To be honest I’d not heard a great deal about Four In Hand Dining Room until late 2010 when they received their second hat in the SMH Good Food Guide. Ever since then Mr O has been telling us we have to go. A two hatted pub is not something you see very often and sure enough Four In Hand started climbing up the priority list of restaurants to get to in 2011.
At the helm is Colin Fassnidge, an Irishman with a nose-to-tail cooking philosophy who has been cooking up a storm at the Four since 2005. He’s an avid tweeter and has become more well known nationally since his debut on Masterchef Series 3 where he went up against contestant Jay in a Celebrity Chef Challenge, hosted a potato Masterclass and appeared as a guest judge.
Dylan, Em, Mr O and I all fell in love with the Four’s dark chocolate snickers at Taste of Sydney earlier in the year. Mr O pipped us to the post by getting to the Four with a work function mid-way through the year and raved about it. So after much talking about it we finally decided there was no time like the present and we finally booked in dinner for a random Wednesday night.
Iggy’s bread (complimentary).
Ok who really ever says no to bread? I try to convince myself to say no, but then I hear the fluffy little pieces of sourdough calling my name. And the bread is Iggy’s! Possibly my favourite bread of all time. I had no chance of declining the carbs, that bread was just going to be mine. The sourdough had a super crispy crust and a gorgeous airy, moist centre with a mild sour flavour. Carbs 1, Lex 0. But for Iggy’s it is totally worth it.
Amuse bouche (complimentary).
We started with an amuse bouche of fish and citrus soup. Bold and punchy, this pungent soup got the taste buds dancing. I’m unsure what I was really expecting from the Four, but this was certainly not it.
Duck ‘Beak to Feet’ ($26.00).
My entrée was just amazing. Simply described on the menu as Duck ‘beak to feet’. Fried duck egg with a perfectly silky runny yolk and the most tender piece of duck breast. The tongue tasted like… duck. Yep that’s all I’ve got. I thought it was going to be more unusual but I was pleasantly surprised, it was actually rather neutral in flavour, but it was mostly the texture that was a little odd. All in all it was an impressive starter and I was eager to see how good the mains could be.
Seared bonito, avocado and ginger ($26.00).
Colin’s take on tinned fish. Not in a million years is this what Dylan expected it to look like. I’d totally forgotten about a picture Colin had tweeted about this dish a while ago and couldn’t help but laugh when I saw it. Bonito, like tuna, is nice and meaty and when seared has a wonderful juxtaposition of silky raw inside and soft flaky outer. Paired with the creamiest, smoothest avocado sauce and cresses. Dylan’s only wish was the serving was bigger, it was so good.
Grilled mackerel with seaweed and pickled cucumber ($26.00).
I’ve got to give Em credit for trying new foods and giving things she’s previously disliked another go. Mackerel is unfortunately not something Em will probably ever enjoy and this dish was too much for her. I didn’t try it because I have issues with pickling but Dylan tells me the fish was very strong, with the mackerel on its own an intensity comparable to sardines. When combined with the rest of the dish the flavour was more balanced, though no comparison to Dylan’s own fishy entrée.
Braised pig’s tail, corn and crab salad with lobster bisque ($26.00).
Mr O’s entrée came out as a salad of crab and corn kernels, with the braised pig’s tail draped across the wide rim of the bowl. A lobster bisque was poured over the salad at the table to complete the dish. At first Mr O thought the lobster bisque was just more of the amuse bouche we had earlier in the evening as it was quite fishy, though I thought it was creamier than the soup. I was so engrossed in my duck that I didn’t try the pig’s tail, but I’m told it was meltingly soft and damn delicious.
Pig’s head terrine, crisp school prawns, apple juice (complimentary).
Before mains the waiter set down more cutlery that had us all wondering what was going on. Not long after we received a complimentary course that the chefs had been working on that day. Pigs head terrine, crisp school prawns and an apple sauce. We all agreed the prawns and terrine were just delicious but the sauce didn’t really add anything to the dish (though of course none of us had any idea what could have been done instead). I could have quite happily eaten more of that terrine.
For mains we decided to share the last shoulder of suckling pig for two (Mr O clearly hadn’t eaten enough pig with his pig’s tail and pig’s head terrine) and order another two main dishes to share. We couldn’t go past the braised beef, so we ended up ordering two of those.
Licorice braised beef brisket with roast veal and bone marrow ($38.00).
