Chez Frederic review

Franken(comfort)food: Cheeseburger gnocchi.
Franken(comfort)food: Cheeseburger gnocchi. Photo: Rohan Thomson

14 Lonsdale Street Braddon, Australian Capital Territory 2612

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Opening hours Mon-Thu noon-2pm and 5pm-9pm; Fri noon-10pm; Sat-Sun 5pm-late
Features Licensed, Wheelchair access, Vegetarian friendly, Accepts bookings
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Chef Sara Poguet
Seats 73 inside, 27 outside
Payments eftpos, Cash, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 02 6248 0044

It becomes quickly clear on our first visit to Chez Frederic in Lonsdale Street that we have completely misunderstood.

We stand around waiting for someone to take us to our table and nab a passing staff member when nothing happens. We have this wrong. Others go directly to the tables and look for the little piece of paper that has their name and booking time and just sit down.

Once we're seated, we wait for someone to bring us menus and water. Nothing happens for some time, so we wave down a passing staff member and ask for menus. He gets them for us but it dawns on us that we have this wrong too. Others grab their own menus on the way in, or just read from the board while they queue. Because at Chez Frederic you order at the counter. They take the entire order and payment then and there – and pour your wine there also for you to take back to the table. You can grab a bottle of water and glasses on the way.

Super casual: Chez Frederic follows a takeaway model.
Super casual: Chez Frederic follows a takeaway model. Photo: Rohan Thomson

Chez Frederic is built on a takeaway model and once we get the hang of it we quite like it. The in-house dining area is slightly separated by a curtain and is a simple, pleasant place, with plants growing in indented planters on big shared tables.

The takeaway concept extends to the food, where most of it is laid out in bains-marie at the counter, where you can also order takeaway. This is not pizza or noodle takeaway, but big homecooked meals takeaway. Slow-cooked meat in rich sauces, lasagne, meat balls, parmigiana, lots of pasta. It's comfort food in style and portion.

Chez Frederic is clearly popular and it's busy as we queue to put in our order, which is taken by a friendly young man dressed in the casual vibe of the place in shorts and Hawaiian shirt, with a dishcloth over his shoulder.

Lamb shanks with parsley mash.
Lamb shanks with parsley mash. Photo: Rohan Thomson

We take our wine back to the table, choosing from a short list of about seven whites and seven reds. Some effort has been made to be a little interesting in the list, with a focus on organic and biodynamic wines – a grenache shiraz from France, a tempranillo from Spain. It's focused at the cheap end, with all of the wines available by the glass, including a house shiraz for $7, and a house bubbles, also at $7, which reminds me of the sweet and blousy bubbles we drank as teenagers.

But the food is arriving and it's going to take concentration to get through. The serves are very large and the focus is pasta and meat. We ask for plates so we can share and we're brought plastic plates, on which we pile the food.

A half-size serving of grass-fed half lamb shanks ($13, is there any other kind of lamb than grass-fed? I suspect not, and at Chez Frederic the commitment to grass-fed animals extends to the beef and to "grass fed pork and veal" in the spaghetti bolognese) is plenty. The shanks are covered in a rich and strong red sauce. This isn't a succulent sticky dish as you may imagine lamb shanks, but it is unquestionably a hearty one.

Ox-tail casserole with mash and buttery greens ($26.50) from the specials board is a dish of rich, quality meat, we like its treatment and the intensity of flavour. But it's served on a pile of parsley mash so rich and buttery it's tough to get through. It could do with a lighter accompaniment, in my view.

Potato gnocchi with cheeseburger sauce ($23) is the kind of meal description that's it's hard to go past. You stop there, reading and wondering, what could they mean? There's only one way to find out. It turns out to be a mince sauce (pork and veal according to the menu) of the substantial kind you might use for a lasagne, with a lot of herby sauce, in which you can taste rosemary and an acidulent, perhaps the pickles referred to on the menu, and drizzled with mustard. It's difficult to know what to make of this. The gnocchi are huge, and very filling. It feels wrong on many levels, but it's such comfort food we suspend disbelief. It's probably a good dish for the end of a night out.

The duck ravioli ($19.50) is more subtle and delicate, the ravioli filled with minced duck meat and served in a mushroom, leek and tomato sauce. We enjoy this one and polish it off.

We ordered dessert (all $9) at the beginning – which you have to if you want it all on one bill, and when we're ready we head to the counter to let them know. The Hawaiian shirt guy reaches into the display cabinet and pulls out two plastic containers – one with an array of six profiteroles and the other filled with chocolate mousse. We take them back to the table and eat from the takeaway containers. The profiteroles are marred by a pervasive saltiness in the cream. The mousse is light and moreish.

One of the bonuses of this style of ordering and eating is once you're done you don't need to wait for someone to bring your bill – a timing issue that restaurants struggle to get right for everyone's disparate preferences – and instead you can just up and leave.

The system confused us at first, but once you get the hang of it, it is efficient and kind of liberating. You don't really need service, as it turns out, and as a semi-takeaway, semi-self-directed eat-in option in Lonsdale Street, Chez Frederic has carved itself a niche.