Rise of the GastroPub – Four In Hand Dining Room
Restaurant: Four In Hand (Dining Room)
Location: 105 Sutherland Street, Paddington, NSW, 2021
Chef: Colin Fassnidge
Hats: 2 (2015)
Editor’s Note: Since this review, Colin Fassnidge has sold Four in Hand to Public House Management Group. Four in Hand is now overseen by Guillaume Brahimi. Colin Fassnidge now owns 4Fourteen.
“Lets get some pub grub tonight Mookie” I suggest with a smile knowing that I have a booking at arguably the best gastro pubs in Sydney, though I must admit I have always had reservations about mixing fine dining with a pub setting. Mookie agrees readily, no surprises there. I have already ordered a special bottle of Cristal 2006 Champagne because its Mookie’s birthday (she loves champagne). I requested it be chilled and waiting for us when we arrive. We stop via a friend’s stellar solo art show (click here to see examples of her prodigious talent) as a Saturday afternoon surprise before heading on to the Four In Hand in Paddington. Arriving at the pub 15 minutes early we order a beer and wait for our 6pm booking whilst watching the shenanigans of the pub crowd as they watch the Saturday evening AFL, Mookie attempts to educate me to no avail.
6pm arrives and we head to the door to the dining room, only to be asked to exit while the staff finish their briefing “Two minutes more please”, I look at the time 6.02pm. OK that is odd but *shrug* no biggie. We sit down then suddenly not 30 seconds later a head appears through the door out to say “you can come in now”.
We walk in and are directed to the back of the restaurant. Hmm no champagne. I cover by telling Mookie I need to use the facilities and will ask for directions. I approach the waitress and mention that I had requested a special bottle be waiting for us when we arrived. She looks at me lost and says “I don’t understand sir. What exactly?”. Feeling the first twinge of disappointment (being a bit of a control freak when it comes to ensuring Mookie enjoys her birthday), I respond “the bottle I requested and confirmed when I made the booking please”. A light comes on and the waitress says “ah yes, one moment”. My disappointment becomes despair as I note that despite being the first people in the restaurant that the only men’s toilet is distinctly uncleaned – I will spare our readers the gory details. Saddened to think that this might not have been the best choice for Mookie’s birthday dinner, I return to our table to find a beaming Mookie watching the waiter peel the top off the Cristal. Mookie smiles to me “you’re naughty”. I shrug – “It’s your favourite”. Mookie smiles at the indulgence as a waiter pops the cork and pours. He suggest the Merimbula oysters and possibly “Colin’s Guilty Pleasure” – a piece of fresh bread baked with Brie de Normandy and topped with caramelised onions though he notes its intended to go with Krug. We ask for both. We also request two of the Chef’s 8 course tasting menus with one wine match for Mookie some of which I will try.
The oysters are the start of a fantastic meal. Freshly chucked, deeply salty liquor and sweet creaminess of the flesh they are the perfect accompaniment for the Champagne. Mookie and I feel the onset of that contented relaxation with a hint of excitement, releasing the tenseness of our initial trepidation. Whomever chose the oysters REALLY knows what they are doing. Things are taking a turn for the better. The onion and cheese on toast arrive and it’s very good, though not a well matched – our readers would be best advised stick with Krug which should pair very well indeed.
An amuse bouche arrives in a espresso cup, a seafood bisque of smoked white fish and paprika. The taste is very well balanced and things are definitely feelings much brighter all around. I find myself wishing that I could have a bowl of the bisque rather than just a sip – always a good sign. Albacore tuna with parsnip and ginger juice, seaweed and parsley granita. The tastes work well but I dislike the fact that the tuna has been seared and then is iced. It makes for an odd texture in the mouth. I must wonder if perhaps simply serving the tuna raw would have heightened this dish.
Next arrives crab hiding under a leaf of sorrel with pork crackling on the side. The crab and sorrel work perfectly together. I have eaten pork and crab together previously and they match well but I am not sure whether the pork crackling works in combination except perhaps as a textural accompaniment. The crackling is definitely tasty and crunchy and surprisingly works very well with the Champagne. Who’d have thunk it, eh? Stargazer Riesling is the wine pairing for the crab, works very well with the sweetness of the crab and the lemony sorrel.
