Newtown Review: Celebrating the American Revolution at Hartsyard

One of the enduringly nice things about being an American living in Sydney is the way in which Australian friends and colleagues return from a first trip to the US completely besotted with the place. The reality they encounter is uniformly and utterly different to the ideas they have been fed through pop culture and the local media, both of which give Australians an even more distorted view of America than Americans get of Australia through the Crocodile Dundee franchise and that ridiculous episode of The Simpsons.

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Prick With a Fatwa: The Bacon-Infused Manhattan

Thus when Australians do brave the racist, gun-loving, morbidly obese dystopia they have been told to expect (it continually amazes that despite getting rid of almost all their sub-editors, Fairfax still manages to keep US correspondent Nick O’Malley’s draft references to “AmeriKKKa” from slipping into print) they come home amazed. Upon their return the Prick generally hears reactions which range from “God, your people are friendly – not only did nobody shoot me but when I asked a stranger for directions he took the day off work to show me around his hometown!” to “Ohmigod! Freedom! I bought a carton of smokes, a case of Schlitz, a chicken fried steak, and still came away with change for a twenty! WHERE DO I SIGN UP!?”

The fact that there is a slow but building American food renaissance happening in Australia is not hurting soft power relations, either. Take Hartsyard, the new-ish American (as opposed to “New American”, but there is a bit of that in the mix too as we shall see) restaurant in Enmore Road, Newtown, where a number of bloggerati and twitterini organised by the great connector Karen Lateo and including the folk behind providore-and-ideas site Conjurup Food and blogs including Taste Explorer, Scoff and Quaff, and Local Sprouts gathered recently to celebrate free-range duck impresario Beth McMillan (of Burrawong Gaian fame) and her visit to Sydney for the appallingly-punctuated but otherwise lovely delicious. Produce Awards 2013.

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Peppers Roulette: Are you feeling lucky, punk?

The deal with Hartsyard is that it promises down-home American country food: Real fried chicken, oyster po’ boys, pulled pork, all the virile box-tickers beloved of bored local food columnists. This it delivers, and delivers well. But in the mix are some startlingly sophisticated dishes both in presentation and technique which elevate Llewellyn and Hartsyard well above the over-swelled ranks of the brioche sliders brigades.

Our meal starts as any American meal damn well should, i.e., with a proper drink. In the Prick’s case, a bacon-infused bourbon Manhattan (complete with a little candied bacon garnish), which may simultaneously be the greatest innovation in cocktail making since Dr Wallbanger emerged from his lab, the most American drink imaginable short of moonshine, and given their various prohibitions, the most non-sharia compliant drink ever conceived. Christopher Hitchens, when asked to describe Las Vegas, famously summed it up in one word: Un-Islamic. So too this Manhattan, which couldn’t have been any more so if it had a terrier swimming in it. Stunning.

Then, food: A plate of pickled peppers – say that ten times fast – with the promise, or threat, that one of the mix might just be an outlier ready blow the roof of the lucky eater’s palate off. Fun, and a little daring, with flecks of feta and a cool apple gelée standing guard to calm any fires. Fried oyster po’ boys are lovely (if slightly out of kilter bun-to-filling wise), as are bags of popcorn with fried shrimp and an “I’ll just have a glass of this, thanks” dipping sauce.

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Foie-tastic duck jaffles…

But these are just introit before more complex and sophisticated dishes which leave the dude food in the dust. A dish of octopus, a contender for dish-of-the-night, comes suddenly out of left field and promotes a debate about cooking technique (sous-vide? brined? Chef, settle the bet!). It’s a perfect balance of tastes and textures – warming chilli, cooling sauce, tender flesh, crunchy garnishes – which also show that Llewellyn is a guy who can use tricks like ersatz sands for flavour, not just effect.

Likewise, a plate of ricotta gnudi  – didn’t see that coming! – is unexpected, and light, and a little intermezzo before duck rillette jaffles, topped with shaved foie gras and garnished with freeze-dried rhubarb turn up. Is it necessary to say anything more? Here conversation dies: eyes roll into the backs of skulls as knuckles rap out little paradiddles of approbation across the table.

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Is fried. Is good.

Other dishes arrive: A plate of fried chicken, great, almost as good as the Prick makes (which is as good a review as anyone’s going to get in these parts), complete with a biscuit and a country gravy thick and rich enough to void a life insurance policy. Pork, too, pulled but really done a number of ways and topped with a maple bacon, fantastic but almost too much at this point in the evening. This is not a build-your-own-degustation place.

Our gang still has room for dessert, giving the kitchen the chance to once again prove not only that this ain’t no disco, it’s not just fancied-up hipster fried food shack either. Chocolate ganache, dehydrated mousse, sorrel sorbet, crispy quinoa, pomegranate? Yes please, and only one of a number we sampled (including a slab of tiramisu the size of a paving brick, helpfully and ironically garnished with a cursive tiramisu on the plate, as if we were in some Norton Street pasta joint).

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Dessert goes a bit beyond the down-home pecan pie

A stunning night and one that bears repeating, next time with the Little Pricks perhaps. Llewellyn and Hart have a great formula going here and it is no surprise it is often booked out. Pairing high-end bistro food that veers into fine dining territory with classic comfort food works, largely because he knows where to keep them separate: More involved dishes are what they are and show great produce and great technique used to great result, but simple classics are left, largely, as they are, and as they should be. It’s a lesson more chefs should learn.

