I'll admit it. It was the fried chicken that brought me here - a promise of cold-smoked fried chicken with biscuits and gravy that had me grinning with glee in anticipation.
In the midst of a hitherto unseen cyclone of Sydney restaurant closures, it's heartwarming to see so much buzz around Hartsyard, open for less than a week and already fully booked on a Friday night. There's no celebrity or big name chef behind the venture - just a husband-and-wife team Gregory Llewellyn and Naomi Hart, who met at work at a New York restaurant, fell in love, and moved to Sydney, Naomi's home town.
The bar at Hartsyard
In November last year they finally bit the bullet and decided to open their own restaurant, acquiring the former Gourmet Viking premises and renovating the entire site into a moody cosy space that combines homegrown warmth with industrial chic. Lightbulbs hang in miniature bird cages over the bar, and a set of old science drawers has been revamped into a utensils cabinet, separating the kitchen from the main dining room floor.
Naomi, in charge of front-of-house, writes the Hartsyard blog, tracking the trials and tears of opening a restaurant from scratch. It's not until you read the blog that you realise the story behind the funky eye-catching plumbers pipes, the crisis of waylaid chairs and all the last-minute dramas before a restaurant flings open its doors for the first time. It's the chaos that no patron would ever suspect when they step through the doors, welcomed with a smile by staff who seem genuinely happy to be there.
Hartsyard Manhattan $17.50
Bacon-infused Jack Daniel's, sweet vermouth, bitters and maple syrup
There's a commitment to making everything in-house. This includes breads, pastries and even syrups for sodas. The bar counter is lined with apothecary-style bottles that hold ginger, apple-mint and blood orange syrups. An in-house filtration and carbonation system provides still and sparkling water for patrons, much like Marque, although here the $4 unlimited water fee can be waived for free tap water instead.
Out the back is a garden and greenhouse, providing vegetables and herbs for the restaurant menu, but really, I'm more excited by the housemade bacon-infused Jack Daniel's, used in the Hartsyard Manhattan. Bacon fat is steeped in the whisky for an hour, I'm told, a process that lends only a faint hint of porcine smokiness to the liquor. The cocktail isn't overly sweet -- topped with a delicious garnish of candied bacon -- but I do experience a subliminal craving for eggs and toast.
Crispy pig tails $18
with buttermilk dressing, pickles and hot sauce
The menu has been designed for sharing, split into Seed for smaller dishes, and Feed for larger servings. We're pre-warned that dishes will arrive haphazardly, depending on the cooking time and the kitchen as to their delivery.
Crispy pig tails arrive first, my pick of the Seed dishes, more elegant in appearance than the chirpy stump of pig tail I'd originally envisaged. It's a golden puck of pigginess, the crisp layer of batter hiding a mass of tender pork shreds. The pork is fatty and rich, relieved by the buttermilk dressing, radish and tower of pickle slices.
Housemade hot sauce
We're encouraged to make use of the housemade hot sauce, delivered to our table in a mason jar. It's made from a blend of red long chillies and green jalapenos, not overly spicy but with enough heat to add some kick to the deep-fried dishes.
Oyster po' boy $16
on English muffins with Old Bay mayo and coleslaw
It's a tough choice between poutine and oyster po' boy but the New Orleans classic wins out in the end. A battered deep-fried oyster has a heartwarming crunch, sandwiched in a housemade English muffin and served with a tangle of finely shredded coleslaw. It's deliriously good.
Cold-smoked fried chicken $26
with buttermilk biscuit and low country sausage gravy
The cold-smoked fried chicken is a huge portion, arriving as three pieces of batter-encrusted poultry. It's not quite as crunchy as I'd expected, although the flesh is moist. I'm not really a fan of the low country sausage gravy, a river of creamy gravy studded with sausage mince rubble, but the buttermilk biscuit (or scone) is soft and fluffy.
Honey-glazed duck breast and confit $31
with fennel, hazelnut praline and crackling
Honey-glazed duck breast and confit is distinctly different in plating, a trail of carefully sliced duck arranged artfully with puddles of fennel puree and garnishes of baby nasturtium leaves. The duck confit has been shredded and reformed into a ball, rolled in breadcrumbs and deep-fried. It's a dish of discovery, especially with the sweet nutty crumble of hazelnut praline. The best find of all is the crackling, little cubes of fat fried until explosively crispy, littered with slivers of crunchy duck skin.
Key lime pie $16
Dulce de leche, graham cracker, lime jam and double cream
Two Seeds and two Feeds has the two of us struggling (I'd recommend one Seed and two Feeds if you plan on having dessert) but we battle on in the name of thorough 'research'.
Key lime pie is another elaborately staged dish, tranches of ethereally light lime mousse zigzagging across the plate like an overladen goods train. I'd been secretly hoping for a big fat wedge of pie so this feels a little too busy for me, the simplicity of lime complicated by miniature meringues, a smear of dulce de leche, crumbs of graham cracker (that taste like malted milk powder), nasturtium flowers, dollops of lime jam, marshmallow pillows of blowtorched meringue and zingy segmented limes. All I want is key lime pie.
Peanut butter and banana sundae $16
Pretzel ice cream, banana doughnut and salted fudge
On the flip side, the peanut butter and banana sundae is a messy mass of fun. The peanut butter ice cream alone is enough to make you weak at the knees. There are banana doughnut balls, lashings of fudge sauce, and the divinity of crumbled praline biscuits that shatter into sugary smithereens as your eyes roll towards the back of your head.
And a cherry on top? Make that two. Now go plant yourself at a table for your own seed and feed soon.
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33 Enmore Road, Enmore, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 8068 1473
Wednesday to Friday 5.30pm-late
Saturday and Sunday 5.30pm-late
Closed Monday and Tuesday
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6/04/2012 02:21:00 am