It’s easy to romanticise a chef’s life, especially when you’re sitting in the Fred’s dining room – it’s the antithesis of every tanty-throwing, pot-chucking, expletive-laden version of a professional kitchen you’ve ever seen on TV. In this beautifully styled Paddington restaurant everyone is wearing a lot of creamy linen and seems totally at ease, and we’re not talking about the well-heeled customers. Fred’s is unique among Sydney fine diners because they’ve taken the open kitchen concept to its apex, removing the walls entirely so that the dining room and kitchen are one and the same.
You don’t have to perch up at the kitchen bench among the decorative piles of persimmons and steel pots containing live marron, but you can – it’s the equivalent of getting backstage for music fans. And if you don’t beat your dining companion to the banquette seat, you can still see all the action in antique-looking, see-and-be-seen mirrors lining the room. Here you see cheffing from its best possible angle: creating delicious in beautiful surrounds using premium produce – it’s enough to make you start considering a career change.
Like the corn pancake. Why does a simple sounding dish like this demand a $48 price tag? This is an exercise in layered luxury, with a generous scoop of Italian caviar crowning crème fraîche, on top of soft folds of translucent kingfish, all carried on the broad back of a golden, buttery pancake with perfectly crisp edges and a meltingly soft centre.
Top points for considerate details, like splitting a soup between two. Garlicky Jerusalem artichoke and a touch of chilli form the base, but a swirl of vivid orange prawn oil crashes this spartan vegetable party with bisquey brawn, and sweet prawn meat makes this a Cinderella story for humble root veg.
This way you also have room for wood-roasted marron basted in lemon and parsley (classic) and earthed by a little paprika.
Yes, lamb is still on the menu, though right now it’s a roast rack instead of slices from the leg hung over the open hearth. Although chef Danielle Alvarez always intended for her restaurant to change with the whims of the seasons, the opening dish is so popular (and her access to great lamb so consistent) that it’s never been retired. But have you tried the steak? It’s an 800g T-bone, perfectly seasoned, rested into a state of total relaxation, and carrying a springtime fresh grass-fed flavour. Salad on one side and a bowl of roasted potatoes – some still fluffy, some roasted like they holiday in Mordor – makes this a square meal for two in and of itself. Throw in an exacting Gimlet and you have a tableau of simple but expensive pleasures on your hands.
The only problem with Fred’s is that it’s so popular they do in fact insist on those allocated sitting times. But if you have been lingering over savouries and still want dessert they’ll try and accommodate you in the front bar so you needn’t vanish a plate of petit fours at a gallop – very civilised.
You might never get a woodfired grazier in your own home, or develop the kind of chef-to farmer relationships that get your first dibs on the day’s harvest, but here you get to be part of the world of high end cooking, if only for an evening, and it’s a huge part of what makes Fred’s so great.