The Arcadia Liquors team's restaurant is an upstairs Euro bistro full of kitsch and neighbourhood charm.
New restaurants rarely get a clean slate. But in the case of Ron's Upstairs, the surface has been left intentionally worn. The interior — mostly unchanged since the vacation of the last tenants, longstanding Thai restaurant Pron Prohm — is like stepping into a 90s takeaway joint in the suburbs. The panelled walls, parquetry floors and plastic bunches of grapes attached to the ceiling aren't things usually found hiding on an inner city high street. The decision to keep these flourishes reminds you that Redfern was one of those suburbs — and not that long ago, either.
It's easy to forget. The last five years has seen Redfern Street change rapidly. These days, it has a rooftop bar, a corner wine bar and a ramen joint with a line snaking out the door. Playing a big part in this change has been the team behind local haunt Arcadia Liquors, who is also responsible for Ron's. The kitsch touches makes it feel like they're not trying to erase the suburb's history altogether — even if it's just by keeping the stairs carpeted and leaving the original sign out the front.
Things may not look that different on the surface, but the shift has most definitely occurred. This little old restaurant now mixes house spritzes and a great savoury ouzo mojito ($17 each) from the fairy light-lit bar, and the food coming out of the kitchen is European.
Chef Damir Mujanic is letting his rotisserie and grill do the heavy lifting with dishes that centre around protein. Nothing will really throw you off your chair, but it's the sort of food that's agreeable and great with booze — particularly a bottle of fiano from Adelaide Hills winery Main and Cherry ($56). Case in point: the chicken ($26). The chilli rub gives it an outer layer that's able to go crunchy while still keeping the meat full of its rotisserie juices. Slathering it with garlic and chilli (and balancing it out with a kale and radicchio salad) is recommended.
Most dishes come with some meal-making sauce — the stracciatella is topped with mint oil, a zucchini dish has a killer passata and the pipis made memorable from a highly drinkable burnt butter sauce ($28) that more than makes up for the odd tough mollusc. The king prawns are good, too — grilled with ouzo and served with tomato and basil — but, at $28 for three, you might be better ordering something more heartier for the same price.
The same could be said of the vegetarian dishes — like a quarter cauliflower with tahini labne ($16) and quinoa-stuffed zucchini ($17) — which make for nice sides, but fail to add up to a notable meal on their own. It would be great to see some rich veg served up with the same char and attention as the meats. That said, requests for things to be made gluten free or vegan (and even gluten free and vegan) are met with barely a twitch of the eye — the waitstaff know what's in every dish and the kitchen is happy to take things off or serve them on the side.
The real beauty of this lo-fi dining room is that windows line the street-facing side, letting in a welcome spring breeze and some great natural light. Get in before dark and the twilight mixed with the dull festive glow of the restaurant's fairy lights make Redfern look magic.
And it feels like that's this crew's goal: to show off Redfern. It's an aim that has longevity. Even after six years, Arcadia has remained loved by locals, and Ron's will be looked upon just as kindly.
Images: Kitti Gould.