Bar Profile: Grain


by Sam Bygrave

Four Seasons Hotel, 199 George Street, Sydney
02 9250 3118

“Hotel bars”: in Australia, particularly, those two words don’t often inspire a lot of confidence. More often than not they are bywords for “expensive”, “forgettable” drinks made by bartenders who have as much passion for the dispensing drinks as do the doormen (which is to say, often quite little). Which is a shame, given that some of the most storied bars in bartending lore are those that sit in a hotel lobby, manned by sartorially attired bartenders catering to the captive audience of their guests. Names like The Waldorf Astoria and the Savoy have graced well-worn and dog-eared bar bibles and are still in print today. The great hotels of London and New York have been the birthplace of a number of libations still in the repertoire, but sadly there’s not a lot to recommend many hotel bars in Oz today. Of course there are excellent high-flying exceptions. There was once the Chevron Hotel, tended by Eddie Tirado (who also sold more than his fair share of books). Yet despite a few highlights (Sydney’s Zeta and QT, stand out as shining lights on the hill), things have been pretty bleak in hotel bars here.

But could a hotel bar – with their rules, dress code and expectation of behaviour – even get off the ground these days? Sydney’s Four Seasons Hotel took a more neighbourhood bar approach when recasting their drinking options.


“We wanted to create a bar where Sydneysiders and also our hotel guests would feel at ease but we definitely didn’t want to create a “hotel” bar,” said  hotel general manager, Vincent Hoogewijs.

“It’s just a bar that happens to be in a hotel.  We even went as far as adding an additional street entrance so passersby would feel welcome to come inside rather than passing through the hotel lobby.”

The site, in the Rocks area, has had a long history one which Hoogewijs is well aware of. “Four Seasons Hotel Sydney (formerly The Regent Sydney) was built on the site of Australia’s first gaol.  Being part of the historic Rocks district, you can imagine back in the late 1700s this whole neighbourhood was dirt roads and horse-drawn carts with convicts from the First Fleet hard at work establishing Sydney Cove as it was first known.”

Things are a little different today, however, and the fitout for Grain shows this. “Michael McCann of Dreamtime Australia designed all three of our new spaces,” said Hoogewijs. “He has a stunning repertoire in food and beverage outlets in Sydney including Mr Wong, Concrete Blonde, The Argyle, Pony, Steel Bar & Grill, to name a few.”

Bringing in David Ramos Hernandez was a move designed to bolster the non-hotel-barness of it all. With bars like Low 302 and Pocket on his resume, he understands the role a bar can play in the local community. “The crowd at Grain is mainly local residents,” he said, “people that work in the area and of course our hotel guests. I believe Grain bridges a long-standing gap in The Rocks bar scene, providing patrons with a stylish yet affordable place to drink and meet friends and colleagues.

“Grain has already established itself as place to ‘drink local’ [and] we work very closely with both breweries located in the Rocks,” he said.

“I think hotel bars in Sydney are overdue an overhaul. Hotel bars are integral and extremely important to the bar scene in most other major cities (London, NY, Barcelona) and unfortunately that’s not the case in Sydney just yet. Grain, alongside Zeta and QT are at the forefront of this much needed revival to make hotels a going out destination again.”

But having the muscle of a hotel’s resources doesn’t hurt when opening a new venue. It meant that they managed to snag an up and coming talented chef to craft the bar menu.

Hamish Ingham (who’s Bar H in Surry Hills has earned the respect of Sydney’s food set since opening and led to appearances on Masterchef) is in charge of the food at both Grain and its sister restaurant, The Woods (can you sense a theme here?).

His food ties in to Grain’s aim to be more than just a hotel bar. “I think the dining out scene has changed,” Ingham said, “it is no longer just about special events. We are all so busy nowadays and often we just want to grab a quick drink and a meal before we head home for the night. People are eating out more and so are demanding more variety of choice and flexibility of what they eat and when.”

Ingham had a very simple brief in mind when designing the menu. “I really wanted to lift the usual standard for bar food,” he said, “keep it interesting and unique with the use of native Australian ingredients – but most of all tasty.”

Asked to name a favourite dish, Ingham points to one that he said came about by accident. “I guess [my favourite is] the Deep Fried Old Man’s Salt Bush, not just because it’s been so popular but because it was one of those dishes that just happened by accident,” said Ingham. “During a tasting for the Four Seasons Hotel, I realised I didn’t have a deep fried option so went in to the cool room to see what I could deep fry at the last minute. I grabbed the Salt bush and it turned out to be amazing!”

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