One of my last posts for 2017 was the closure of Hartsyard as we knew it – no more fried chicken, no more poutine, and no more soft serve! The news of the fried chicken being booted off the menu was so huge that it made the front columns of the Sydney Morning Herald website – and Hartsyard became packed out with reservations in their last few weeks in December. Over the Christmas period, their social media has been providing little teasers of what’s to come, with the sale of their wall art and snaps of their progress with the new interior fit-out.
There was very little revealed about what was to come for the menu ahead. My Night Owl heard someone say that there may be a Japanese-theme to part of the menu, but one thing was for sure – Hartsyard didn’t want to be known as “the venue that does fried chicken”. I had visited Hartsyard for dinner twice previously over two years and the menu had not changed significantly – so to say I was excited to attend the friends and family soft opening on Wednesday night was an understatement!
We step inside to be greeted by Naomi Hart and the team, and we take stock of our surroundings. The tables and chairs are all as before, with the colourful napkins rolled around the cutlery. The walls have been painted white, which has brightened up the place immeasurably, and I suspect that the light globes have been changed from their old yellow-light to a brighter, soft white light. It feels roomier already, and the new ceiling fan turns turns almost lazily – a welcome addition during those sweltering inner west summer evenings. The stripped back, exposed pipes industrial theme is still there – very Melbourne – and a few potted plants on the back bar adds a lovely splash of colour.
We settle in and examine the menus on the table. It’s immediately apparent that not a single item on the original Hartsyard menu made the cut to the 2.0 – it’s a complete turnaround! The style of the menu is still the same, with the main theme of the dish as the title and the supporting ingredients. Beers and ciders available are more or less the same, as is the wine list, but a new cocktail list meant that Night Owl and I needed to give it a road-test.
Mark, our friend at front of house, recommends the Dusk Till Dawn, with tequila, honeydew, citrus, jalapeno and cucumber, which Night Owl chooses, while I order the Honey Bunny – with rye, creamed honey, salt, and lemon verbena. The salt makes for an absolutely delicious cocktail that has me constantly smacking my lips as I drink more of it, and the creamed honey is not too sweet in the slightest. The Dusk Till Dawn is a more lighter, refreshing option which goes well with the punchy-flavoured dishes we later order.
We get Mark’s take on the dishes before selecting two small plates and two large plates. The first dish to arrive is the Corn – with fresh curds, tarragon and Old Bay. Mark says it’s one of his favourite items on the menu, and instructs us to stir it all together.
The first bite is absolute heaven and my eyes widen comically at Night Owl as I gesture to the dish. It’s creamy, sweet, crunchy and lightly spiced all at once in each mouthful. It reminds me of something that I can’t put my finger on until speaking with Mark at the end of the night – it reminds me nostalgically of the cream of chicken and corn soup with croutons I used to love (and still do…), but obviously pimped up and much more amazing.
The Pork Neck arrives, with koji, maple syrup, Chinese broccoli and pepita. It’s reminiscent of Chinese char siu pork, but the fat is much more evenly disbursed throughout the still-pink, deliciously tender meat. For those wondering what koji is, it’s a living food made from steamed rice and treated with a mould called Aspergillus oryzae. If that’s too sciency for you – it draws out natural flavours and tenderises meat! Don’t get turned off by hearing that it’s treated with a mould – if you love umami, it’s the next big thing.
The Chinese broccoli tastes like it has been pickled and is on the sharply sour side, but it makes sense when you have it with a bite of the pork, as it cuts through the richness of the meat.
The dish that takes the pride and glory for the evening however, is the Duck Leg, with prickly ash and vinegar jus. From what I’ve read, the fruit from the prickly ash plant serves as a local substitute for “red peppers” (or capsicums, as I like to say) in China. I’m not really concentrating on the prickly ash as I’m eating this phenomenal dish though!
Everyone loves crispy, rendered duck skin. So how do you up the ante? By deboning the duck leg, and sandwiching two sides of the meat together, and pressing it together overnight so you have two surfaces of skin! The duck was perfectly seared and still pink, and had an earthy flavour when had with the accompanying shards – I’m not sure what they were, but they had a very distinctive flavour similar to olives or a preserved vegetable.
Our last dish is one of the smaller dishes, the Panisse Cracker with yoghurt, cucumber, mint and black garlic. It’s a cracker made of chickpea flour and the black garlic is moreishly addictive, and with a smear of the yoghurt, it’s cooling on the tongue and lightly refreshing. Night Owl orders a second cocktail, The Bride with watermelon vinegar and prosecco, to prepare herself for our final dish.
I was originally upset when I heard that the iconic pimped-up soft serve would not be returning to the 2.0 menu, but in hindsight on the way home later in the evening it made me realise that it was an experience that brought out the child in me – similar to their previous dishes of fried chicken and poutine. Was it time for the child to grow up?
Well the Cherry, was certainly a grown-up dish. With sour buttermilk, pistachio and scone, it was fruity with a distinct biscuit flavour and addictive nuttiness. It had a slight hit of salt, which kept you going back for more! I can definitely see this dish being the “adult” evolution from the soft serve.
Mark sits with us at the conclusion of our meal and we have a chat about the new menu, and he indicates how pleased he is with the lighter turn on the dishes. While the previous menu was rich and flavoursome, it often meant that customers would over-order and then be unable to finish their meals. With the new, shorter menu it provides Gregory Llewellyn – the head of the kitchen – the opportunity to tweak more dishes should inspiration hit or as ingredients come into season. Its been wonderful to see how Hartsyard has transitioned in such a short amount of time, and I’m interested to see what the year ahead has in store for the team.
33 Enmore Road,
Newtown NSW 2042
(02) 8068 1473