REVIEW: Firedoor is the restaurant Sydney's wanted for a long time

Firedoor. Photo: Nikki To.

In a bite

Firedoor is a whole new restaurant genre, with everything cooked over a charcoal grill or in wood-fired ovens. It’s low tech, old school, traditional cooking, yet lighter and far more elegant than any paleo perception the style implies.

Setting the table

Chef Lennox Hastie spent several years learning how to cook with fire at one of the world’s 50 best restaurants, Asador Extebarri in Spain. His talent was highly prized when he returned to Australia in 2011, with several leading Sydney chefs courting him before he signed with the Fink Group who run Quay, Otto and soon, Bennelong at the Opera House.

Firedoor is nearly four years in the making, but worth the wait, giving Hastie time to hone his ideas. The room has a spacious warehouse-Scando-timber vibe with a bar that’s worth finding time to linger and explore a sassy cocktail list.

The open kitchen beside it offers counter seating for six with a view of the action. A communal table forms the room’s spine and if you’re lucky, you can grab one of those no-bookings spaces, but come very early or very late. The logs for future meals are piled up in the window bays, the targeted lighting adds a soft, warm glow not unlike the fires.

Firedoor. Photo: Nikki To.

Hastie’s daily menu is an elegant demonstration of the beauty in simplicity and his skill with fire. Don’t come expecting a meal that tastes like you’re licking a campfire or drinking lapsang souchong tea. Hastie uses fire subtly to enhance and sweeten the primary flavours in his key ingredients rather than adding smokiness like cheap aftershave. This isn’t incineration, he tends to cook lightly, erring on the side of rare, even with seafoods cooked over fruit woods.

Firedoor uses 10 different woods, from ironbark to mallee root, apple, grapevine and even stonefruit. Hastie also has two ovens he designed himself; cast iron beasts that glow like hell when opened, to produce the coals for his grills. He also cooks in them and there’s an Aga-style Australian-built oven too – the sort your country Nan baked scones in when you were growing up.

Hastie commissioned his own pottery plates and there are even rustic hand-crafted steak knives.

What to eat

At $165 a kilo, on the bone, the 150-day dry-aged grass fed beef is more expensive than lobster, but the depth of flavour is incredible. Served medium rare and sliced, the concentrated, gutsy flavour is revelatory, reminiscent of an old school demi-glace stock. It’s gloriously tender too; a reminder that patience delivers multiple rewards. And yes, spending $90 on a steak is extravagant, but share it between 3-4 friends, because as addictively good as it is, a little does go a long way.

After slices of wood-fired bread ($6), comes sweetly refreshing and pretty Moreton bay bug tail ($15) balanced upon tart granny smith slices and snow pea tendrils with mullet roe puree.

Photo: Nikki To.

There are live marron with finger lime and native herbs ($42), but best not sit it at the kitchen counter if you’re a little squeamish. We watched as two attemped a Nemo-esque escape across the benchtop before Hastie’s blade turned their adventure into dinner.

The vegetable dishes deliver plenty of interest, but may require some negotiation if you’re a purist. Chargrilled lettuce leaves ($18) are topped with pecans and slippery, glistening slices of warmed guanciale – pork jowl that’s mostly lard – adding buttery richness. It’s sharply dressed for dramatic contrast.

Paleo acolytes will be delighted to drag a half head of milk-poached cauliflower ($18) back to their man caves, especially when it has been grilled and liberally smeared with tallow from the dry-aged beef, plus hazelnuts. A bowl of roasted red peppers ($17) with smoked jersey milk curd is like a late night tapas bar crawl, as sultry and desirable as Poldark outside a Cornish tin mine.

Hastie’s savoury menu is weighted, top to bottom, from lighted to heaviest dishes, offering around a baker’s dozen dishes. Midway down is wild mulloway on roasted fennel, with the briny tang of preserved lemon zest and shards of green olive. It’s lusciously gelatinous and flaky, hovering at just-cooked to ensure the sea is still present.

The trio of desserts may include the southern sounding spaghetti squash with pumpkin ice cream, but the true crowdpleaser has to be banana ice cream with smoked chocolate ganache and honeycomb ($17), a sort of violet crumble medley where in this instance, it would be good to have more smokiness infused into the dish, like a good cigar after a great meal.

What to drink

The wine list is full of interesting varietals.

Compiled by MW Ned Goodwin, it’s not a cheap list, but it’s certainly a fascinating one for wine geeks, without getting too obscure or sacrificing flavour. There are a couple of bottles in the mid-$40 range, but things generally hover around the $70-$80 mark. The La Violetta, Ye-Ye Blanc ($69) from Western Australia’s Great Southern region is a curious blend of riesling, viognier and gewurztraminer that works well with the seafood and vegetables predominant at the top of the menu.

I was excited to spy Hochkirch’s 2012 Maximus pinot noir from Henty in Victoria among the glass/carafe ($17/$42) options. There are five whites and five reds, from $10 a glass.

The pinot is a medium-bodied biodynamic wine with plenty of earthy, herbaceous notes amid the cherries and blackberries, but if you’re going the steak, then a heavier hitter is required and while well endowed winespotters can splurge on the Wendouree 2000 shiraz/mataro ($205) amid the other $200-plus classics from Barolo and Rioja, my inner poet has a soft spot for the Between Five Bells red – shiraz with a little sangiovese and some other Italian varietals tossed in for good measure. But the $81 price tag for a $30 suggests some markups here end up at Quay proportions.

Try and arrive early for a cocktail in the bar, where Phil McElory and his team provide excellent entertainment and banter, along with damned fine negroni ($16) using Cinzano infused with pistachios.

Conclusion

Firedoor is smart, elegant and original and while Lennox Hastie’s venture will inevitably be compared to his former Spanish digs, it stands on its own, adding a fresher, lighter and contemporary layer to the traditional cooking of a Spanish asador.

If anything, for such as masculine style of cooking, he could be less polite and let the smokiness make a bolder entrance into some of the dishes for fans of a good Australian barbie.

Need to know

Firedoor
23-33 Mary Street, Surry Hills, (02) 8204 0800,
firedoor.com.au, lunch Fri; dinner Tues-Sat
Seats 70; bar
Dishes $15-$42 (expect to order 4-5)

[Restaurants are rated out of 5 knives and forks. Firedoor scores 4.5]

The bar uses homemade syrups to add interest to the cocktails.

Photo: Nikki To.

A communal table runs down the centre of Firedoor

Photo: Nikki To.

Beef is dry-aged for five months for incredibly intense flavour.

Photo: Nikki To.

Bread, with local olive oil, has a wonderful caramel crust.

Moreton Bay bug tail with mullet roe, $15.

Roasted peppers with smoked jersey curd, $17.

Lennox Hastie pulls more coals from his oven for the chargrill.

Grilled leaves with guanciale and pecans, $18.

Wild mulloway with roasted fennel, lemon and olive, $33

This is what $80 of beef dry-aged for five months, looks like. And it's worth every cent.

Yes it was cooked perfectly, making the hand-forged steak knife redundant, but fun.

The I'll have what she's having dessert: banana ice cream with smoked ganache and wild honeycomb, $17

Firedoor is like no other restaurant in Sydney.

Photo: Nikki To.

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