In the early eighties, Dah Lee was in his third year of a law degree when he decided to open his first restaurant, a Tex-Mex venue in New Zealand's Wellington called The Armadillo. His latest venture is his 26th restaurant in 38 years – a two-storey, 300-seat, steak and seafood grill that just opened in the recently-created CBD dining hub, Barrack Place. It’s fair to say he’s come a long way.
Lee has gone for an opulent feel at Firegrill. There’s an onyx bar, oak furnishings, leather seating as well as three custom-made chandeliers, each three-metres high and made up of 1000 pieces. He hopes the design reflects the city he now calls home. “Sydney is a very sexy city,” he tells Broadsheet over oysters Kilpatrick and a glass of Spanish albarino. “You feel it, especially if you’ve been away for a while.”
For this venture, he’s working with chef de cuisine George Francisco (Jonah’s), who he has also worked with at Wildfire, the now-closed fine-diner at the Overseas Passenger Terminal in Circular Quay, and another Wildfire alum, head chef Nghia Dinh (Tetsuya’s, Level 41 and Onde).
Lee has an omniscient approach at Firegrill, choosing everything from the cosy copper-backed, leather armchairs to the cedar walls. All it takes is a nonchalant swipe of his phone for the lights to dim and the carefully curated playlist (by him, of course) to get a little louder. It’s a well-oiled machine.
The restaurant occupies the entire length of the laneway between Kent and Clarence Streets and has five distinct spaces catering to a range of price points and occasions.
At the Kent Street end, there’s a large open kitchen, chef’s tables and, upstairs, a decadent dining room and cocktail bar. The Clarence Street end is more casual; it opens for breakfast at 7am and offers an express lunch menu with prices ranging between $13 and $18. Upstairs, past the eight-metre-high wall of wine, is a private dining room and event space. Think quick bites on one side, and three-hour power lunches on the other. Connecting the two spaces is an open-air courtyard that will inevitably become a buzzy spot for after-work drinks.
“We wanted to keep the menu simple and straightforward. That’s why we called it a steak and seafood grill [restaurant]. We’re all trained in classic French technique and use that to produce easy comfort food. There are no fads here. We don’t need to be experimental,” says Lee.
The entrees include kingfish crudo in a lime dressing served with fresh pomegranate; seared scallop served with blood sausage and chorizo; and a deconstructed Peking duck served with a restorative duck broth and Asian greens.
Mains lean towards comfort-food classics. The snapper pie is old school, with a leek and root vegetable velouté and flaky pastry. Lobster served alongside a braised veal cheek puts an elegant spin on the good old surf’n’turf.
Steak is pretty serious here, listed under “Meat Library” on the menu. There are four options: Pinnacle Beef (grass-fed and free range); Riverina (Black Angus, grain-fed for 120 days); Tajima Wagyu (export-quality, grain-fed Australian Wagyu) and Hokkaido Wagyu (Japanese beef, raised on imported grains for around 600 days). A 200-gram piece of the Hokkaido Wagyu comes in at $85.
“We are dedicated to sourcing the right ingredients at their seasonal best,” says Francisco. “We use fire, rubs and smoke to create dishes with bold flavours.”
Respected sommelier John Clancy (Bistro Guillaume, Quay) has put together an accessible wine list with many priced in the $40 to $80 bracket, and wines by the glass starting at $7. Behind the impressive onyx bar, mixologist and distiller (and, fun fact, also a criminologist) Amanda Gilroy creates wonderful concoctions, many using native Australian ingredients.
151 Clarence Street, Sydney
(02) 9169 7870
Mon to Friday 7am–1am