Having finished with the champagne I peruse the menu looking for a half bottle of red, nothing appeals but I note that there is a Chateau Pavie on the list from 1998 which scored very well so I order it knowing that I wont be able to have more than a glass or two, but its rare to see a “Pavie” on a wine list. I suggest to the sommelier (a very approachable lady who is quiet knowledgeable about the wines) if she would like to try a glass that she set one aside for herself to await the end of her service and perhaps offer the Chef a glass as well. I also ask if the Head Chef is working, she replies that he is not but that he will be dining in the restaurant later that evening. The red is decanted left to breathe.
A exceptionally pretty dish arrives, beets cover smoked eel mouse and grilled eel all lightly sprinkled with cheese. Its a heavier flavour. Eel isn’t to everyone’s liking but I have loved it since my childhood as it was one of my mothers favourites in Japanese cuisine. The eel is well prepared, not a hint of the muddiness that sometimes can accompany it. I don’t particular enjoy the wine match but that’s more a matter of my preference in wine than the sommelier’s choice of wine. Mookie isn’t a fan of eel in general but she enjoys the taste of the wine.
The next course is pork. I notice that the a whole suckling pig is being prepared in the kitchen and Mookie if she can take a photo. The chef obliges her and she quickly takes a few snaps. The chef, perhaps appreciating the offer of a glass of red or simply Mookie’s keen interest in the suckling pig, sends an additional plate with pork chops. Its all divine and the cabbage and prune are old-school but welcome accompaniments. The col cannon is particularly good. The matched Pinot Noir wine is good, even very good. We will definitely be coming back with 8 of our friends to try to whole suckling pig – yum.
Wagyu brisket, grains and smoked sweet potato arrives to the table. Mookie is already feeling full! The brisket is rich and full flavoured. The “Pavie” truly shines with this dish, though Mookie notes that the Cabernet Shiraz wine match also works well. Mookie and I smiled to each other in sated contentedness. Life is good, the food and wine are better. I glance at the time, oh no we are due to give up our table in 15 minutes. I look around and the restaurant is packed. Concerned, I ask the waiter if its feasible for us to finish the degustation in the allotted time but she smiles and alleviates my concerns, “Its ok sir, we wont need your table take as long as you need”.
The cheese course is a choice, either a selection of cheeses or a cheesy sweet pre-dessert. Cheese being my thing and conscious that there is still a lot of red left I choose from the cheese board. Mookie opts the sweet route. I choose milder cheeses and continue to enjoy the wine. The cheesy concoction is served with lavosh, basil and rooftop honeycomb. Mookie enjoys the combination and is fascinated by the darkness of the honeycomb. The waiter clears as I noticed that the Chef Colin Fassnidge has just arrived. Looking at the decanter I see that I have not managed even 1/2 of the bottle so I send it with the waiter and a request for anonymity to his table as a thank-you for such a lovely meal on Mookie’s special day.
The dessert arrives and Mookie asks the waiter if this will be the last course – she is now feeling well and truly full. There two desserts! We enjoy the sugary spiced apple with its refreshing creme fresh and Granita. Last but by no means least comes a chocolate dessert with brandy snap, now we are very happy and very very full. A petite four arrives with a candle for Mookie, a nice final touch to what has been a very enjoyable meal. Thank you to the Four in Hand sommelier, whose attention and candour really helped to change my initial concerns into what will become fond memories of the restaurant.
We leave quietly, Colin jumps up from his table to thank us for the wine and ask if we enjoyed ourselves. I am surprised, thinking “that gift was meant to be anonymous”, and reply “We did, the food was really very good”. He says “You sound surprised?” to which I reply jokingly “Well it is a pub after all!”. I raise a glass to toast what is to undoubtedly the best pub grub in Australia (better than majority of fine dining too).