Good things come to those who wait. It was 2011 when Lennox Hastie first started looking at restaurant sites in Sydney, but now the time is ripe, the fuse has been lit and Firedoor is about to explode onto the scene. Did we say "explode"? That would be Hastie's last choice of phrasing; despite his serious kitchen chops and glittering CV, he prefers subtlety to showiness, and while fire is central to his craft, he works his magic with patience and exactitude over the glow of embers rather than in a rush of sparks. But quiet as he may be, his long-awaited arrival on the scene makes for one of the most significant restaurant openings in Australia this year. The slow-burn is about to catch fire.
Born in the UK to an Australian father and a Scottish mother, Hastie spent serious time working at the high-profile likes of Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons in Oxfordshire, Marc Veyrat's L'Auberge de l'Eridan and Martin Berasategui in San Sebastián. But it was cooking with Victor Arguinzoniz, the chef at Etxebarri, in the Basque country, whom some have dubbed the Ferran Adrià of the hearth, where he found his true calling.
Over several years cooking there side by side, Hastie told GT back in 2009, he and Arguinzoniz transcended their different backgrounds (and the fact that Hastie couldn't speak Spanish, let alone Basque) to "motivate one another to push the limits of grilling" and learning through discovery.
Though he won't be working with the bright-pink Palamós prawns, glass eels and gnarled goose barnacles he knew in Axpe, it's a process Hastie is set to continue at Firedoor in Surry Hills. With the backing of the Fink Group (who also own Quay and Otto), Hastie is opening a 70-seat eatery where the setting is unpretentious but the food is like nothing else in town.
Where some chefs are now turning their backs on immersion circulators and plastic bags in the kitchen, Hastie hasn't even installed a gas line. As at Etxebarri, the Firedoor kitchen will burn five or six woods a day, olive, ironbark, orange, wine barrels and grapevines among them, using their unique qualities to accent ingredients presented with a minimum of ornamentation. Grilled pipis plated simply with garlic shoots and chilli, say, or oysters with guanciale and seaweed.
A wine list designed with the assistance of Master of Wine Ned Goodwin, and cocktails from former Sokyo bartender Phil McElroy round out a very promising package. Firedoor opens to the public Wednesday 29 April: flame on.*
Firedoor, open lunch Fri noon-2.30pm; dinner Tue-Sat 5.30-10pm, 23-33 Mary St, Surry Hills, NSW, (02) 8204 0800*