It’s been more than two years since Merivale hired Danielle Alvarez to run Fred’s at the top of Oxford Street (next door to The Chicken Shop). The 60-seat Paddington restaurant is finally about to open.
“Fred’s came from no one person or thing in particular. It’s just a sort of friendly, neighbourhood name that’s non-descript and humble,” Danielle Alvarez says.
Alvarez’s CV reads like a chef’s American bucket list; she’s clocked up time at the Napa Valley’s three-Michelin-starred French Laundry and for almost four years she worked under the tutelage of Alice Waters, one of the pioneers of the sustainable food movement, at Berkley’s Chez Panisse.
“I remember moving to California and thinking, if I can end up working there one day, that would be it for me. And I did – I miraculously got a job there and it totally changed my life.” But it wasn’t her resume that got Alvarez this job.
“The whole thing came about a bit over two years ago,” she says. “Justin and his senior team decided they wanted the space to become a restaurant based on honest cooking, and be produce-driven. He was really open to my suggestions at the time, so I came over and I cooked for them. He was really happy with it.”
One of Alvarez’s suggestions was to cook with a wood-fired hearth, which she describes as, essentially, a fireplace, custom-built by Sydney Woodfire Ovens to reach hip-height with standing grills. “It’s a new thing for them [Sydney Woodfire Ovens] too; no-one’s really done that here.”
The fireplace is the heart of the restaurant, which Alvarez says takes its design cues from a warm French chateaux. “It’s yellow, with cream firebricks lining it, but as the fire burns day in and day out, it will develop a beautiful patina and blacken and look really used. I think that’s ultimately the look we want.”
At the core of Fred’s is Alvarez’s relationships with farmers, such as Fabrice Rolando of First Farm Organics. A trained horticulturist (Blue Mountains Horticulture) Rolando’s traditional 40-acre market garden at the western edge of the Blue Mountains grows open-pollinated, organic vegetables, herbs and fruit to order, which he supplies to high-end restaurants throughout Sydney.
“The reason Chez Panisse changed me was because it’s based around relationships with people like Fabrice,” Alvarez says. “You realise that those kinds of relationships – if you’re trying to do this kind of cooking – can really make or break you, because if you don’t find people like him, who give you beautiful stuff, then you have nothing to work with, and then what? Nothing.”
Olive herb, saltbush, kohlrabi, white asparagus and crones (a perennial root vegetable) are just a few of the crops Rolando grows at any one time.
“Some chefs are hard-nosed about vegetable sizes,” South African-born Rolando says. “Danielle is all about flavour.”
“I think there’s a way Fabrice talks about his farm and his vegetables that instantly gives you the feeling that, okay; here’s someone who really cares about what they do.” Says Alvarez. “In the world of fruits and vegetables, when you meet someone who cooks what they grow and has a history in their family of cooking and eating in this way, you just know they’ll do what they need to do to get the best flavour, even if it may not be the quickest or easiest way.
“As a chef, that’s exactly what you want,” Alvarez says. “And especially for me; that’s at the root (no pun intended) of everything we do.”
The menu will be a-la-carte with a good footing in French and Italian cuisine, but with a lighter hand. If our preview lunch, held at Rolando’s farm, is any indicator (lamb slow-braised in milk; polenta with pecorino and freshly picked greens; fire-roasted vegetables and soft-cooked egg in an apple cider beurre blanc), it will be comforting, balanced and entirely produce-respecting.
Head sommelier Caitlyn Rees is curating the 120-strong wine list. It will house a large by-the-glass contingent that rotates daily. Downstairs, Charlie Parker’s is the 120-person neighbourhood cocktail bar.
“There’s a point where a cocktail becomes a celebratory thing rather than just an everyday drink, and I think there’s a lot lost in that,” Charlie Parker’s venue manager, Toby Marshall, says. “It’s just an enjoyable beverage, just as is a beer, or a wine, or a G&T.” A former bartender at Palmer & Co before moving onto The Paddington, Marshall will work with his drink-slinging partner Sam Edgerton on an evolving, unpretentious –and at times seasonally led – list. Alvarez will be behind the share plates on offer, which will be built on the same produce-driven ethos as upstairs.
Marshall says they are capitalising on the history of the building, pulling back and rendering to expose existing textures and warmth. Both venues have been created by a design team including Justin and Bettina Hemmes, Vince Alafaci and Caroline Chocker of ACME & Co. and stylist Amanda Talbot. The interior is understated with a palette of browns, dusty pinks and blues.
Fred’s and Charlie Parker’s are opening on Tuesday October 25.
Article updated on Monday October 24.