The Firedoor Restaurant in Australia uses different woods as fuel to enhance the flavour of its dishes, writes Alan Teh Leam Seng
EXTERNALLY, the Firedoor Restaurant looks just like any ordinary food outlet in Surry Hills, New South Wales. However, my perception of the place changes once I am on the other side of the heavy front door. I am greeted by the subtle smell of wood fire. This is something new to me.
I take a quick walk around. It is just a little past noon and the kitchen is already a hive of activity. I see a wood-fire oven and several grills, each manned by at least one chef who is busy stoking the hot coals, making sure that everything is optimal before the cooking starts.
As I am walking to my seat by the window, my sensitive olfactory cells detect changes in the air. I realise that the aroma of burning wood has changed. The very light, almost unnoticeable smell is gone.
Instead, a sweet scent now fills the air around me. I learn from the serving staff that the smell comes from apple wood which is often used in the restaurant. Apple wood is favoured because it burns hot without giving off much flame. This is the wood that Firedoor chefs employ when preparing poultry and shellfish dishes.
While waiting for the food to arrive we come up with a new game of “guess what wood is burning now” based on the aroma wafting towards our table. Even our bread has a distinct smokey flavour which helps give it character.
The modern Firedoor kitchen relies heavily on human instinct when it comes to using fire as the ultimate flavour enhancer. The kitchen burns a collection of different woods daily such as chestnut, olive and pecan. The hot coals are brilliantly used to enhance the natural characteristics of the ingredients used.
The first to arrive is a very tasty vegetable dish consisting of borlotti, pumpkin and pecorino. The beans are cooked just to the right degree of softness. It complements the taste of the pecorino cheese which is only slightly salty. Judging from the portion, Jim and I know there will be a lot of food coming our way soon.
I suggest eating the Albacore dish when it is hot. The fish is lightly seared on one side and almost uncooked on the other. This gives each slice a distinct colouration as well as texture. I like the way the chef combines the fish with bits of pomelo and lightly sauteed kohlrabi. The pomelo flesh has the same tone as the fish which gives the illusion of fish bits scattered all over the plate.
Our first red meat dish arrives in the form of the Black Market Chuck Tail. This tender and flavourful Angus beef comes with shiitake mushrooms as well as caper raisin sauce. The slight saltiness of the sauce helps bring out the full potential of
I like my beef cooked medium rare with a slight pinkish tinge on the inside. I think the kitchen must have used grapevines to cook this dish. This wood produces a rich robust aroma and is well-suited to red meat and game. Furthermore, the thin vine shoots are suitable for fast fires that can cook smaller cuts of meat quickly while sealing in all the nutrients.
Realising my interest in the fuel used, the serving assistant tells me that the baby cos lettuce has been cooked over apple wood coals. The result is a stunning, delicate smokey flavour. I like the topping combination of crushed pecans and paper thin, almost translucent Guanciale. Judging from the food quality served so far, I know that the restaurant only uses fresh ingredients for its dishes.
We are nearly reaching the point of saturation by the time the Jurassic Quail arrives. However, the sight of the perfectly grilled pint-sized bird once again tempts us to take a bite. The slightly reddish flesh is tender and sweet. Furthermore, the quail looks nearly double the size of its cousins back home in Malaysia.
Combined with spelt and kale, this makes a very filling dish that should be shared. Stone fruit wood like those from peach, plum and nectarine are preferred when cooking poultry as the fire is able to burn long and hard.
I am a fan of duck offal and cannot resist the temptation of ordering the duck hearts. The hearts are cooked medium rare and served halved on a bed of red elk leaves with a sprinkling of pistachios. The duck hearts are delicious and slightly springy. I enjoy
every mouthful which is bursting with flavour. The vibrant red elk leaves add colour to the dish and the pistachios are crunchy.
At the end of the one and a half hour long unique culinary experience, Jim and I leave Firedoor Restaurant fully satiated. Our stomachs are filled to the brim and sadly we have to skip dessert. We hope to be back again in Surry Hills in the near future to try the other dishes, including dessert.
The Jurassic Quail is nearly three times the size of ordinary quails in Malaysia.
The duck hearts are served on a bed of vibrant red elk leaves.
The tasty and succulent cos lettuce is cooked over apple wood.
The bread has a slightly smokey aroma and exquisite taste.