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


14 responses to this post.

  1. Looks like a cool place to hang. I gotta tell my friends and get my butt over there.


  2. Posted by Anonymous on October 16, 2011 at 8:03 am

    Awesome spot for a weekend brunch with friends.
    Love the fritters, and their burgers are one of a kind!!
    With great coffee and a refreshing hibiscus iced tea, this is my favourite cafe around.


  3. Posted by Anonymous on July 20, 2011 at 9:08 am

    We went out of our way to pop in to The Fern for breakfast, given blogs, Good Living, Sydney Weekend etc. Maybe we expected too much? But then surely doing breakfast brilliantly isnt rocket science. We ordered the BLT with The Lot to receive a surpirsingly small toasted sandwich. The presentation of the Rancheros Eggs looked sloppy & circa 1991. It was completely underwhelming – particularly when people are doing Latino influenced food so well right now. We were there very early on a Sunday, there were more staff than patrons. The team were friendly & helpful, the interior not quite there.

    I just dont get it. Im not convinced Terry Durack or many other reviewers & bloggers have actually eaten at The Fern.


    • I can only vouch for myself – I’ve eaten at The Fern about four times, although most of that was in their first two months of opening. So the only thing I can’t verify is whether the food has maintained its quality since. One thing that’s surely remained the same is the interior, which I really think is fantastic. It’s arty, retro and self-made, but if you’re more for a polished, schmick interior, then there are plenty of fine places to check out like Danks Street Depot, the Bondi Trattoria, Bills, etc. I like a little bit of originality and off-beat now and again, and the courtyard is brilliant. Maybe coming in winter hasn’t given you the full experience of its indoor/outdoor appeal.

      I’d put money down that everyone that’s written about The Fern has actually been there, especially Terry Durack, who I constantly see coming and going from different venues, and has too much at stake not to visit his venues, both professionally and legally. I do think there are some food bloggers who have never seen a restaurant that they didn’t like (or didn’t suck up to), but that’s a matter of you deciding which kinds of bloggers have the kinds of insights and honest you’re looking for. The Fern isn’t perfect, and I’ve made sure to write about the parts that I didn’t think fully hit the mark.


  4. Posted by John on June 22, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    What a great addition to Redfern, popped in for a coffee after reading about the fern in timeout and was truly amazed. Great to see a vibrant cafe with sophisticated food and beverage options in Redfern, top notch service and excellent food


  5. Posted by carla on June 22, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    After hearing about the fern through a friend I was more than impressed with the eggs rancheros, my friend had the fritter. Yes, one fritter which was amazing!. Excellent service and outstanding coffee, not sure what anon is on about but I would recommend this to anyone. Well done guys!


  6. Posted by unimpressed on June 15, 2011 at 10:49 am

    I tried a takeaway bacon and egg roll on the way past one morning.. but chewy bacon on doughy bread wasn’t good.

    Decided to give the benefit of the doubt and went for a saturday breakfast but wasn’t impressed, again. The “breakfast bruschetta” is scrambled eggs with tomato mixed in, sogging up a piece of toasted bread. My companion’s breakfast was so forgettable i’ve forgotten what it was.

    Coffee at least was passable although I’m not convinced they know much about coffee. (A friend told me they were offered 1/2 milk 1/2 hot water as substitute for skinny milk in their latte!)

    The idea of a cafe at the end of my street is nice but all the hipster decor in the world can’t make up for apathetic food.


  7. Posted by carla on May 6, 2011 at 11:09 am

    the fritters are to die for, excellent service. Good work guys I will be back for sure!


  8. Posted by phillip on May 6, 2011 at 11:07 am

    Had the pancakes which were amazing!! a real buzz on the weekends, make sure you try the hibiscus ice tea and the coffee is the best.


  9. Posted by local on March 26, 2011 at 8:13 am

    The big breaky is basically a truck stop breakfast. Free of any flavour and interest, it was a massive mix of frozen hashbrowns, canned baked beans, a flavourless sausage and more that just isn’t worth mentioning. Was that worth $17? No. $7 maybe. I walked out feeling ill and will not go back. The coffee was fine, I guess.


  10. NSW liquor licensing laws wreck everything!


    • Not sure if that’s the case this time. The Fern is actually in a very residential spot – part of its appeal – so it makes sense to have it close at a relatively early hour.


  11. Posted by A.B. on March 9, 2011 at 9:59 am

    Waiters are friendly, atmosphere is pleasant, food is not bad, but I’ve only had the breakfast here. However, the service is SLOW! I only get half an hour break at work and run over to get food here and I’ve always waited about 20 minites for my food. Then I have to scoff it down in 5 mins or so! That’s their only drawback.


  12. Sounds like a find. I wanna move in already! Love the way you’ve interspersed photos of the the groovy decor throughout your post – really gives the reader a good sense of what to expect. Great shots. Like the sound of the huevos rancheros. Thanks for the heads up.


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