Colin Fassnidge hasn’t left the Four in Hand. And he hasn’t stopped consulting on the menu at the Paddington Arms. Nope, he’s just decided that what he needs is more work. You may or may not know the rogue chef depending on how obsessed you are with restaurants, whether or not you watch MasterChef or you read his (very) candid Twitter feed. A black sheep of Sydney food, and happy to offer a two-fisted salute to anyone in close range, Fassnidge is also the rare chef who has the culinary chops to back it all up.
It’s a real indication of where restaurants are at now that we’re in a full, buzzing room on a Tuesday night, when the food is served still in its frying pan and ‘Root Down’ by the Beastie Boys is blasting out the speakers. Punters are better informed about food and restaurants than ever before and smart chefs around town are listening.
They want to be out and about and eating, but they don’t want a ten-course degustation, or earnest chefs demanding the attention of the diner through every minute of the meal. Not every day, anyway. The people of Sydney want good, smart, tasty fun and they’ll get it at 4Fourteen.
It’s a good set up – open kitchen, island bar, bright red banquettes down the right side of the open plan room and bentwood table settings knocking about throughout. Big, bottle-green industrial lampshades light the perimeters of the room, which used to be the old Le Pain Quotidien.
The menu is all about sharing, so go hard on the snackish things at the beginning of the menu such as deep-fried tortilla shards squelched up with light, creamy chicken parfait, chutney and topped with a boned-out deep-fried chicken wing. We’re simultaneously feeling for the poor apprentice who has to deal with all those wings and secretly pleased that someone’s doing it so we get to eat them.
It’s well worth trying a couple of the fish dishes too, like seared bonito with dollops of buttermilk cream, topped with a nest of celery leaves. It’s all briny and astringent, while confit salmon with long thin ribbons of pickled cucumber and big florets of pickled cauliflower is all wood-smoky and brilliant with a Bandol rosé.
The table favourite though, is the Irish breakfast: a hot frying pan served straight to the table with a perfect sunny-side up fried duck egg, chorizo fried until nought but crisp skin and nubbly meat and a soft, velvety blood sausage. Mix it all together and you’ve bought yourself a one-way ticket to Boom Town.
There’s also the double-crumbed pig’s tail (yes, it’s crumbed once, fried, left to cool, crumbed again and fried again – suck on that, carotid artery). It sits on a bed of corn kernels and striations of crabmeat. Oh, and the suckling pig plate that comes with ribs, loin, kidneys and a dear little golden snout. Aw.
We probably wouldn’t go back for the celeriac three ways, which is a bit wet and flabby, but the roasted-and-honeyed carrots are definitely worth a tilt. Or you can always go classic with a wedge of iceberg with thin slices of radish and salad cream. You’ll want something, though, to break up the festival of rich protein, else you’ll leave clutching your sides wishing for a Fernet Branca. Or a defibrillator.
Do make sure to order the icy pop of the day (ours is Nutri-Grain), which comes with a wedge of honeycomb from the roof of the restaurant where the crew are keeping their own bees. It’s beautiful honey, though we’d probably have preferred it on a separate plate. The two don’t really party together. Nor does the confusing puddle of yoghurt that comes with it. Try the doughnuts with Calvados Cream, too, all light and fluffy and sugar-covered, or their take on a Bounty bar.
Any restaurant banging out great food, in a casual setting to the tune of Mariachi El Bronx gets a big thumbs up from us. Ting!