Finding Freda's is like stepping through the back of a magic wardrobe. Walk down an unassuming, dingy alley behind Central, past the sashaying salsa dancers and through a black door with a small, hand-drawn placard and suddenly you're in a softly lit room, easy music playing and a kindly man at your side ready to whisk you to a table.
Once settled in, peruse the cocktail list, which is a pleasing mix of classics and reinventions. Of the former they do a perfectly balanced Midnight Negroni ($16) and I can imagine the Fresh Fruit Cocktail will be a sell-out this summer. The wine list has a good selection of up-and-comers, with a super smooth Pinot called Giant Steps from the Yarra and a full-bodied tempranillo/grenache called La Vendima ($10). I'm a big fan of the beer choices, which includes one of my favourites, Murrays, as well as two amber ales that are caramel flavoured and quite hoppy – choose the Sierra Nevada ($9.5) to have with food or Atomic ($9.5) for sipping solo.
The menu structure emulates a Spanish cantina (as do the brick walls and sleek dark wood finishes) with about seven light dishes that change frequently. We order the Peas on Toast ($16) with our fingers crossed and it turned out to be far more exciting than its name suggests - half-mushed peas that are tastier than you could ever imagine peas to be on thin pieces of Turkish bread sprinkled with tulum, a Turkish cheese similar to feta but has been left to age longer. I would have loved a drowning rather than a sprinkling of the tulum but that may have ruined the subtlety of the dish.
A friend's reaction to the first mouthful of the Mussel Escabeche (or minimalistic mussels as I like to call it) was 'holy fuck!' which I thought summed it up pretty well. The mussels are de-shelled and marinated in an intense oil infused with cloves, smoky capsicum and other herbs, with a bowl of thick, soft bread to soak it up with. The tuna tartare had a good helping of guacamole alongside which was citrusy and fresh but pushed the tuna into the supporting role when it could have been the star. The food was delicious but keep in mind you are paying for the quality, not the quantity. It's a good place for late night supper but don't expect to be walking out feeling stuffed.
They've carefully attended to every last detail at Freda's whilst somehow managing to create a super laid-back and unpretentious atmosphere. A welcome addition to Chippendale, keep a tab on this one, as it will soon be offering sambos at lunch, which by the looks of it, are going to be worth queueing for.