9-11 Cremorne St Cremorne, VIC 3121
|Opening hours||Frederic Mon-Fri 11.30am-2pm, 5.30pm-11pm, Sat 5.30pm-11pm; Fred's Mon-Fri 7.30am-11pm; Sat 3-11pm|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
If you're arrogantly wandering south of the city, expecting a seat at one of the hot new restaurants, stop. Call. I've done it three times this year and been politely met with a full house. Who knew?
By every account from restaurateurs, 2019 has been hell on wheels. And yet Maha East was too stuffed to stand in. Tetto di Carolina was filled to the gills with leather pants and designer ties. Frederic, and Fred's Bar, the new two-pronged attack on Cremorne by siblings Antoine, Edouard and Nathalie Reymond (L'Hotel Gitan and Bistro Gitan) is already oversubscribed for the under-prepared.
To be fair, it's only the restaurant tables that need securing, and whether coming at 7.30am or pm you'll start at Fred's, which functions as both bar and breakfast station.
In the morning, linens and loafers are treading the terrazzo floors. Designer sunnies are holding the glare at bay on the pavement tables. Well-groomed toddlers might be eating the cheese off a sort-of croque monsieur (a half baguette potently layered with pickled onion, smoked sausage, ham and melted cheddar instead of bechamel) while their parents have a strained and silent tiff. It's all very European, precisely the string the Reymonds set out to add to their French bistro bow.
The vibe continues as the sun fades. Once you've battled the fussy Punt Road intersection to get into the Cremorne backstreet, plump green bar stools, fine cut glassware and the glittering spiral of the crystal chandelier pick up the appeal.
Cocktails cover the gamut from a restrained aperitivo of manzanilla sherry, Spanish vermouth and soda to a Last Light, uniting saffron-infused armagnac, French vermouth and bitter Suze in a properly bitter palate prepper with serious force behind it.
Question: do you have to graduate past Fred's Bar to Frederic, the restaurant? Chef Nick Deligiannis cooks across both spaces and the bar list has potent appeal: house-made fish conserves (octopus or sardines) or how about a seasonal pot pie? Maybe zucchini and leek quiche with shoestring fries and salad? Or an eye fillet bracketed by some oysters with their condiments?
There are perks if you do trade up to big-boy Frederic. Pass through the corridor to the restaurant proper and you'll have the option to sink into big powder blue cushions and enjoy more mid-century light fixtures.
They've also smartly separated out the options, even on the small food front, to stop one venue robbing the other. Which means if you want to get at the sweetcorn madeleines (you do – they're hot, fluffy little cornmeal paws, studded with sweet kernels and layered up with a spanner crab bound in mayo), you'll need to cross that divide. Ditto if you want a waffle of exceptional crispness and eggy fluff, holding a delicate tang of goat's curd and nubile snips of new season asparagus.
The push is still towards smart-casual here, but there's a strong desire to impress nonetheless. A manchego mille-feuille is almost an impressionist artwork. Razor sharp and spindly shards of pastry are each piped with whipped cheese, little dabs of creamed black olive and the tiniest square of pickled celery, then stacked into an elegant, spiky heap. It's cheese-dominant, but it works.
As does the mellow flathead "ceviche", the little pile of diced fish flavoured with a pleasant lemony dill oil and pretty pickled waves of watermelon radishes – the ingredient that ate 2019.
That showy desire can also be Frederic's achilles heel. Deep-fried flathead wings holding little pockets of sweet meat beneath nicely seasoned batter come with a curious mix of potent Japanese citrus yuzu and yoghurt – nature's great frenemies do not resolve their differences here.
An excellent pork terrine, sticky and rich and fried golden on one side only with a textbook sauce gribiche (a mustardy situation speckled with boiled egg, and capers), is wiped off the board by a dark, skinsy marmalade.
Still, you can Coco Chanel either – take one thing off to great effect. And as for the monochromatic spaghetti with creamy, grainy cheese sauce and confit chicken, I just can't get my head (or fork) around it.
But if toning down a touch for balance is the big hurdle, things are still looking up for the 'hood. Very much so for the 300-odd office workers destined to fill the floors above. It's early days, and delays to the build mean the Frederic team has hit the floor at a sprint.
A couple of caveats, then, for early adopters determined to get in this Roctober.
Not all staff have trialled drink director Tim O'Donnell's lengthy Euro-Australian wine list, but with the median bottle kept between $60 and $85, and gems like a crisp $60 Corsican vermentino peppered throughout, rolling the dice feels safe, even smart.
Oh, and don't forget to book.
Vegetarian A modest selection of snacks, risotto, sides
Drinks Enjoy a smart bitter spritz at Fred's then go deep on Euro-Australian wines
Cost Entrees $6-$24; mains $26-$38
Open Frederic Mon-Fri 11.30am-2pm, 5.30pm-11pm, Sat 5.30pm-11pm; Fred's Mon-Fri 7.30am-11pm; Sat 3-11pm
Pro Tip: Book ahead for tables. It's a hot ticket.
Go-to Dish: Corn madeleines with spanner crab, $6.