
The opening menu was surprisingly – and uncharacteristically – light on vegetarian, but this has now been rectified with a dedicated meat-free menu drawn from steamers, wood oven and grill.
But all this disguises the fact that Woodcut is at its heart a steakhouse. As evidence, your honour, I present the twin wood-fired grills from the mighty Grillworks USA; the bespoke steak knives crafted by Alex Fitton of Melbourne's Freehand Creations, and the choice of seven different steaks.
A grass-fed, dry-aged, bone-in O'Connor sirloin from South Gippsland ($55) is a good call, with its mellow, marbled richness, clean fat, and fruity, herbal aftertaste. For more steakhouse feels, add a salt-baked jacket potato ($15), enriched with a creamy pour-over Vichyssoise (and a superfluous wad of burnt leeks).
It's good to see former Marque pastry chef Lauren Eldridge back from Stokehouse Melbourne, with her original, fruit-driven desserts. Under a starry sky of tiny, white elderflowers, fresh, plump cherries are set on a meringue base with almond cream and a wine-like cherry sorbet ($18).
Woodcut is a quality offering from a seasoned, confident chef; an object lesson in how to find new expressions of flavour by concentrating on the cooking process rather than the composition.
Factor in the theatre and interactive energy of the room, the skills of the innumerable staff and the sweeping views over Pyrmont Bay, and it's easy to see why all 280 seats are taken, with solid bookings stretching into April. Same for a'Mare next door, and Nobu upstairs.
It's as if COVID never happened, and downtown Sydney hasn't been a dustbowl for months. We're back, baby.
Vegetarian: Scattered throughout the different cooking styles. Best bets are lipstick peppers and smoked eggplant from the grill.
Drinks: Kyle Poole's 21-page wine and drinks list oozes quality from France and Australia, with a spotlight on Ross Hill wines from Orange, and Coravin by-the-glass possibilities such as the 2012 Domaine de la Pousse d'Or Corton from Burgundy.