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Monday, March 26, 2012

Freda's, Chippendale

lamb on the spit at freda's chippendale

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.

freda's chippendale
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.

freda's chippendale
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 water bottles freda's chippendale
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 chairs at freda's chippendale
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 at freda's chippendale
Lunchtime sandwiches with Head Chef Ibrahim Kasif in the background

blackboard lunch menu at freda's chippendale
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 at freda's chippendale
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 and pickle sandwich at freda's chippendale
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 and beetroot sandwich at freda's chippendale
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 at freda's chippendale
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 at freda's chippendale
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 at freda's chippendale
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 whisky cake freda's chippendale
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.

hair ads at freda's chippendale

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.

lamb on a spit at freda's chippendale
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.

salting the lamb on the spit at freda's chippendale
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.

basting the lamb on the spit at freda's chippendale
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 coals at freda's chippendale
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."

crispy lamb skin at freda's chippendale
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.

carving the spit roasted lamb at freda's chippendale
Ibrahim carving the lamb

raw lamb on a spit at freda's chippendale
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.

protecting the lamb from rain at freda's chippendale
Gallant chivalry will save you from the rain

bloody mary cocktail at freda's chippendale
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.

freda's chippendale
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 at freda's chippendale
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 at freda's chippendale
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 at freda's chippendale
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 at freda's chippendale
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 cocktail freda's chippendale
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 at freda's chippendale
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 at freda's chippendale
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 at freda's chippendale
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.

View Larger Map
Freda's on Urbanspoon

Freda’s Bar & Canteen
107-109 Cleveland Street, Chippendale, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 8971 7336

Freda's Facebook page
Twitter: @fredas_sydney

Opening hours:
Monday to Friday 11.00am-12 midnight
Saturday 4pm-12 midnight
Sunday 4pm-10pm

Related Grab Your Fork posts:
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)
23 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 3/26/2012 03:01:00 am


  • At 3/26/2012 3:16 am, Anonymous SarahKate (Mi Casa-Su Casa) said…

    Well, first I thought... "There can't be anything more delicious than that duck sandwich!" Then, I was shocked by the gorgeous sounding Bloody Mary! Then, the roasted lamb just killed me! Literally everything in this post sounds delicious!

  • At 3/26/2012 8:39 am, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    holy moly I WANT LAMB ON A SPIT!

  • At 3/26/2012 9:07 am, Anonymous Tina@foodboozeshoes said…

    Haha, I know that tongue! Never new what it was previously. This looks like a gem!

  • At 3/26/2012 9:25 am, Anonymous Apple said…

    Mmmm yum. Roast lamb on a spit. It looks amazing!

  • At 3/26/2012 9:38 am, Blogger Alicia said…

    LOVE LOVE LOVE this place. Such a great hole-in-the-wall. Great food, drinks and amazing bar staff who will be able to make you anything.

  • At 3/26/2012 10:13 am, Anonymous tania@mykitchenstories said…

    Yes Freda love, I went here last week and loved it. Down that alley way , it looks quiet and a then the door opens and half of Sydney is in there!

  • At 3/26/2012 10:34 am, Blogger Simon Leong said…

    redfern has certainly changed a lot since I used to work there in the old TNT building. that lamb looks amazing. yum!

  • At 3/26/2012 11:22 am, Blogger Brenda said…

    Hahhahaha Spit roast rain hail or shine! That's dedication!

  • At 3/26/2012 12:04 pm, Anonymous Sara - Belly Rumbles said…

    I have driven past this place now a few times. The handwritten sign grabbing attention, as it really just looks abandoned. Going to have to pop in now and give it a try.

  • At 3/26/2012 12:32 pm, Anonymous Paul said…

    I walk past here every day to get to work. It really does need a photo essay or you will never find it.

    That lamb looks unreal.

  • At 3/26/2012 1:41 pm, Anonymous lau@corridorkitchen said…

    This is hands down my fave Sydney bar.

  • At 3/26/2012 10:13 pm, Anonymous Trish said…

    Hurray another great place to hang out in our neighbourhood! Did they say when the next spit roast is? Hopefully it's on every Monday!

  • At 3/27/2012 7:08 am, Anonymous Anna @ the shady pine said…

    This looks like the real deal! Love everything about it and you can even get a good old meatball sambo....hooray!

  • At 3/27/2012 10:56 am, Blogger Jacq said…

    wow what a great find! love the photo of the guys holding an umbrella over the spit roast - priorities!

  • At 3/27/2012 4:15 pm, Anonymous Chopinand @ ChopinandMysaucepan said…

    Dear Helen,

    That's it! I'm hooking up my BBQ spit this weekend! What a spectacle and I can imagine the aromas coming from that spit!

  • At 3/27/2012 7:20 pm, Anonymous Jasmin said…

    I cannot believe that you found such a great gem. It looks amazing and is perfectly close by. I cannot wait to get in and try this lamb, and the duck sandwich.

  • At 3/28/2012 5:15 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Place looks amusing. A bit of crack in the ennui of the ageing hipsters with youth-frozen faces for whose ills there is no local alternative. For me it's the kind of place a man could take his other lady to.
    Food lacks consistency and there's barely hint of thrift. The scrubbed down jungle of mismatch cool and philosophical look is more dilemma than informing, but I guess their accountant is less annoyed. I can only suggest the bean counter bring a few cronies in to eat a few times a week.

  • At 3/28/2012 1:49 pm, Blogger Unknown said…

    Wow, looks like a fun place to check out.

  • At 3/30/2012 6:16 pm, Anonymous gaby @ lateraleating said…

    Food in general looks ok (maybe I'm biased from reading it's not cooked in premises) but the lamb looks amazing.

  • At 3/31/2012 11:15 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hi Helen, thanks so much for this! We just went there today, initially to just have a sandwich and a beer, as we thought, but then we had to have the anchovies, the beetroot yoghurt, the marinated flat beans AND the marinated mackerel! What can I say, we had to celebrate!!! We also went for some beer at the beginning, but ended our stay with some really great cocktails! We loved it! We didn't expect the place to have such good food and we were so happy to have 'discovered' it and to have spent 'some' money there ;-) Without your review we would have never found this awesome place. Thanks again!

  • At 3/31/2012 11:59 pm, Blogger Roxane said…

    yum! love meaty things and it looks pretty casual and laid back

  • At 4/08/2012 7:44 am, Blogger Unknown said…

    I really enjoyed your post! Im so glad I stumbled across your post :) Freda's looked so mouth watering good! I really like how laid back it is
    best regards

  • At 4/08/2012 2:02 pm, Anonymous Christina @ The Hungry Australian said…

    This looks amazing. Lucky you, having such a gorgeous dining experience. The food all looks great but that lamb is really something special .


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