A few years back, chef Hamish Ingham changed his entire menu at Bar H, swapping produce-driven, breezy modern Australian for punchy, canteen-style Chinese food. This was no bad thing. Ingham, who spent many years running the kitchen at Billy Kwong, is an ace at Chinese food. But it meant all those excellent dishes we came to know and love at Bar H disappeared. Sigh no more, fellow fans. Ingham’s back in mod-Oz mode at the Woods, the Four Seasons’ new restaurant offering.
There’s an excellent team at work here, both in the kitchen (Joshua Niland from Est
is the Woods’ head chef) and on the floor. Ingham’s wife Rebecca Lines leads a star cast including Clint Hillery (Time to Vino) on the wines and Tara Sullivan. It’s hard to imagine Ingham and Lines in this huge, slick space off to the side of the hotel’s lobby, designed by Michael McCann. Especially when you look at the little pocket rocket that is Bar H, and the even cosier Billy Kwong.
A big focus on raw, roasted and pickled at the Woods means you might start with a plate of raw radishes from the Blue Mountains. Served with Iggy’s sourdough (Ingham and co will be baking their own bread in the coming months) and a blob of house-churned butter wrapped in muslin, there’s a mix of thin, finger-like breakfast radishes and those little pepper-bomb red round guys. It’s this kind of pared-back cooking that’s had us hooked on Ingham’s food from the get-go.
Calamari grilled over a wood-fire of mallee, olive and apple wood comes out as a whole scored tube, sitting on a salad of its own tentacles, bitter greens, cured pork cheek sliced into thin, melt-in-your-mouth ribbons and pickled muntries – those tiny native Australian fruits that taste a little like a not-quite-ripe green apple. The calamari, sadly, is cool and gooey on the inside – a little extra time on the grill would make all the difference to an otherwise well conceived dish.
An entire section of the menu is cooked over that fire, including a whole-roasted blue swimmer crab. It’s meant to be shared between two, but you could eat it alone if you were feeling ambitious. It’s just a shame the flesh is cottony and wet as it’s pulled from the claws. It goes back unfinished. Luckily we’re also splitting a big hunk of dusty, gamy Coorong sirloin served on the bone and smothered with sweet, sticky and unctuous black garlic butter. Drag a side serve of Hasselback potatoes through the sweet, steaky butter for full-scale deliciousness.
Desserts are a definite highlight. A soft, spongy chocolate Swiss roll with cherries and a sesame crisp is a big win for chocolate fans, but it’s a scoop of whipped Jannei goat’s curd sweetened with sugar cane and served with a side of blackberries that gets our vote, for its cool, light creaminess. Oh, and it’s worth ordering a serve of little doughnuts if only for the injection of tart blackberry jam.
There’s plenty to recommend the Woods – it’s certainly a double-plus-hell-yeah for large-scale hotel dining – but for our time and dime, we’d rather be in the cosier Bar H.