The back of the Firedoor menu lists ten woods - apple, cherry, grapevine, ironbark, mallee root, olive, orange, pear, pecan, stone fruit - and declares that "woods are chosen for their unique properties to enhance the natural characteristics of ingredients". Mallee has gnarly roots that burn with a long and intense heat, lending an earthy characteristic to ingredients such as mushrooms.
Sydney is smoking with the return of Lennox Hastie and the opening of his new Surry Hills restaurant.
It's taken Hastie three years to save the money to open his new joint, where he cooks without electricity or gas, and only uses fire.
Cooking with fire was thought to have first started 250,000 years ago. In more recent times, wood was used in great grandmas' AGA, and has since been relegated to the camp fire. It takes a dab hand, a keen eye and intuitive touch, to cook without a temperature gauge.
When we think of fire, we think of BBQ, and often a steak can come to mind. In his open Firedoor kitchen, Lennox Hastie can be seen blowing the coals, and moving the grill up and down as his temperature control. Here, Hastie dishes up the best, with 150 day dry aged Rangers Valley grain-fed beef, cut from the whole piece to order. On our first visit, although we shared the hunk between four, I bagsed the bone and in my Neanderthal hands sucked it clean. In fact, although Firedoor is a classy establishment, it's all about the food, and fingers and sucking were in order more than once that night.
Tip: although the menu is for sharing, don't share the bone marrow. Or, bags that bone. Or, order one each. We're not the first to say it, but pick up that bone and suck every gram of gooey goodness from it until its it dry.
This is not just a haven for meat lovers. Firedoor has plenty on offer for vegetarians too. What could be more beautiful than Roasted peppers, smoked jersey curd (light and ethereal and made just an hour before service). In another, that gnarled mallee root permeates gorgeous grilled mushrooms, and a soft smokiness just tints its fire roasted eggplant mattress.
Childhood days of digging for pippies in the sand then cooking them on a fire within minutes is more than nostalgia, with memories of the best tasting pippies to be found. That is, until now. Hastie wows us with juicy, succulent, tender morsels treated simply with garlic and chilli. On a sharing menu of stars, this has to be the go-to dish. Pippies, garlic, chilli is worth a visit to Firedoor just on its own.
Live marron is spiked with the citrus ping of finger lime and complimented by native herbs. Again, the flesh is moist and soft and held back, the smoke is only an underpin. I like things simple, the seafood at the centre, the marron the star, just like this.
Descriptions on the menu are also simple and understate the beauty of the ingredients and the finished dishes- such as Live prawns, sweet pieces that sit somewhere between translucent and opaque and still taste of the sea.
Desserts fulfil the same style. Grilled quince, chestnut ice cream is the statement of the season and of the venue. Just warm quince joins the counterpoint of softly melting ice cream, the contrast is not too big in any aspect - flavour and temperature - but still present. The fruit and the nut carry each of their own flavours in the modern style, without the anxiety of too much sweetness. This dessert is both a winding down and a grand finale in one. It's the perfect way to end the meal. Next to me the other eater refuses to share his Banana ice cream, smoked ganache, wild honeycomb. I'll have to save that and the other two dessert options until next time. I wonder if Firedoor would let me have just a dessert degustation. That is, if I could resist all the other savoury goodness being offered on the savoury chunk of the menu.
One of the surprises at Firedoor is that Lennox Hastie is at the grill doing all the cooking. Instead, in the usual head position at the pass, his right hand man Michael Flood is calling the orders. It's an impressive team. If you dig past the Hastie Etxebarri history, Flood says they met at Quay. Dig even deeper and discover there is a swag of pedigrees and impressive stages in the kitchen. Just as impressive is the teamwork. Last thing at night Lennox Hastie is still in the kitchen, washing down his benches, like anyone else in the team.
Firedoor is one of the best new restaurants in town, and could well be our best. It's our new direction. It takes us both back in time and forward. Firedoor is the future of Sydney food.