Photo: Dallas Kilponen
Meet George. George is a faux duck covered in real chicken feathers who acts as official mascot and unofficial meeter and greeter at the newly opened Hartsyard. Poor George mysteriously lost an eye at the restaurant's opening party. I overhear co-owner Naomi Hart telling the sorry tale to a girl dining in the corner, when suddenly the girl reaches into her bag and pulls out knitting needles and yarn. A few minutes later, George is sporting a chic, black, hand-knitted eye patch. They grow a different breed of diner in Newtown.
They grow a different breed of restaurant and bar in Newtown, too. Increasingly, Newtown is becoming Brooklyn to Sydney's Manhattan, its people and places rejecting the bright and flashy for the neighbourly, the communal and the free-range.
Bloodwood, Spencer Guthrie and small King Street bars such as Madame Fling Flong are as at home in Newtown as shoe shops are in Double Bay.
Newtown born and bred now means a shopfront space with moody lighting, bare tables, utilitarian chairs, recycled woods, loud music and an equally loud, young, local crowd. That would be Hartsyard, then. The chef, Hart's husband and business partner, Gregory Llewellyn, fits the bill with his red baseball cap, striped apron and regulation tatts, having cooked his way around the US before moving to Sydney to work at Wildfire.
His menu, divided into Seed (smaller dishes) and Feed (more substantial plates), is resolutely American-driven. Fried chicken, oyster po'boys and smoked beef short-ribs are leavened with raw-food salads and a refreshing use of acidity in various pickled-vegetable accompaniments but you can pretty much leave your diet at the door, whether its kilojoule, carb or paleo. Then you can order the poutine, a hangover dish from those wacky French-Canadians that's pretty much big chips with oxtail gravy, fried shredded beef, and a butt-kicking sauce of cheddar and beer.
It's not ''dude food'' as such, because it comes with more context. So the smoked fried chicken ($27) comes with a great, double-crusty crust, its own, low-country accompaniments of biscuits (scones to us) and a creamy ''gravy'', studded with pork sausage. Meat sauce with meat - what's not to love? It's a caveman-friendly dish that's a must-stop for lovers of all things southern and fried.
All this makes the po' boys ($16) look relatively restrained. Pastry chef Andrew Bowden bakes the small soft/crisp muffins in-house, each filled with a mighty, crisply battered Tassie Pacific oyster, mayo and coleslaw. It's rip-snorting drinking food that manages crunch, creaminess and an enveloping oysteriness all in one.
Then, just when you think you know where this kitchen is coming from, out comes a fashionably strewn dish of cured and honey-glazed duck breast ($31), presented with hazelnut praline, curls of duck crackling, a splash of duck jus and a crumbed, deep-fried ball of duck confit that neatly sums up everything that's good about eating fat.
Somewhere in the middle of the fashion plates and the bad-ass American favourites are some light and lovely vegetable dishes, such as a lined-up salad of shaved raw mushroom and artichoke interleaved with celery heart and parmesan crisps ($16).
There are other good things, too. Water is filtered and carbonated and served in bottomless bottles for $4 a person. The wine list is short but as idiosyncratic as the food, highlighting the biodynamic, artisan and organic, from a fresh, citrussy 2011 Mac Forbes Yarra Valley Chardonnay ($48), to a complex, elegant Fanny Sabre Volnay from Burgundy for $130.
Other things are just plain annoying, such as the low-rise Spanish wine glasses and a kitchen that sends out dishes more or less in order but not necessarily paced to your eating.
You're probably guessing by now that dessert is not going to be your average panna cotta. And you'd be right, what with the key lime pie with dulce de leche and double cream, and the arteries-be-damned peanut butter and banana sundae served with pretzel ice-cream, banana doughnut and salted fudge ($16). This is something that should only be attempted by the extremely fit and must be eaten before it melts into a calorific swamp faster than you can say ''what was I thinking?''.
A sort of modern day mom-and-pop restaurant for hipsters, Hartsyard feels a bit torn between fun dining and fine dining. It wears its heart on its sleeve, puts high-texture and drama into down-home food and has the chaotic feel of a party whose invitation has gone viral on Facebook. How very Newtown.
Best bit You can book, you CAN book!
Worst bit The wall of sound.
Go-to dish Oyster po' boy, $16.
Address 33 Enmore Road, Newtown, 8068 1473, hartsyard.com.au.
Open Dinner, Wed-Sun.
Cost About $85, plus drinks, for two.
How we score
Restaurants are judged out of 20 on the total restaurant experience. The score comprises 10 points for food, five for service, three for ambience with an extra two points possible for something special - be it location, service, attitude, commitment or wow factor.
13 Good if not great
14 Solid and enjoyable
15 Very good
16 Capable of greatness
Restaurants are reviewed again for the Good Food Guide and scores may vary.
Terry Durack is co-editor of The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide.
- 8068 1473
- Prices - About $85 plus drinks for two, About $85 plus drinks for two
- Opening Hours - Dinner Weds-Sun
- Author - Terry Durack