With more than a decade of restaurant reviewing under my belt, I’ve travelled through a few restaurant changes at the Four Seasons Hotel Sydney. Their last two incarnations - The Woods by Hamish Ingham, and Pei Modern by Mark Best – both traversed the ‘celebrity chef’ route. With each of them lasting two years, it’s not surprising that Mode Kitchen & Bar represents a return to what the bulk of hotel guests want from an upmarket hotel restaurant.
The new restaurant is encased within curved art deco inspired frosted glass surrounds. While it looks a bit strange from the hotel lobby, it creates intimacy inside what is a vast airspace.
Walking along the gleaming brass bar, you’ll find a series of spaces that allow you to sink into comfortable chairs or plush banquettes. Designers Lucchetti Krelle have captured the art deco era in the colours and materials, from circular pendant lights hanging from brass railings, to marble, leather and velvet finishes. While the expansive restaurant and bar seats two hundred guests, cleverly, from my table, I was only able to see about thirty.
While the extensive wine list is impressive, its delivery, not so much. Staff do not lack enthusiasm or the willingness to assist, but more is required on an extensive Australian-dominated wine list arranged by region rather than grape. Asking for wine advice, we were passed from staff member to staff member, without a fact between them. The fourth staff member was introduced as the sommelier, but still hadn’t tried any of the wines we were querying. He told us the difference between the 2011 & 2013 Kumeu River ‘Mate’s Vineyard' Chardonnay (both $135) was "more time in the bottle." Yeah, got that from the years on them, thanks. Frustration made us choose a 2014 Picardy Chardonnay ($80) from Pemberton, because we were familiar with the area. This wine sat in the middle of their price range, but with better wine service, we’d likely have been drinking in their top band.
Things smooth out by the time our Oysters ($4/each) arrive. They’re well handled and wonderfully briny rock oysters from Wonboyn, down near the Victorian border. They’re delicious and creamy with a drip of fresh lemon juice (the ginger and shallot vinaigrette they’re presented with is too big for them). When we remark upon their flavour, our waiter, Stefan offers: "My head chef, he's from Tuscany, he's crazy. Every morning he goes to the port and gets sea water to open them with."
This attention to detail is what lifts Francesco Mannelli’s (ex-Balla) dishes above typical hotel guest fodder, into something that deserves to attract a local Sydney following. Grilled Calamari ($24) arrives translucent, tender and tastefully dotted with char. It peeks out from a vividly green tangle of Brussels sprouts balanced by lemon, olives and chilli, and is a pleasure your dietician will likely endorse.
Grass-fed Black Angus Tartare ($24) with shallots, seaweed, yellow blobs of yolk jam and ‘Italian fish sauce’ is a particularly tasty rendition of this perennially popular dish.
Beef is also well handled on the grill, with Robbins Island 9+ Wagyu Rump Cap ($40/180g) cooked to medium because, I'm told by Stefan, "that’s how it eats best". Topped with two slices of black truffle, it’s a compelling piece of meat that explodes with rich, mouth-coating juices when you bite into it.
Three split King Prawns ($43) are also grilled perfectly, with slight translucency and tasty, creamy heads. Presented on the shell, they’re kept simple with orange, succulent sea herbs and pistachios.
We accompany them with a Radicchio, Pecorino & Apple ($10) salad but with the tiny amounts of protein on each plate, I’d recommend throwing in some carbohydrates too. Portions are small and, especially when you factor in needing multiple sides, expensive. However I’m pretty happy when wanting for a bit more food convinces my usually savoury-focused dining companion to order a Mango Meringue ($15) dessert.
This gives me the perfect excuse to indulge in a textbook Lemon Tart ($15) that's pure pleasure from its sharp, tangy curd to its deliciously short crust. It is decorated with wafer-thin slices of dehydrated lemon that melt on the tongue like Communion wafers, and accompanied by a scoop of fennel pollen ice cream.
Francesco Mannelli often shows off the restaurant's tart of the day on his Instagram account - @lionofflorence - giving you another compelling reason to pay this hotel restaurant a visit.
Mode Kitchen & Bar
Four Seasons Hotel, Ground Floor,
199 George Street, Sydney
Ph: (02) 9250 3160