While there’s always a place for the oven, cooking over fire opens produce to a world of complex flavours. In Sydney, restaurants are approaching the age-old technique with renewed interest; from Japanese grill houses to traditional Argentinian barbeques. Here are the dishes embracing the charred, smoky flavours that only fire can give.
Pipis, garlic shoot and karkalla at Firedoor
Firedoor is one of Australia’s only fully fire-powered restaurants; everything cooked here, from the bread to the dessert, is done with fire. “A variety of different wood is used, alternating between native Australian (including ironbark or mallee), to fruit woods including stone fruit, citrus and olive trees,” says head chef Lennox Hastie. For the pipis with garlic shoots and karkalla (also known as beach bananas – a native Australian succulent) the shellfish, from Ballina, with an excellent meat-to-shell ratio, is taken live from the restaurant’s tank and grilled directly over apple-wood coals. It’s finished with karkalla, fresh wild garlic, chilli and lemon.
Animal A La Cruz (wood-fired animal of the day) at Porteño
At this Argentinian grill-house, most of the menu is done over a charcoal grill. The animal a la cruz is a slow-roasted beast (such as pig or lamb), which is splayed out over the asado (an Argentinian barbeque) and cooked slowly for eight hours. The asador moves the hot coals under the meat, adjusting the grill to regulate the temperatures. The wood enhances the flavours, resulting in a tender, smoky, sweet piece of meat with a crisp exterior.
Fermented-potato bread, trout roe and kefir cream at Ester
This Chippendale eatery turns out clever and imaginative dishes from its wood-fired oven, which is central to the kitchen and sits in an arch in the wall. Our pick is the fermented-potato bread with trout roe, kefir cream and dashi jelly. The bread is made from fermented mashed potatoes and is left in the oven long enough that it is well blistered from the heat of the oven, shattering to the crisp.
Classic salmon bagel from Smoking Gun Bagels
The bagels here are hand-rolled and then wood-fired the authentic Montreal way, which means every single one is different. They are simmered in water (which is sweetened with honey) and baked in a custom-built stone oven to produce a crunchy exterior with a chewy, airy inside. Co-owners Dave Young and Mark Treviranus are the only Sydney-based bakers cooking bagels in this distinct Montreal style with its dynamic smokiness. We like their take on the classic salmon bagel, served with Pepe Saya cream cheese, beetroot-cured salmon, pickled golden beetroot, dried capers and dill.
Butterflied Skull Island tiger prawns at Eastside Grill
This New York-Japanese grill in Chippendale’s Spice Alley is run by Stanley Wong. Meat and seafood is cooked over binchōtan charcoals, the fuel yakitori chefs generally use. This particular type of charcoal is favoured because it burns over a low temperature; the result is a smoky caramelisation, instead of blackening or charring. Try the butterflied Skull Island tiger prawns (some of the largest prawns you’ll find in Australia), which are cooked by the intense smoulder of the grill and served with lashings of garlic and extra-virgin-olive-oil powder.