Wood, Grain and keeping it real
Can hotel restaurants have street cred in Sydney? Decades ago they did, Kables in the Regent (now Four Seasons Hotel) was one case in point. Noodlies, Sydney food blog has just returned from a trip to Asia and it’s certainly the case for our northern neighbours. In food-crazed Hong Kong, Michelin star restaurants cluster in the big five stars; Lung King Heen and Caprice (three stars each) in the Four Seasons Hong Kong, Man Wah in the Mandarin Oriental and Ming Court in Langham Place are obvious examples.
Five star hotels wrestle with the eternal question “how important is F&B (food and beverage) to our brand?” and the related question, “should our bar and restaurants primarily service hotel guests only?”.
The Four Seasons Hotel Sydney has obviously decided their signature restaurant and bar will service greater Sydney. Kables is no more, the Hotel says their new restaurant, The Woods is a “stand alone destination restaurant which just happens to be located within Four Seasons Hotel Sydney”. Rather than relying on talent within the Four Seasons family, the Sydney hotel has called on the successful husband and wife team Hamish Ingham (Executive Chef, The Woods) and Rebecca Lines (Consulting General Manager, The Woods). Ingham’s Bar H recently achieved a ‘Hat’ in the 2013 Good Food Guide and Lines, a co-owner of Bar H was a finalist in the 2012 Electrolux Young Restaurateur of the Year Awards.
To emphasise the greater Sydney aspiration, The Woods is now located on the ground floor (Kables was previously on the second floor). Similarly the meeting rooms at the front of the hotel is now home to Grain Bar, with access via the lobby or direct from George Street. The Woods is designed to be accessible, it’s a split level, open-plan restaurant with an open kitchen. An imposing antique brass post framed “wall” with a matching brass pedestal and hanging semi-industrial lights with brass mesh surrounds providing privacy from the lobby.
Naturally, timber features prominently on floor, tables and chairs with a giant butcher’s block-cum-display table a major feature. The custom designed lights cast a dramatic but welcoming glow over the restaurant.
Wood features on the menu too with an endless range including Olive, Grapevine, Lemon wood, Orange wood, Peach wood, Oak wine barrel, Mushroom stumps, Apple wood, Spruce tips and Mallee stump fueling the wood-fired oven and open grills. The restaurant boasts the use of fresh, locally source premium produce including:
- Anthia Mishra’s Little Leura Farm which provides a large proportion of vegetables used
- Steve Feletti’s seasonal oysters – The Woods is one of only six outlets in Sydney approved by the producer
“The Woods’ ever-changing menu is driven by the a focus on the very best Australian produce, grown locally for us with an emphasis on its inherit perfect nature”, says Ingham. The Australian wood varieties will be used to achieve very best flavor profile for the dish being created”.
But what about the food at The Woods?
It’s a confident menu that doesn’t seek credibility by being pretentious (the elaborate use of wood in decor and food is more taking a theme too far rather than pretentiousness). True to the restaurant’s grounded theme, The Woods is keeping it real with brasserie style food – what you see is what you get; steaks, grilled fish and prawns, wood-fired pizzas and gourmet pork sausages – fine food cooked with top quality produce, rather than elitist and obscure ingredients.
Ash seasoned ocean trout, smoked trout roe & parsley salad starter is about the freedom to combine different textures and flavours to taste; each pop of roe immerses trout pieces with an immediate ocean burst, meanwhile the zesty, crunchy salad is dangerously addictive.
Aged sirloin on the bone & black garlic butter comes de-boned and sliced into thick, long chunks and topped with a dramatic smear. The medium-rare beef is tender with a light crispy coat – the protein hit, while fine on its own, is a knockout teamed with the lightly scented, creamy garlic butter.
The Woods serves up a different tart each day, but I’m drawn to good old-fashioned Chocolate Swiss roll, grilled cherries & sesame. Whenever you see Swiss roll on the menu, snap it up, after all how often do you see it on the menu?! It makes nice, homely end to the fine meal; a perfect illustration of honest, grounded food that delights, free from pretentious food-trickery.
The open kitchen adds to the honesty of the restaurant. If you’re expecting pressure-cooker frenetic activity of a MasterChef kitchen, you’ll be disappointed. Head Chef, Joshua Niland manages the operations with quiet, consummate ease. The young professional was previously with Luke Mangan’s Glass Brasserie at the Hilton Sydney, Stephen Hodge’s Fish Face as head chef and with Peter Doyle at EST.
Sommelier, Clint Hillery rounds off an impressive talent list at The Woods. Despite his age and youthful looks, Hillery has an impressive background, from his own wine bar Time to Vino, the Shangri La’s Altitude Restaurant, the Light Brigade Hotel, Verandah Wine Bar the Gazebo Wine Garden as well as Wildfire.
The Woods is no token attempt for Sydney restaurant cred, it’s a confident execution by some impressive professionals.
Grain Bar extends the “wood” theme with the central bar clad in substantial slabs of sustainable Queensland Blackbutt timber and American Cherry Wood on the walls. The bar’s name is also a nod to the grains used in alcohol distillation. Entry is via the lobby or direct from George Street.
The Woods provides quick snacks for Grain Bar including Steve Feletti oysters and Grain Burger with pulled beef short rib. Noodlies reckons rather than wood-grain, the Four Seasons would be hoping Sydney-siders will do the grain-woods combo; pre-dinner drinks at Grain Bar followed by dinner at The Woods.
Noodlies, Sydney food blog and guest experienced The Woods and Grain Bar as guests of the Four Seasons Hotel, Sydney