I’ve never considered Alexandria a hot-spot in terms of having a wealth of places to lounge back with mates for a few bevvies or sit and enjoy a civilised meal. Yes there are a couple of pubs and handful of cafés dotted around this mainly industrial inner-city suburb, but nothing quite like this recently-opened bar and bistro on the corner of Bourke and Huntley. Almost a century ago the site was a growing linseed oil and meal mill and thanks to clever redevelopment the old structures have been given a 21st century touch, retaining the original fabric of the disused James Barnes mill.
What was once the office for the factory, todays 4143 at the James Barnes sits in a beautifully refurbed federation building wrapped in wood panelling and glass louvres. From the street all you see is an outdoor area filled with a mish-mash of seats and tables with a simple bar offering drinks and bar food. Walk around the other side and you find something a little more polished. The light-filled room celebrates wooden finishes in many forms from the barn-like walls to the exposed beams overhead and while the sun streams into a central glass cathedral ceiling, it also shoots prisms of colour onto whatever surface it catches – a table, the wall or your companions face. White-topped tables, industrial lighting and immediate views onto the neighbouring brick buildings; no water views here unless you walk 250 metres to the festering Alexandra Canal!
With a bar menu that consists of booze-soakers like fish & chips, schnitzel and pizza, we started with a margarita pizza (10). The base was a little thicker than I prefer but the right amount of chewiness and cheesiness was definitely going on and drunk down with a fizzy concoction of voddy, strawberry liqueur, ginger beer and a basil leaf, my grumbling stomach wanted more. Now, where’s that bistro menu?
This is one of those menus that has only a handful of dishes per course but you can’t help but want to try most of them. Scallops have got to be one of my favourite seafoods and the little suckers here didn’t disappoint. Seared scallops on pea purée with chorizo (17). Sounds pretty simple but in the flavour stakes it was bang on. Perfectly cooked and salted-up with small cubes of chorizo and crispy fried capers. The bright green mushy peas were the savoury “butter”, so to speak.
The good old caramelised onion tart with goats curd (17) has done its rounds in this city so if you’re a fan, the 4143 version won’t disappoint. The pastry is lighter than most and packed with butter and the sweet onions are nicely al dente rather than jammy. The goats curd is divinely silky just on its own.
The great thing about the main courses is that you can choose to have a small ($16) or large portion ($28) so sharing or sampling more dishes is easily done. A lamb shank (16) is usually a stodgy-looking affair so when this verion first came out I thought we were given the wrong thing. This de-boned little baby virtually dissolved on the tongue and the flavour and richness is just perfect with the creamy parsnip purée and muscatel jus.
Another wintry dish is the duck breast on green lentils & brussels sprouts (16). The nicely cooked lentils still have a bit of a bite and the caramelised juices hinted with cloves match the tender duck really well.
The fish of the day (16) was barramundi; a crispy-skinned half-fillet on top of chat potatoes doused in a creamy sauce studded with meaty and sharp Sicilian olives. I was almost convinced there was a hint of vanilla in the sauce but I guess my tongue was playing tricks. The tomato crust lifted the dish incredibly and is something I need to try at home.
As a shared lunch between two, all of this food was beyond enough and with our final installment of coffees we were given two delicious apple pie macarons that were just enough sugar to end the lunch. If Alexandria wasn’t a destination for food in the past, then it just may be now.