Adjacent to African hair salons and a petrol station wasteland, 33 Enmore Road has long struggled to find the right identity. It was previously The Gourmet Viking, a dingy parlour that offered pickled herring and Scandinavian meatballs — a decidedly more traditional presentation of the IKEA menu, one might say. Over the years, however, the Viking gradually became a museum of horned helmets and framed photographs of Queen Margrethe II and Prince Consort Henrik, until it finally gave way to its current reincarnation.
There is no denying Hartsyard's heritage; it is palpably American in taste, substance and style. As soon as you push open the glass door, the smell of hickory smoked pork greets you with open arms. You'd be forgiven for thinking you had mistakenly stumbled across a classic American backyard cook-out, but that's what’s beautiful about this Newtown newcomer. You never know what to expect.
Gone are the stiff portraits of European royalty. The interior has been stripped back and painted in what appears to be a rain-streaked grey; the muted palette warmly mediated by modest wooden accents, and the crystal rainbow of the backlit bar. Even on a torrential Wednesday evening, the restaurant is packed. Salvaged timber and industrial lighting, utility and charm: Hartsyard sits at the intersection of bustling farmhouse kitchen and buzzing late-night diner.
Start with the poutine ($23) for a no-holds-barred introduction to American cuisine that borrows generously from the Bible Belt, French Canada and the friction between urban and rural dining. The thick-cut fried potatoes smothered in short rib gravy, shredded beef and cheddar-beer sauce is nigh orgiastic. What was originally a cheap, after-hours alcohol-soaker has been elevated to a clever (cheddar and beer? get out of here!), carb-rich treat. Pair with fresh mint tea ($3.70) made with leaves handpicked from the Hartsyard garden to soften the poutine's heady saliferousness.
Next, change gear and allow your tastebuds adequate recovery time. Swap herbal tea for a Single White Female ($18) — a neutralising combination of Hendricks, St Germain, cucumber and yuzu — in preparation for a humbler second course. Try the handmade burrata with eggplant carbonata, ham crumbs, black olives and charred sourdough ($24), which in plain English, is a delicious interpretation of bruschetta by way of a bucolic stew (carbonata literally translates as 'stew'). Such a dish perfectly highlights Hartsyard's culinary approach: taking simple flavours one would find in a provincial pantry, for example, and marrying them in unexpected ways.
That's not to say the menu doesn't play to populism. A visit to Hartsyard wouldn't be complete without feasting on their fried chicken, served with buttermilk biscuits and sausage gravy ($28) just like they do in the South Carolina lowcountry. Forget Kentucky Fried Chicken, this will satisfy your greasy cravings without the habitual shame and guilt. There's nothing quite like dipping a deep-fried drumstick into chunky sausage gravy, and if devouring two farm animals in one mouthful isn't enough to make you drunk with luxury, then you still have the fluffy buttermilk pillows to conquer.
After that wild ride through the Deep South, why not end the night in New York City, savouring a peanut butter and banana sundae with pretzel ice cream, banana doughnut and salted fudge ($17)? Here, Naomi Hart and Greg Llewellyn, the two New York natives behind Hartsyard, show their true colours, and their signature dessert almost outshines the three courses that preceded it. Almost.
Hartsyard prides itself on homegrown ingredients and traditional recipes reappropriated for a modern palette, and it delivers on all three fronts. So, grab your friends, order generously, and be prepared to use your hands and lick your fingers. Just don’t expect to enjoy KFC the same way again.