Archive for March, 2011

The Fern – another notch in Refern’s rebirth of cool


OK, so anyone who’s been paying attention knows that Redfern is the new Surry Hills. Really. Don’t believe me? Just go to the Eat House diner on the end of Chalmers Street, drink with the hipsters in The Norfolk’s groovy courtyard, shop at those amazing vintage furniture stores like Great Dane on Elizabeth Street.

And now it gets further cemented with The Fern, as in shorthand for Redfern, a stunning terrace on a leafy stretch of lower Pitt Street, just off of booming Cleveland Street and the nearly refurbished Prince Alfred Park. First impressions come via a groovy street-facing stone courtyard, set under mature palm trees, with white-painted iron chairs, cushions converting a rendered cement stretch into a long bench seat, and mix-and-match tables. It’s all breezy and tranquil, with the bordering gardens peppered with objects like an old push mover and what looks like a metal chook.

This is sophisticated café, for now, although there are plans to soon get a liquor license and extend trading to dinner. Well, make that food to go with aperitivo, those Italian pre-dinner drinks – chef Massimo Bianchi, who was one the heir apparent at Buon Ricordo and started up Uccello at The Ivy, is on board as consultant chef, and as such, so little wonder the menu has a slight Italian accent. For now that shows up in a breakfast bruschetta with scrambled eggs and smoke provolone, and in lunch fare like nduja (a kind of spicy pork pate) with sourdough and ricotta, and specials like a lamb ragu with housemade fettuccini.

The space is what truly sets The Fern apart, and it’s very much a bespoke effort by operators Julian Serna and Mark Wiley, two barmen who met at Merivale working high-profile venues like The Ivy Pool Bar, Establishment and Uccello – which explains the one degree of separation to chef Bianchi. The two still serve as drinks consultants, and recently worked with Porteno to set up its popular Argentinean-style bar.

The emphasis is on recycling, so menus are set upon vinyl records or their album sleeves, water is served in old glass jugs that used to hold McWilliams port or sherry, the sides of liquor boxes are used to decorate a stairwell, the back section is covered with Julian’s collection of old Mad magazines and “Spy Vs Spy” illustrations, and there are vintage chairs, tables and storage chests about. There’s also a nice collection of antique cocktail shakers on top of the fridge.
The most impressive feature is a colourful wallpaper of street art and graffiti from Melbourne laneways, and it looks so funky, it’s hard to believe the images were happy-snapped on Julian’s Blackberry camera. Mark also has his own wall, featuring his intrepid photographs taken from India, Southeast Asia and beyond.

There’s also an equal focus on comfort foods, such as the tasty and nicely plated huevos rancheros of eggs (they ask how you want them, but it’s all wrong unless you get them fried), refried beans, lemon/limey avocado chunks, and slices of cooked chorizo. It’s quite a satisfying plate, so I decide to forgive them for omitting the tortilla and chilli-tinged salsa that makes huevos rancheros what they are. I’m also intrigues by a ‘Morning Sunrise’ menu offering: a blend of fresh-squeezed OJ, banana yoghurt and honey. “Just a drop of goodness in the morning,” Julian says with a wink.

I later try the lamb ragu, which is appreciable hearty, even if the mince-like texture seems more ‘lamb bol’ than the fall-apart meats I associate with a slow-cooked ragu. If someone told me it was a tweak on a Bolognese I would’ve been very content, what with such nicely al dente fettuccine.

I already love The Fern, and my prediction is that this is Sydney’s next ‘it’ café. And once this place gets its nighttime trade going, it’s really going to be humming, although expect it to be a civil place for a bevvie – it’s surrounded by residential buildings after all. The tip is that the evening food is going to be affordable, maybe even free at times, a great pair to expected drinks like an Aperol cocktail or glass of Peroni. It’s all intended to be in the vein of Italy’s aperitivo, but without the half-price drinks, which would violate NSW licensing laws No matter, it’s close enough, and I’m already looking forward to spending long sessions hiding out here with a coffee from NZ’s Gravity, and maybe sticking around for nice digestivo as the sun goes down.

The Fern, 4 Pitt Street, Redfern
Tel: 0410 705 093
www.thefern.com.au

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