"Everything is locally sourced," says our Scottish waiter before pausing with perfect comedic timing, "Except our Head Chef Danielle Alvarez". She is American and has worked at Chez Panisse and has created a similar farm to table ethos in the restaurant having established relationships with growers for the two years that she has been here in Australia.
Fred's is located on Oxford Street, Paddington and the street is busy this Saturday lunchtime with the markets just opposite. It seats 60 people and I'm dining with Alyson and Mr NQN today. Like all Merivale restaurants it's a slick operation and the fit out is something to behold (and yay bookings!).
There's a completely open kitchen, kind of like if you visited an amazing chef at home and sat around their kitchen island watching them cook but they were so amazing that they had several kitchen islands. There are the Tuscan grills, a custom made hearth and the wood fired oven.
Service is excellent and with personality - it's cheeky from our Scottish waiter and knowledgeable and sweet from our waitress and nothing is ever any trouble.
Downstairs is Charlie Parker's the bar with the requisite lushly bearded bar staff. This isn't open during lunchtimes but we steal downstairs for a look as well as upstairs for a peek at the bathrooms. With our early booking of 12 o'clock we feel like we have the run of the restaurant at least for the first hour.
We beg off cocktails (I'm shooting something for American TV and don't think my meagre ability to drink will impress) and the wine list is tempting with small batch wines but our waitress suggests the soft drinks. There's the non alcoholic wine by Grange de Tiphaine "less Ricasses" with pressed grapes.
There's also a few house made sodas. We try a salted apple and an aged sencha. The first is sweet but balanced with salt while the aged sencha is intriguingly smokey and unsweetened.
I adore fougasse bread and I was eager to try their version. Although I usually see this in a leaf shape this is a fat ring of freshly baked bread, chewy and dense but soft with salted butter and olive oil. I don't think you'd need one each but it's delicious to share.
Much ado was made about the fire and we were told the beetroot was cooked over the coals. It is put in at the end of the night and by morning it is ready. It's served with anchovy, radicchio and basil and has a mixture of sweet, bitter and salty. It's a great starter and one that really whets the appetite.
Alyson's not usually a rabbit eater, I could tell from her expression when I suggested that we try it. And yes sometimes rabbit can be gamey. It isn't here, it actually is very similar to tender chicken breast. It's served with casarecce pasta, pea puree, whey and broad bean leaves.
Our mains arrive, we only ordered two entrees and two mains among the three of us and I wasn't sure if that would be enough. This dish is divine, the coral trout perfectly cooked and served with charred pencil leeks, white asparagus and a creamy, tangy sorrel beurre blanc to bring it all together. And it's interesting to see mains that aren't really designed to share because Sydney does really like the whole sharing concept. In this case it's so delicious that you want the entire dish to yourself.
We ordered the lamb after seeing the leg of lamb hanging. It is a juicy grilled lamb cutlet serves with lamb sliced to order with shoulder, laver seaweed, charred gem lettuce and mint. It's a good dish, the lamb wonderfully tender although it is quite small for the price.
The side is a good riff on a green salad. It is lettuces dressed with a vinaigrette made with vinegar from Banyuls-sur-Mer with sheep's milk cheese.
A couple of weeks ago Alyson and I were just talking about how much she hates rhubarb desserts. But when this appears out of the corner of my eye when a chef slides it onto a board I perk up. Having just made a rhubarb tart I can't wait to try this. It's a pretty and rustic tart with beautifully placed rhubarb, beaumes de venise creme patissiere and a sugar dusted pastry.
The chocolate pot de creme comes with a topping of crunchy almond streusel and a side of poached cherries. It's nice enough and certainly comforting as it's like a chocolate custard.
But Dear Reader, save all the room for this dessert. It's a meringue filled with roasted macadamia nuts inside and served with yogurt and a scoop of strawberry sorbet with chamomile, praline and fresh strawberries. Although it doesn't sound particularly unusual the key is the deft balance of the elements that makes the dish more than the sum of its parts and has us coming back for more.
So tell me Dear Reader, do you enjoy eating rabbit? And are you a fan of sharing or do you prefer your own plate? And which dessert is more your style?
This meal was independently paid for.
380 Oxford St, Paddington, NSW
Ph: +61 2 9240 3000 Lunch: Friday – Sunday: 12pm–3pm
Dinner: Tuesday – Saturday: 5.30pm–12am