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10 Responses to Newtown Review: Celebrating the American Revolution at Hartsyard

  1. Mike Farrell says:

    Bugger the food review bit. I want to talk about our American cousins. Absolutely wonderful people, whether they be white, black, Hispanic or whatever. I’ve never made it to the mainland, but have to Hawai’i 6 times and Vancouver, which is a satellite city of Seattle. Many many fond memories of each trip, including a 2nd honeymoon after the 1st year of marriage and a divorce celebration less than 2 years later – ROFLMFAO. Highlights of those trips include:

    1. Meeting a mainland couple holidaying at the Pink Palace (Royal Hawaiin) who enquired whether I knew their adopted son from Melbourne. This was after I told them I came from Sydney.
    2. Memorial Day at Punchbowl Cemetery – very moving. And of course, the obligatory visit to the USS Arizona Memorial on each occasion. I have always found it incongruous about the number of Japanese tourists clicking away onsite.
    3. The friendliness as your friends have noted. It is always on show, even by the police. On one occasion driving into the airport on one of the outer islands, I forgot to drive on the right hand side. Who should I almost crash into, but a cop car. We had a great chat and no ticket.

    Of course there is much much more, but I can sum it up with GOD BLESS AMERICA !!!!!!!!

  2. Great review of one of my favourite restaurants. I adore the food at Hartsyard. It warms my soul.
    As the daughter of an American I often feel my father’s homeland is much maligned in the hearts and minds of Aussies, despite the fact that they/we lap up American culture like mother’s milk.
    Yeah, America has done some crappy things, but so has Australia. It’s also done some pretty frigging amazing things and I’m so proud of my ancestors for being part of that.

  3. Free Advice says:

    I am fascinated at the different way Americans pronounce fruits, vegetables and just about anything. Apricots, tomatoes, Aquaman, Amex, herbs, berets, news, studio, merlot, Megan and so on. And the funny way you say the name Craig as “Cregg”. My theory is that USA, being 150 years older, adopted Elizabethan and Tudor english whereas we adopted Georgian and Victorian english. And what’s with serving the salad first as an entree at restaurant? Anyway, I love the place and your people.

    • Sasha says:

      Free, the Australian way of pronouncing Amex to rhyme with “Hey Tex” is wrong. The name of the company is American Express, so a short A (not a long one) is appropriate.

  4. Ian says:

    Have not yet had the pleasure of a trip to the USA though hopefully will be off there next year. In my last job I dealt with a Team in Atalanta GA spending enormous amounts of time on phone with them, over the years apart from finding them excellent colleagues an a lot of fun I learned something about my city Sydney and that all that union talk about low wage Americans needs to be taken with a grain, I learned that Sydney is insanely EXPENSIVE. That year my income went just over the 100K mark and somehow we got talking about salaries, his position was a little less senior than mine but he was on 35K , however I knew he had a wife who stayed at home with his 2 young kids. I said to him “Sorry but how is that even possible on 35K” to my amazement he replied “Not hard at all, I’ve even got a house deposit in the bank but we’re renting at present till we find something we really like”. This was about 3 years ago and this is what he paying Rent $760 a month for a place about Annandale to CBD distance to his Office for a 3 bedroom 2 bathroom fully integrated reverse cycle air-conditioning and a lock up 2 car garage (Good luck finding that in Annandale for $760 a week). He paid about $70 a month for Pay TV , Mobile Phone and Broadband all up (You’re Dreaming in Australia getting all that for $70). His power bill was about $100 a month (Mine for a single bloke who turns off the hot water for the 12 hours a he’s at work pays close to double that at $190 a month). He fed his whole family on $200 a month, now to be fair I don’t know how demanding was about about quality but I do know I would need to be eating cheap tinned tuna, mince, pasta and processed cheese to get JUST ME through a month on that, that’s a single uni student budget in this country. However what blew me away was his beer budget, you could at least then in Atlanta, buy Heineken for $1 a bottle in a pack of 12 , you couldn’t get that price for a shipping container in Aus. The bottom was was this, despite me earning close to triple his salary I had less purchasing power, only my capital assets in the form of my house made wealthier and the only I could liquidate wealth would be sell up and move out Sydney

  5. I have always found Americans (in America) among the most friendly and courteous people you would wish to meet. I love going there, and other than Sydney and the South Island of NZ, its the place I wold like to live. Santa Monica in particular. Hartsyard I have not been to despite living (literally) 1 minutes walk away, but its definitely on the to-do list. Speaking about Newtown, Scrambled on Enmore Road does the best breakfast in Newtown for my money, and its lunches are of the same quality. Definitely worth a visit.

  6. Sasha says:

    Mon cher Prick, is the bacon of the crunchy streaky variety? Because if yes, I’m hopping a bus to Sydney like, NOW.

    Somewhat unexpectedly, Canberra has acquired a darn decent BBQ joint: Smoque. Their ribs and brisket and pulled pork are Spec. Tacular. Their cornbread is too salty and their mac & cheese isn’t salty enough, but oy gevalt, those meats. It’s all properly smoked too, in equipment that they proudly boast is “imported from Texas”. They sometimes run out of stuff, and that’s a good sign in BBQ.

  7. Pingback: The Earl of (the Reuben) Sandwich | Prick With A Fork

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