Whole Roasted Pork Belly at Four in Hand, Paddington
Gerascophobia is the clinical phobia of growing old or aging and whilst its effect on me may not have been “legit” – back when I was 27 or so, the thought of turning 30 scared the shit out of me. Looking back now I’m not exactly sure what it was precisely that freaked me out but I knew I wasn’t ready to be 30. Funny thing is, the closer I got, the more at ease I became. Some may say it was just me growing up, some may call it a moment of clarity, but whatever it was – I was suddenly ok with turning 30…which meant a 30th birthday party had to be planned. Initially I was thinking to go all out and do something extravagant but after thinking about it I couldn’t be bothered “inviting half the world” out somewhere and having half assed conversations. All I really wanted was great food, lots of alcohol and my nearest and dearest friends together with me to eat, drink and talk shit for a few hours.
Enter Colin Fassnidge. I’ve been a fan of his style of cooking well before his stint on My Kitchen Rules so after learning that his kitchen renovations would be completed just in time for my birthday, I decided to have a quick browse through the Four in Hand website. I ended up booking in the whole roasted pork belly with traditional roast vegetables and crackling. Being the big eaters that my friends and I are, I also figured we’d order some dishes from the bar menu to share as starters. For those that haven’t been before, Four in Hand is nestled in one of the quiet suburban streets of Paddington and parking for all of us was a breeze. With a tab set up at the bar first thing on order was a round of drinks and a quick peruse of the menu where we started with a few dishes.
Now there are some things in life which I just cannot do; using an Android phone is one, the other is eating blood jelly. However if you bring black pudding into the mix, then things are entirely different – I can eat that stuff by the bucket load. The mixture of blood, meat, fat, starchy fillers and herbs transform what many people would throw in the bin, into something absolutely delicious. The black pudding & pigs ear schnitzel with fried duck egg ($18) was first off the cap and I’ve got to say it is good to see someone serve some homemade black pudding that is not sourced from the Rodriguez brothers out in Yagoona (the BEST blood pudding you can buy retail), not that I would expect anything less from Colin’s kitchen. The textural play from the crunchy pig’s ears and richness from the egg yolk all meld together wonderfully and turns this classic Irish dish into a modern classic.
Not much to say here – The chicken liver parfait ($14.50) was luscious, velvety smooth and well seasoned. Flavour wise it was spot on, but unlike most people I actually prefer pate with its gritty, rough texture over parfait. In fact pate & parfait are essentially the same thing except that in a parfait (French for perfect), the cooked liver mixture is pushed through a sieve to remove the chunks and give more a mousse like texture. Like I said – I like it rough… errr wait a minute.
Ham and cheese anything is awesome – but the Ham & Cheese Croquettes ($12) takes this humble combination of pig and dairy to a different place… a deep fried place… and came in just shy of what I would consider to be the best croquettes in Sydney. A crunchy coating on the outside yet light and pillowy inside with a nice dipping sauce – it is everything you need in a croquette.
You would think that in pre-booking a whole roasted pork belly with all the trimmings, we would take it easy on the starters…you would be wrong my friend… you would be very wrong indeed. This one was one of those #yolo moments where after ordering two of each of the dishes you’ve just seen, I spied the hand-written chalkboard which read “Weekend Special – fried chicken $14”. It was like the kitchen knew I was coming and said to themselves “Aside from the pork belly – what else could we do to make David’s 30th birthday lunch the best lunch ever… I know – fried chicken”; that’s how I like to imagine it anyway.
How did it taste you ask? Or if you are from Sydney – How was it compared to Mary’s? Think of it like this: imagine the best KFC you have ever had… now turn that up by about a thousand and you’ll be somewhat close to the mouth watering, deep fried explosion of flavour that was experienced that day. If this makes it back on rotation and you see it – order it!
Here we are at the pièce de résistance, the star upon the Christmas tree, the stripper who jumps out of the giant cake… yeah baby… the pork.
Carried out by two people on a massive serving board – I’m quite certain there was a unanimous “oh yeeeeeah” let out by our entire group. As you can see, what we received was nothing short of breathtaking – the epitome of “Food Porn”.
There were endless mountains of roasted pork belly; the meat was so moist, tender and flavoursome and topped off with a perfect little hat of crisp crackling. As for sides, there were fat wedges of roasted pumpkin and carrots strewn around the board as well as bowls of roasted kipfler potatoes, pickled red cabbage and gravy to help it all go down.
We were a group of 14 (including 1 vegetarian *gasps* don’t worry there was food for my vego mate) and everyone was very full by the end of it and I had about four really big eaters with me – not your average “big eater” but ones that could eat each a mastodon for lunch. So the whole roasted pork belly for $350 represents a whole lot of bang for not so much buck. For the vegetarians out there, Four in Hand have some very good (but limited) options for you. I cannot remember exactly what they were but my friend said they were “really, really good” – so there you have it.
What is a big birthday celebration without a big birthday cake? It is like a gin and tonic without gin or eggs Benedict without hollandaise sauce – it is simply incomplete. As such, I had to choose an appropriately awesome cake to match my awesome birthday, and who else but Black Star Pastry to provide such a cake. Don’t be surprised if this cake seems unfamiliar as you would not have seen it in the display. The aptly named Delicious Cake ($95 for 2 tiers) was created specifically for delicious magazine’s 10th anniversary edition.
The base is a coconut cake baked within almond dacquoise and made complete with fresh cream, fresh figs, pomegranate (or whatever is in season) and finished with toasted meringue. It was seriously good (I have friends who don’t eat cake that went back for seconds & thirds) – moist, surprisingly light and had the ideal level of sweetness. This cake was like a pre baby bump Mila Kunis; flawless in both taste and presentation – best… cake… ever.
So I hit that 30 year mile stone and according to my 18 year old self I should own my own house, be financially well off, drive a luxury car of some sort and be dating models. So I may not have reached some (any) of those goals – but the life that I do have, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. Over the last 30 years there have been many a bad time and many good, and after all my life experience so far, I’ve found that there are only 3 things that really matter to me: Family, Friends and Food. I really could have been anywhere and eaten anything that day, but having the whole roasted pork belly from the team at Four in Hand and the Delicious cake from Black Star Pastry just made it a perfect day that I will never forget.
Four in Hand
105 Sutherland Street, Paddington NSW
Phone: (02) 9362 1999
Black Star Pastry
C1 85-113 Dunning Avenue, Rosebery NSW
Phone: (02) 9700 7686
Photography by Jennifer Lam