If Sydneysiders are ready to embrace new neighbourhoods, then Chippendale is ripe for a giant bear hug. The object of affection? Freda's Bar & Canteen, set up in a formerly abandoned warehouse in the inner city.
Sure we're all used to hidden bars and secret entrances, but you know things are serious when even the bar's blog has a photo essay published with directions on how to find it.
Alleyway to Freda's
Freda's sits at the end of an alleyway off Regent Street, far enough down to get away from the noise of industrial traffic. The easiest landmark to look for is the giant red fibreglass tongue of the PR agency next door. The alleyway is just to the right, now helpfully plastered with Freda's bill posters.
Inside Freda's with Marty Campaign, General Manager, behind the bar
The bar is much bigger than you'd expect, a heavy steel-grey door leading you into a cavernous room that is one part industrial to two parts shabby chic. On the left is a mix of benches, stools and old-style school chairs. On the right is the bar, well-stocked and gleaming, fronted by a stainless steel counter.
Cointreau bottles reused as water bottles
The three men behind Freda's have some serious pedigree. Operating Partner Simon Cancio is a qualified chef who did his apprenticeship at Sean's Panoroma and Onde before moving into breads at Bourke St Bakery and Brasserie Bread. Simon set up Luxe Bakery in Newtown, working as head baker, General Manager and Partner before eventually selling the business.
Freda's is the realisation of his vision to be part of an evolving Sydney. "I've always wanted someone to create a place when I can go for a drink with my mates and be part of a community; where I can have good food and not have to pay a fortune for it," Simon says. He's so sincere and compelling that if Simon said to put my hands on my head, I would have.
Tapestry and mismatched chairs
While overseas in China, Simon managed to rope in his friend Marty Campaign to join him as Operations Manager, a bar specialist who helped propel The Glamour bar and el Coctel in Shanghai to become hip and happening hotspots.
Rounding out the trio is Head Chef, Ibrahim Kasif, ex-Fish Face with an apprenticeship completed at Bistro Moncur.
Lunchtime sandwiches with Head Chef Ibrahim Kasif in the background
Lunchtime blackboard menu
The bar is open every weekday for lunch, offering a mix of sandwiches and salads. It's not until later that I realise there's no kitchen on the premises. "We cook everything off-site at a property about 150 metres away. Then we move everything here." The whole menu has been designed to eat at room temperature or prepared with the only heat source available - a salamander.
Chicken, corn and iceberg sandwich $11
There are four of us dining today and we order a sandwich each and then split them up for sharing. The chicken, corn and iceberg sandwich is generously packed with poached chicken strips smothered in a light mayonnaise. Sweet corn kernels and crisp shards of iceberg lettuce add freshness.
Pork, pickle and salsa verde sandwich $12
There's a pleasant tang from the pickles in the pork sandwich. The pickles are all housemade. Jars of pickles and olives lined the top shelves behind the counter, another passion of Simon's.
Duck, arugula and beetroot relish sandwich $12
There's no stinginess in the duck sandwich either. Fatty chunks of duck are soft and tender, paired brilliantly with fresh shredded beetroot and bitter rocket leaves.
Meatballs and reggiano sandwich $12
My choice is the meatball sandwich, a precarious construction with four rustic meatballs nestled beneath a blanket of shaved reggiano. The meatballs are just like nonna would have made them, browned on the outside but juicy in the middle, and swathed in a thick chunky tomato sauce.
A bottle of Spanish cider (Escanciador Extra Sider, $7) is light and sweet and the perfect accompaniment to lunch. On tap there are three different draught beers from 4 Pines ($7-$8) with bottled beers including Franziskaner Wiessbier (Germany, $9 for 500ml), Stiegl premium lager (Austria, $7.50), Monteith's black beer (New Zealand, $7.50), Dalgety Red ale (Australia, $9) and Dalgety smoked porter (Australia, $9.50).
Housemade breads and Turkish sujuk sausages
Even with interesting fillings, it's hard not to notice the bread. Filled with plenty of air bubbles, the bread is so pillowy soft you want to nestle your head against it. The bread is baked in-house, used for sandwiches at lunch, and served as a side at dinner to mop up sauces.
Carrot cake $7
As a sweet tooth, it's frustrating to have no offer of dessert at a bar, but to have homemade sweets on the menu is an incredulous offer too good to refuse. Freda's has a pastry chef on board, with different cakes baked each day. The carrot cake is heavily spiced, a dark moist cake studded with walnuts.
Chocolate, raisin and whisky cake $7
And the chocolate, raisin and whisky cake is a pearler too, light in texture but laced liberally with whisky.
As we leave, Simon tells us about the first spit roast barbecue they're hosting on the following Monday. Lamb. On. A. Spit? Say no more.
Ibrahim Kasif, Head Chef, basting the lamb
We return on Monday after work, turning around the corner to be greeted by a lamb slowly rotating on a spit amidst plumes of tantalising charcoal smoke.
Simon Cancio, Operating Partner, sprinkling salt onto the lamb
The lamb has been on the barbecue since about 1pm, Simon tells us. It smells amazing, especially when Ibrahim bastes the skin with marinade using a brush made from sprigs of thyme and rosemary.
Oh yeah, do you like that
The lamb weighs about 13 kilograms with Simon guessing its age at just under two years old. It's come from Cowra, sourced from Breakout River Meats with animals grazing along the banks of the Lachlan River.
