Lennox Hastie

Diners come to Firedoor to watch Lennox Hastie play with fire. A former head chef at legendary Basque grill Asador Etxebarri, Hastie is obsessed with exploring the magic that happens when prime Australian ingredients meet wood, fire and smoke. When he’s not at the (literal) coalface of his Sydney restaurant, these are the places the recently crowned Good Food Guide Australian Chef of the Year is likely to be.

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The Casino’s Safest Best

In spite of its location in the casino, I love Momofuku Seiobo. It’s not so much about the space, but the people that inhabit the space which is led by chef Paul Carmichael and restaurant manager Kylie Javier-Ashton. There’s a lot of same-same in Sydney, but Paul’s Caribbean food is so different to what anyone else is doing in terms of flavour and approach. Those interesting flavours and stories behind the dishes are what makes it super interesting for me. It’s amazing to be in that room and to see how alive and warm it can feel, even though it’s quite grandiose and functional. You’re transported through the food and service which is quite a unique selling point.

The Evolution Of An Italian Favourite

LuMi Dining is a husband-and-wife restaurant I’ve been going to for a while. The restaurant serves a courageous chef’s menu that’s broadly Italian but features Japanese finesse. Even though chef Federico Zanellato has put his prices up, it’s still ridiculously cheap. Anything that’s owner-operated is going to have that passion behind because the owners have skin in the game and they’re going to put their heart in it. Federico is, like me, a little bit crazy but in a good crazy way. He’s super passionate about it and pouring his heart and soul into the restaurant and doing that little bit more each time. It’s nice to see how the restaurant has evolved. As a restaurateur, when you open your restaurant, it isn’t fully realised and always take a good couple of years to find itself. You always hold something back and do something new every year. This year it’s opened a small six-seat bar counter that you can pop in and have a slider or an amazing tagliolini. It’s super focussed and very, very sharp in execution.

Two Reliable Italian Options

When I used to do consultancy for the Fink Group, Sagra was right on the doorstep of the head office. It’s a nice little go-to place and somewhere that’s always quietly ticked along in the background. The owners are running it on a fairly low-key basis and interchanging between who’s running the floor and who’s in the kitchen. It’s super simple, super tasty stuff – they’ll throw a pasta or some beautiful cheese on the menu – but very well executed. I’d describe it as Italian with an Australian slant. It’s in an old house and feels very homey. There’s also 10 William Street which is in that same vibe. You go in and feel welcomed and can literally settle into one of the small tables. You can eat a range of antipasti, get some good drinks, some well-selected wines and great small bites plus a bowl of pasta and you’re super happy.

Where I’d Take Visiting Chefs

When chefs are in town, I tend to take them to Sean’s Panaroma in Bondi for a long lunch. There’s something very Australian about going to the beach and sitting near the water and having Australian ingredients simply presented. Most chefs are typically interested in ingredients as opposed to being oversold something that’s ridiculously manipulated. Just the quality of the ingredients at Sean’s: they really speak for themselves. Visiting chefs really appreciate that relaxed atmosphere and it allows them to be themselves and relax, even if they’re here for an event. That’s when the interesting conversations tend to happen. If you go to a fancy restaurant, you can’t relax. I’d also bring a couple of bottles of Australian wine because Sean’s do BYO which is amazing. After that, I’d probably pop into the Cured and Cultured bar at Bennelong at the Opera House: it’s the perfect backdrop in terms of such an architectural landmark. You can sit there and be quite relaxed. Chef Pete Gilmore’s handling of iconic Australian classics is great for visiting people to see.

Asian Comfort Eating

I live in Surry Hills just down from Darlinghurst, so if I’m after some comfort eating, I’d go see the guys at Boon Café. It’s easy and literally five minutes away and it’s a one-stop Thai shop you can pick up some vegetables and groceries for the restaurant. I’ll get some crab rice and green juice to balance things out. There’s also yakitori bar, Chaco Bar. Again, it’s amazing to see how even a small environment like that can feel quite comfortable. There’s no commitment to buying into the whole package so we’ll pop in and work our way through the menu and then order more drinks and food if we like. I like grilled things on sticks: anything that’s cooked immediately and to order that you eat sitting at a counter.

My Favourite Pubs In Sydney

Being British, I like spending time in pubs. There are two good places in Sydney that spring to mind for me. One’s the Lord Nelson which is in The Rocks and is the oldest pub brewery in Sydney. It’s got an amazing beer offering. Over the last year, we’ve collaborated with them to make beers for the restaurant and have just made our third batch. I’ve always wanted to make beer and get involved and not just dial it in and get someone to make it for me. Each time we do a beer, we do something different: the last one had charred orange and saltbush, it’s amazing how well it came out. I took the guys here recently to celebrate some of our wins this year. The other is The Old Fitzroy. It’s attached to the theatre near Woolloomooloo and is super old school and feels like an actual English pub. There’s an ex-Sepia chef called Nick Hill in there and he’s doing classic old school English food and just nailing it. It’s super delicious. There’s some pretty rich stuff but that’s the way it’s meant to. Imagine food like St John but served in a pub. Things like raw beef with dripping on toast. A classic chip sarnie. An amazing, amazing, amazing old school pork pie with the jelly on top. Just outrageous. He’s not cutting corners.

Trottole, pork and fennel sausage ragu at Ragazzi Wine and Pasta. Photography: Courtesy of Ragazzi Wine and Pasta

Great Coffee In The Neighbourhood

Great coffee is something people in Sydney take for granted until you travel and go the airport or out of town. You order a coffee and it’s nothing like a coffee. There’s no joy in that cup at all. It’s great to have Single O Surry Hills in the neighbourhood. I love the whole culture the entire team has created around coffee. Most of them have been there for a hell of a long time because they’re super into promoting coffee across its many forms and facets. It’s not just a white coffee or black coffee, but cold-drip, long-pour or on-tap. It’s mind-blowing to think coffee has so many different styles and profiles. Every time I go in, the guys are raving about this amazing coffee that comes from a particular area and has notes of sherry and chocolate. It’s not false advertising and they’re not reading it off a cheat sheet: they’re super proud and passionate. Maybe the O stands for obsessive?

The Restaurant I Most Want To Try

I haven’t got there yet, but I do want to get to Ragazzi which just opened last month [October 2019]. I’ve been following Scotty [chef Scott McComas-Williams] for a couple of years now and he’s always impressed me. I feel that he’s struggled a bit in other environments: it’s very hard for a chef to find a home and work with people that they’re comfortable with and allows them to do what they’re really good at but I think he’s found that here. He can cook some amazing pasta. People talk about pasta in Sydney and all of its different levels but he’s someone that’s focussed on the craft of handmaking it and also not overselling it at the end of the day. He’s taking flour, eggs and water and doing something super delicious.

Selected Works: Finding Fire: Cooking at its most elemental (2017)

Guide last updated March 2020

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