Wood-fired per­fec­tion

The Fire­door Restau­rant in Aus­tralia uses dif­fer­ent woods as fuel to en­hance the flavour of its dishes, writes Alan Teh Leam Seng

New Straits Times - - Bots -

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.

HOT STUFF

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

the beef.

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.

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