Remember the good old days? You know, the ones when life was easy and restaurants served the kind of food that belonged on the cover of a Women’s Weekly cookbook? That’s the fantasy they’re serving at Ron’s Upstairs, a delightfully retro dining room with a menu that lists gently in the direction of the European continent. It’s like a ‘70s-toned holiday snap from your parents’ photo album: there are plastic grapevines looped across the walls, fairy lights, big round tables and comfy straight-backed dining chairs. Brown, orange and green is the colour scheme – the only things missing are the big moustaches and polyester dresses.
You’re probably already a fan of the work of Dave Jank, Brett Pritchard, Susie Pritchard and Kim Fasher, who also own neighbouring small bar Arcadia Liquors and Redfern Continental across the street. For their third trick, they have successfully conjured a halcyon version of a vintage RSL into a space once occupied by a Thai restaurant. But the menu is anchored firmly in modern dining sensibilities. There are no meat jellies or cabanossi hedgehogs here, but there is a whole, perfectly tender snapper doused in a slightly pale nut butter sauce and wearing capers the way punks wear studs.
Juicy segments of chicken rubbed in paprika, Old Bay and chilli nod to Portugal; Lebanon is represented in smoky, garlicky baba ganoush that is smuggling creamy labne underneath so that your flatbread gets a two-tone dip treatment; and nothing says Mediterranean holiday like super-crisp calamari rings that are so well drained you could drop them on a silk shirt and leave no trace. It’s not fancy dining, by any means, which is why you can get a side of garlicky tomato rice, but it is fun, relaxing and very familiar.
All this nostalgia is helped along if you’re wearing rosé-tinted glasses, which is easy to do when the French grenache here is so thoroughly dry and smashable. The wine list is careful, but not laboured – things like a savoury Adelaide Hills fiano will please the whole group. For our money, we’d take a second round of the strong, bitter and aromatic Cherie Sherry (rum, Fernet, amaro and sherry) over the rosewater lemonade – potpourri is a long-abandoned trend we don’t need to relive in drink form.
Bring your vegetarian friends for roasted cauliflower and stuffed zucchini. Make it a double date, because they take bookings for four to ten people. Embrace the time warp that happens when you walk up the stairs off Redfern Street, because Ron’s Upstairs has conjured a potent kind of nostalgia that will make you feel as content as Daryl Kerrigan at Bonnie Doon.