Stoking the coals
The spit roast concept is one that both Simon and Marty hope will continue on a fortnightly basis. They are thinking of featuring a different animal on the spit and then eventually convincing chefs from other restaurants to participate. "I'd love to get someone with experience in Chinese cuisine to come down and do a roast duck in a drum, for example," says Simon. "We could do all kinds of things."
The idea is to create a community event, especially one for fellow chefs who often have Monday nights off. "There's never anything happening on Monday night."
Glorious crispy lamb skin
After several hours on the spit, the lamb is hauled off and allowed to rest before Ibrahim breaks it down into individual portions.
Ibrahim carving the lamb
Simon putting the second lamb onto the spit roast
A second lamb is mounted on the spit, and even when rain starts to spit from the skies, a couple of umbrellas are whipped out to save the day.
Gallant chivalry will save you from the rain
Freda's Bloody Mary $17 and Strawberry Mezcal ($17, blackboard special)
As the lamb is being prepped, we prop up the bar and settle into a couple of cocktails. I'm all over the Freda's Bloody Mary which has a sucker punch of chilli and pepper with every mouthful. The boys behind the bar take their cocktails seriously here, mixing up pepper and celery seed infused vodka with worchester sauce, lemon juice, pink salt, tomato juice, tabasco, green olive and pickled chilli. The green olive and cherry tomato speared on a skewer makes a pleasant change from the usual celery stalk.
Dinner blackboard menu
The dinner menu has a stronger Mediterranean leaning, a natural influence from Simon's own cultural heritage - his father is Spanish and his mother is half-Lebanese. These are the dishes he grew up with, he says. The food is simple and speaks for itself.
Oysters (from Forster) $12 for four
By this stage, Simon is treating us like old friends, just like he seems to have-a-chat with so many other patrons in the place. There's an obvious camaraderie between everyone on staff, who all look genuinely happy to be there. Even on a Monday night, Freda's is eventually packed out, filled with a mix of uni students or local residents.
Business has been steadily growing, Simon tells us. On Friday and Saturday nights they have about 300 people come through even though the venue can only seat about 95. The increase has been organic, with most people finding out about the place through word-of-mouth. "But we still get locals who stumble upon us and can't believe they didn't know about us earlier."
He hopes to eventually build a kitchen downstairs in the basement when they make enough money.
Spit roasted lamb with yoghurt and village salad $22
After a plate of freshly shucked oysters, we move onto the spit roasted lamb. At $22 it seems quite a lot until you realise it comprises a three-plate affair: lamb; yoghurt and village salad; and a pile of fresh bread.
Yoghurt and village salad
The village salad and yoghurt have a Greek feel, perfect as a side to the spit-roasted lamb. Slivers of radish, rounds of sweet cucumber, wedges of tomato and curls of onion have been tossed lightly with dressing. The tzatziki yoghurt is thick and creamy, swollen with tiny diced cucumber.
Spit roasted lamb
And then the lamb. Oh where does one begin? Hunks of fatty lamb so soft and plump, that the flesh melts in the mouth as you sigh with happiness. There are bits of caramelised fat, made sweet by the marinade, and a final reward of lamb skin, glazed to a toffee-tinted sheen.
Capsicum Cooler $16
Sagatiba pura cachaca, Massenez ginger liqueur, red capsicum, lemon juice and tonic water
Who cares if it's Monday? On our second round of cocktails, I opt for the Capsicum Cooler, lured by the promise of cachaca--a Portuguese liqueur made from fermented sugarcane--and Massenez ginger liqueur. It's not as spicy as the Bloody Mary but still has a gentle heat from the ginger liqueur.
Pickled octopus $17
The pickled octopus is deliriously tender, sharpened by the tang of vinegar. To make the octopus tender, Ibrahim explains, the octopus is blanched three times and then cooked in a water bath for about twenty minutes. It's a dish that would go great with beer, pecked at slowly throughout the evening.
Escabeche of mussels $17
"You have to try the mussels. They're one of the house specialities," Simon insists. The mussels have only recently reinstated to the menu after a brief hiatus. "Everyone kept asking for them," says Ibrahim.
It's a recipe he's worked on steadily, tweaking things here and there. The secret is in the chilli oil, slowly infused with bay leaves, onions and spices. The mussels are a revelation too, radiant with natural flavour and still soft and supple in the mouth.
Flourless chocolate cake $7
with Pedro Ximenez sherry
We finish with the flourless chocolate cake, ethereally light and fluffy, and a nightcap of Pedro Ximenez sherry.
It feels like a small bar here, with the warmth and genuine hospitality of people emotionally invested in their business, but in the spacious surrounds of a large warehouse where you do have room to move, and there isn't a massive queue at the bar. The best of both worlds. And housemade goods to boot.
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Freda’s Bar & Canteen
107-109 Cleveland Street, Chippendale, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 8971 7336
Freda's Facebook page
Monday to Friday 11.00am-12 midnight
Saturday 4pm-12 midnight
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Chippendale - Abercrombie Hotel (deep-fried pizza and Gaytimes)
Chippendale - Cafe Giulia (rosemary and sea salt handcut chips)
Chippendale - Lansdowne Hotel (cheap steaks and nachos)
Newtown - Luxe Bakery Cafe (baguettes, salads and tarts)
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3/26/2012 03:01:00 a.m.