Fatigued by restaurant buzz terms, Lara Picone visits Sydney’s hotly anticipated new restaurant, Fred’s, to see if Danielle Alvarez’s produce-driven, seasonal menu can reset the dial.
Dear restaurateurs, humour me a little.
From now on, let’s assume that we diners all know your menu is supposed to be ‘produce-driven’ with ingredients ‘sourced locally’ and that the chef is ‘inspired by the seasons’.
I do love how your ultra-sincere waitstaff are so enamoured by Chef that their starry-eyed explanations of the menu verge on the evangelical.
But, please, don’t have them utter the words ‘designed to share’ followed by a prescription of exactly how many dishes should be taken in one sitting, lest I launch my Clair De Lune oyster shells at their linen-aproned chests.
I know this makes me sound like the Grinch who siphoned the marrow of joy from the very bones of Sunday lunch, but so often are the words ‘sustainably sourced’ and ‘produce-driven’ uttered that I’ve lost all conviction in their validity.
Don’t get me wrong, I want to believe.
But my faith has been shaken by too many limp leeks and flaccid fish fillets tarted up as specials.
For a while I’d been harbouring this bleak view like an unpopular political opinion; only feeling emboldened to express it around like minds.
It pouted in bad temper behind me as I sat down to lunch at Merivale’s Fred’s in Sydney’s Paddington.
But something remarkable happened in chef Danielle Alvarez’s Pinterest-worthy open kitchen.
Faith was restored one morsel at a time.
You can’t hide in a kitchen like that. Diners eat in the midst of the action. Some even perch at work benches as if they’re hanging out in a mate’s kitchen for Tuesday night book club.
From my seat facing the open hearth and wood-fire oven, I watch plump zucchini being sliced in meditative strokes.
I see leaves plucked from stems and lamb racks licked by flames.
In this room doing its best (and succeeding) to tap into your French provincial styling goals, you can have your faith restored in paddock to plate.
By mains, I was born again.
Reinsertion into the seasonal produce dream began with wood-oven squid ink with curry leaf, celery and finger lime.
Lightly slicked with the glossy black ink, the squid was the right measure of resistant and soft, a gentle hint of smokiness serving to amplify, not disguise.
Having remarkably made a decision unassisted by our waiter to share mains, I wasn’t disappointed by their generous size or wholesome simplicity.
The crispy chicken with white bean purée didn’t mess with convention, the flavours blending as they should, the purée lusciously creamy and the chicken skin as sinful as you’d expect.
Same goes for the grilled Moorlands lamb; a piece of quality meat that makes you wish the dining manners of Henry VIII were acceptable in polite society.
The blood plum tart tasted like a windowsill-cooled treat from a fairy tale.
If you’re into food that borders on the scientific, Fred’s may fail to impress.
But having spent four years at Berkeley, California’s most lauded restaurant, Chez Panisse, Alvarez wears her chef whites with confidence, which translates to unfussy compositions on the plate.
If you’ve had enough of gritting your teeth through descriptions of ‘seasonal, local’ menus, come to Alvarez’s kitchen for a restoration of faith.
The Details: Fred’s in Paddington
Address: Fred’s 380 Oxford Street, Paddington, NSW.
Verdict: Solid, unfussy dining in a kitchen you wish was your own.
We rated: Produce that is what it says it’s going to be. Promises delivered. Faith restored.
We’d change: There wasn’t a lot of atmosphere in the front bar where we had a drink before being seated.
With the large Charlie Parker’s bar luring evening drinkers downstairs, it seems this front area lacks purpose.
All AT reviews are conducted anonymously and our writers pay their own way – so we experience exactly what you would.