Flinders Lane is a Lower East Side restaurant run by two Aussies named Chris. Chris Rendell and Chris McPherson arrived in New York on a shoestring, but since then, have managed to hustle their dreams into reality. Rendell, the head chef, and McPherson, the sommelier at Flinders Lane, own and operate the Michelin-recommended Australasian fusion restaurant.
We caught up with them to talk about the diversity of Australian cuisine, the appeal of Alphabet City, and the similarities between New Yorkers and sharks.
Chris, Chris, nice to see you guys. So just off the bat, give us the backstory on flinders lane.
Flinders Lane is a modern Australian restaurant in the Lower East Side. When you say ‘modern Australian’ to people they look at you a little bit inquisitively, until you explain that there are influences from Greece and Italy, and a strong Southeast Asian thread running through the cuisine. On paper it looks like a complete hot mess, but once you put it down on a plate people understand the flavors. Once they get to know the food then they understand the history and culture of it as well.
Tell us how the idea for Flinders Lane came about?
Chris and I met in 2006 and kind of hatched the plan to do our own thing. We both knew we weren’t going home any time soon, so we thought we’d bring a slice of home, things we miss from back home to New York City.
At the time, we were just like ‘Let’s have a crack at it and see what happens. We didn’t know much about the visas, we didn’t know much about anything really. We got here and we couldn’t even open a bank account or get electricity or a phone.
Sounds hectic. So how did Flinders Lane go from idea to reality?
Chris jumped on the phone one day and said, ‘I made an offer at one of the spaces.’ A few days later they accepted and I was literally like ‘Fuck mate, what do we do now?’ From that point on, we knew we had to get down and hustle to find some cash. And that’s what we did. Here we are a year and a half later, in a great space. That’s kind of what it’s about-digging deep and getting through it.
Why did you two choose Alphabet City?
The area has a lot of history: the birth of punk rock was here. We’re a block away from Tompkins square park, where Tompkins Square riots were. Twenty years ago Alphabet City was pretty rough. We found that it still had some of that edge and some of that grime, but it’s definitely gentrifying. It’s that yin and yang of highbrow and lowbrow. We just felt that the area really suited our concept.
I feel like that high brow-low brow juxtaposition is characteristic of New York. Can you talk about the city, the challenges of living here?
It’s the hustle. You’re like a shark: if you stop you die.
There’s always someone nipping at your heels. Since we’ve opened up Flinders Lane there’s another five or so Australasian places have opened up. Which is great-it just shows that you’ve really gotta be competitive and creative and edgy.
Everyone talks about the energy of New York. Is that energy a positive, or at least, a constructive force for you?
In New York, you can have a crazy idea and it doesn’t seem crazy. you can say ‘I’m thinking of putting a ferris wheel on the moon and someone says ‘You know what? I know people that can make that happen.’ You’re never complacent. That’s why New York is like a drug that you can’t get out of your system.
Do you ever get run down by the relentlessness of it all?
You just think “There has gotta be an easier way, what am i doing?” You feel like you just keep going two steps forward one step back. Then you’ll be walking down the street with your head down, and you’re sort of like: I’ve had enough, it’s beaten me. Then you look around and realize where you are, and it kind of regenerates you straight away. You’re like no, it’s not going to beat me. I’m going to do this. Frank Sinatra’s right. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. It’s a classic cliche but you know what? It’s bloody true.
What do you do to chill out or escape the city?
I like to get out of New York. I have family in Nantucket which is beautiful, but when I’m in the city, meditation helps a lot. I’ll try and do that in the morning. It used to be wine, but when you work as a sommelier you taste wine all the time and it’s actually nice to have a clear head. Meditation is one thing that really helps me to escape.
What would you consider success? Just satisfied customers, or something more?
Last night I was walking down to the train and I had my Flinders Lane hat on as I walked past a group of Aussies on the corner. They caught a glimpse of my hat and were like ‘It must be Flinders Lane up the road, I love that spot. I didn’t say anything. I just kept on walking, but knowing that we’d done a good job really put a good pace in my step.