Rarely do I ever dine at an eatery I know nothing about. Call me over-the-top but there’s no point in being spontaneous when it means there’s a waiter who often dismisses customers with kids or an overbearing chatty owner or the music is too loud and so on and so forth – I know you get me. The fair few that make it to the ominous ‘list’ of restaurants, cafes and bars that I have heard raving reviews about via trusty blogs and Instagram feeds don’t just make it on there for calling themselves the real deal.
Hartsyard has been on that list for at least two years now and I finally found the perfect opportunity to suss it out. To celebrate one of my decade-long friends’ 23rd birthday, I knew it would be a fitting location. We arrived at the cosy, dark-lit, industrial chic nook on Enmore Road and were told it’d be a half an hour wait. No worries, we sat at a park while our stomachs gurgled and our breaths reeked of hunger. When we finally arrived, we were put on a communal table. In other words, my worst nightmare. I can’t speak more lowly of sharing a meal with five other people I’ve never met who are: smitten couples; lonely single men/women (category A and B were seated right beside me on the night); a loud gathering of drunken friends shouting nothing in particular at the top of their lungs.
I’m not usually this fussy – you would know from how rarely I say negative things about a restaurant (we’ll talk about blog ethics some other time) – but why arching-back-pain stools too? Like why?
Anywho let’s skip the whinge and move on to the food. The menu is succinct and simple, so there’s no fear of the choice paradox here. ‘Seed’ are the entrees, ‘feed’ the main meals and ‘out to pasture’ those undeniably popular sweet and beautiful concoctions brought to life by their ex-pastry chef and now cake baking extraordinaire Andy Bowdy. We weren’t overly famished so one entree and two mains was plenty.
Amongst all the pesso commentary, I just want to add that I appreciated the little touches the restaurant put into the ambience. The groovy patterns of the cloth napkins, the handcrafted candles every few seats or so and waiters topping up your water as soon as it’s empty like true professionals.
Our first dish was the Oyster Po’ Boy with English muffin, Old Bay mayo, coleslaw ($24). First of all, can someone please recreate these amazingly fluffy, crispy English muffins and manufacture them for supermarkets?! These killed the stodgy, flat discs you’ll find in the bread aisle at your local grocer dead. When you slice the bread, the saucy filling oozes out the edges while the crumbed oyster remains exactly in its place. This proved problematic to eat without being fiddly but it was a fun process. I can’t make an assumption that the mayo is always as salty as it was that night. I’m talking unbearably saline. It kind of let the dish down a little, only just being saved by the crunchy oyster and the soft muffin. I thought it was just a bad decision on our behalf and that the other two dishes would be the saving grace of the night but the Sweet Potato – smoked honey, hazelnut, BBQ mushrooms, goat’s curd ($28) – was edging on cloying. After a few bites of the too-smokey, too-sweet starch, I felt my stomach give up on me. It was a struggle to finish half the plate I was assigned to. I thought the tartness of the curd and nuttiness of the fungi would soften the sugar hit but with creaminess and not enough acidity, the dish was more of a disappointment than either of us expected. The crispy bits of artichoke were a nice touch though.
Now, I want to stop myself in my tracks and reiterate that I rarely EVER make an effort to review a place I didn’t have the best experience at. However, I’m starting to notice that readers appreciate honesty rather than flattery and free promotion for a business. Also, I didn’t go for their more popular dishes like the fried chicken or beef ribs so maybe it was a bad choice of dishes. Moving on! By the last dish, I was almost too stuffed but the plating of the Scallop – almond, brown butter, artichoke, red grape ($35) was so pretty and delicate that I was seduced into giving it a try. Bom bom. At this point I had trouble believing this place was so popular with so many people with plates like this. All the deconstructed elements were difficult to put together in one mouthful and again, that all-encompassing lack of acidity to cut through sweet richness reappeared. Nothing was tied together in harmony and the only thing I enjoyed was the plumpness of the perfectly cooked scallops.
The sky high banana split sundaes were so tempting but we decided to call it a night and sleep away our groaning stomachs instead. I’m sure I’ll give Hartsyard another go, it is after all quite a spectacular site to eat in, but at least I am learning that it’s okay to be disappointed every once in a while.
Hartsyard, 33 Enmore Road, Newtown NSW 2042, (02) 8068 1473, find them on Facebook.