Unlike many of Merivale’s other venues, Fred’s, on Oxford Street, is a little more intimate, seating only sixty. But that may well be intentional, because they want it to feel like a bit of a home away from home. Walk past the bar at the front (where you can also eat the full restaurant menu)….
…and into the warm dining room, where the kitchen is more than just an open kitchen, it’s an integral part of the room. You can sit at the kitchen bench, as you would when you are visiting a friend, or at the various tables. Head chef Danielle Alvarez, whose impressive resume includes Chez Panisse and French Laundry, is all warmth and delight.
Fred’s took a lot longer to open than planned, but it seems that this has resulted in a better end product, giving the team time to source from the farmers and suppliers they wanted to work with, and more importantly to Danielle, develop personal relationships with them.
We start with some fougasse, which is meant to be the French equivalent of focaccia. Light and airy, it comes with some delicious whipped butter, and we spread generous lashings of it on the bread.
The Merivale group’s head sommelier, Franck Moreau is in the house that night. One of only three Master Sommeliers in Australia, and one of the top ranked of his ilk in the world, Franck oozes passion and French charm. Lucky for us, he married an Australian who dragged him over here to live. I can’t get a good shot because he is so animated talking about wine! I tell him I’m partial to pinot noir and he selects one from the New Zealand’s Marlborough region by Pyramid Valley which we all rate.
The food comes out much quicker than you’d expect. Why? Not because anything has been pre-cooked, but because the quality ingredients, all ethically and sustainably sourced, have been tampered with so little. An entrée, main course and dessert will set you back about $90 – or you can have the 5 course “Danielle’s menu” for $95 – but you can pay for it with a very clear conscience.
There are two pasta dishes that night, the asparagus triangoli and the casarecce with rabbit. The first is all spring freshness; and in the second the rabbit is beautifully braised. There is also a woodfired squid dish which one of our table tries and loves, and I earmark it for next time.
We also try a simple salad of golden beets and radicchio. So pretty and so refreshing.
For main course we try roast duck, ocean trout (which has been cooked rapped in fig leaf), and lamb (roasted over the hearth), with a side of roast potatoes. It is all brilliantly simple and enough to (temporarily) silence a group of feisty talkative women as we savour what is before us.
We order one of each of the desserts . A chocolate mousse, the rhubarb tart, and the macadamia meringue – or you can also opt for a cheese plate – and for me the meringue is the stand out, with strawberry and yoghurt sorbet on top.
Underneath the restaurant is a bar, Charlie Parkers, which has its own bar food menu, and is heaving with patrons trying the inventive drinks menu one week into opening. And although we have already had dessert, I have to try the burnt salted caramel ice cream with rum. So good.
But who exactly is Fred? That will remain a Merivale Mystery.
Freds, 380 Oxford St Paddington, Ph +61 2 9240 3000