I started with the beef and straight away thought of the sticky beef ribs at buzo. Although not the same flavour, the richness of the sauce married so well with beef to produce another winning combination. I found the licorice to be quite mild but just loved the rich, sticky beef. A silky puree of carrot that I believe had sherry in it was just amazing and the leanest piece of wonderfully roasted veal left me wanting more. And let’s not forget the finest onion rings I’ve ever seen. Bone marrow on the other hand just does nothing for me and if it weren’t for Mr O being a marrow lover it would never have been finished.
Shoulder of suckling pig for two (specials board) ($88.00).
Then the pork. Plates were slipped in front of us with coleslaw piled up in the centre, but a second later the shoulder of pork arrived to steal the limelight. Presented on a wooden board, the shimmering crackling was an impressive sight, the shoulder and accompaniments barely fitting on the board. I can only imagine how dramatic the full suckling pig would be.
One of the waitresses cut through the crackling and divided the shoulder into smaller pieces. All we could do was marvel at the sight and take in the gorgeous aromas.
What can I say? A dish that took Dylan and I right back to Loam. Pork cooked to perfection. Awesome crackling and underneath it juicy tender meat. It was so moreish I stuffed myself silly. Accompaniments of colcannon and apple sauce also did not disappoint. In fact, colcannon is my new favourite form of mashed potatoes. The apple sauce was so buttery it was just silky smooth gorgeous. I didn’t really have room for the carrots as I was too busy eating the meat.
Market green vegetables with hazelnut lemon dressing ($9.00).
The greens were the perfect side to cut through the richness of our mains. I love broccoli and the combination with hazelnut and a light dressing was spot on.
Minted steamed kipflers ($9.00).
While we tucked into the greens, Em couldn’t say no to another round of carbs. No meal is complete without potato of course. Colcannon and steamed kipflers, I think Em was in heaven.
And then there was dessert. No of course we hadn’t eaten too much. Of course our eyes weren’t bigger than our bellies. Of course we just couldn’t leave without dessert. As our desserts were brought to the table I just laughed when one of the waiters said he really didn’t think we were going to order dessert.
Basil and yoghurt sorbet with French toast and strawberries ($16.00).
Lately I’ve decided to choose what I wouldn’t normally, so I decided to have the strawberries and French toast. Wow those strawberries tasted so damn good, I could have eaten a whole jar full… oh no wait, I did. They were so flavoursome, the maceration really enhancing the strawberries’ flavour. I didn’t know what to expect with the sorbet but the yoghurt and basil combination really packed a punch. The only disappointment was the heavy French toast, though that probably comes down to the sheer amount I had consumed during the meal.
Chocolate, beetroot and ginger ($16.00).
Mr O really wanted the snickers but had to settle for something that was actually on the menu, haha. He and Dylan, as they often do, both ordered the same dessert – the chocolate, beetroot and ginger. Everyone seems to be creating beetroot desserts at the moment, but I don’t get it. I really don’t like beetroot (with the exception of the beetroot starter we had at maze in Melbourne last year). Though Mr O somehow convinced me to try the ice cream and damnit I fell for it. Beetroot is just not for me.
Dylan thought the beetroot sorbet was quite intense and very much a sorbet with no real creaminess to it. The beetroot little jellies and the smear all had the same intensity as the sorbet and were all most likely made from the same stock. The chocolate was dark but not rich enough for Dylan, he thought it needed the same intensity as the beetroot and felt it came up a little short. The ginger was the bridge between the beetroot savoury and the chocolate bitter sweetness.
White chocolate and fennel sandwich with raspberries ($16.00).
I loved the presentation of the sandwich but wasn’t sure if the taste would stand up to the appearance. Sometimes flavours that are traditionally savoury just work in sweet dishes and the Four was on the money with this one. I was pleasantly surprised that they hadn’t held back the fennel; there was a good solid hit of it through the ice cream. The tartness of raspberries has always gone well with the sweetness of white chocolate but the anise tones of the fennel just fit perfectly.
Pretty as a picture desserts seemed so different to the hearty nose-to-tail savoury dishes. But most importantly each and every course was delicious. Colin Fassnidge and the team at the Four have rewritten the rule books about ‘pub food’. It is easy to see why the Four In Hand has received such great reviews over the years. It was epic. Fresh produce, gorgeous flavours, reasonable prices. Now that would be an awesome local!
Four In Hand Dining Room
Four In Hand Hotel
105 Sutherland Street (cnr Elizabeth Street)
Paddington NSW 2021
(02) 9362 1999
Four In Hand Website