I've got a friend who is convinced that "French divorce" sounds like a euphemism for acts of unspeakable wrongness. Code for something involving restraints, perhaps, though that might perhaps be more a British divorce. I think I feel the same way about "Irish breakfast". It turns out, though, that it's delicious in a straightforward manner requiring neither birch nor buckles.
The number of actual Irish people who eat an actual duck egg, plus chorizo, pearl barley and curls of prosciutto with their actual black pudding for their actual breakfast is unknown to me, especially if said breakfast is garnished with strands of watercress and slivers of crisped bread.
The question of how many of them eat that breakfast from an actual frying pan I can take a better stab at: the answer is probably one. That would be Colin Fassnidge, if he happened to be cooking one up for himself very early, or if he woke up very late indeed. You can have yours for dinner, though, at 4Fourteen, chef Fassnidge's new, casual Surry Hills digs. Or for lunch. Call it a hearty win for the breakfast-for-supper brigade, either way.
4Fourteen might be Fassnidge-lite, a sort of Cumulus Inc. for the pig-fat-and-sauce-vierge crowd, but don't start thinking lite equates to light. This turnip hasn't fallen far from the tree. There are few bigger boosters for the cause of pork in this town than the Four in Hand in Paddington, and the pig takes a starring role in the sequel restaurant. There's crumbed tail, with a crab and corn salad and avocado purée, a reworking of a dish that was a hit back at the Four. Ears, crumbed and fried like landlubbers' whitebait, offer no resistance to the tooth, and cluster over a slaw-like rémoulade of celeriac and some sweet brown pork sauce. The pork scratchings, which you can order from the large island bar in the middle of the room, are things of beauty, too, although, in the incarnation I saw them they were sauced and plated in a way that made them a bit tricky to eat without cutlery.
And then there's the porcine piece de resistance: suckling pig. It's been roasted in bits, all the better for more browning and crackle around the edges. You get a mix of cuts - loin and cutlet, perhaps, but also firm little kidneys - and is that a slice of snout? This is nose-to-tail and then some. If the trend for presenting meat on a plate denuded of garnish makes you cross, you're going to find much to like at 4Fourteen. The garnishes for the suckling pig include (but aren't limited to) light, crisp, puffed-up bits of pork skin, fried sage leaves, pistachio pesto, prunes, and cauliflower in both florets and purée. And a cabbage salad served to the side. If it sounds as though there's a lot going on, it's because there is. All flavours and textures that are simpatico with the pork, certainly, but together they almost offer competition rather than support. Could the dish stand on its own with half as many components? Quite probably. Does that stop this pig from flying out the door? Not a bit.
You won't find much to quibble with on the technical front. Pony up to the bar seats encircling the stoves and you'll get a close-up picture of a revved-up kitchen with the throttle open, Fassnidge and head chef and co-owner Carla Jones keeping a sure hand on the wheel. Efficiency! Piping bags, squeeze bottles, shiny new All-Clad stainless steel, unsullied Chasseur enamelled cast-iron and lots of "Potatoes?" "Two minutes, chef!".
Some of the aesthetic choices give me pause. Chicken wings on corn chip-like triangular tortilla crackers sound okay on paper, but, riding on a big blob of chicken liver parfait and quince chutney, they're unwieldy things: too big and rich to be a tidy snack, too small to be an entrée. Does everything need a sauce? Two sauces? Does it need to be puréed? Creamy? Would the food come out more quickly if it were simplified a little? Could the menu be organised more clearly? Sometimes I wonder if they're simply having trouble shifting down a couple of gears, pulling back on the generosity.
This is not to say the food isn't, for the most part, very good. It is. It's gutsy stuff, on the whole, crammed with big, rib-sticking flavours. I just wonder if the presentation could be unstitched a bit further to better match the big-box, shared-plate vibe they're going for. The speakers are blaring everything from "Come Together" to "Welcome to the Jungle" (always a favourite in restaurants), but at times it seems the kitchen is more tuned into a classical greatest-hits compilation.
Meat is Fassnidge's well-known métier, and the poet of pork is also a dab hand with lamb. Lamb breast, in pressed golden squares underpinned by slender rib bones, is fall-apart tender, its walloping fatty richness cut with varying success by a Mediterranean-ish collection of white anchovy fillets, halved eggplant, red pepper and vast green sails of sorrel leaf. But then you also get solid execution on nice firm fillets of mackerel matched with smoky eel and beetroot. Hell, between the orange and ginger carrots, with the regulation cumin and yoghurt, and the rather wholesome salad of mixed grains, lentils, watercress and quinoa crunchy with pumpkin seeds and puffed rice, even the vego crowd can do okay. Sort of.
It's an otherwise thoroughly realised project, this. The service and wine maintain the Four in Hand's reputation for quality on both counts (especially in the glass), and there's consistently evidence of thoughtfulness and fun, from the Iggy's bread at the beginning through to the desserts. Chilled rice pudding is ginger-tinged comfort in a bowl - with a side of stewed rhubarb even more so. And what's not to like about a popsicle of the day? When today's flavour is Nutri-Grain, the answer is nothing at all.
Colin Fassnidge is one of the most interesting talents cooking in Sydney today. He clearly gives a good-sized damn about his work and the satisfaction of his customers. If the aim at 4Fourteen is a raffish half-Windsor to complement the gifted Irish chef's increasingly schmick goings-on at the Four in Hand dining room over in Paddington, the knot could, perhaps, be loosened a bit further. It might not be there yet, but you can count on Fassnidge and his cohorts to make it happen.