Social media is a wonderful thing. When you actually use it, that is. My hectic schedule has moved me away from my many hours of internet lingering, but luckily for me, all the other bloggers on Earth are keeping up with the news. That’s how I heard about Hartsyard. Detective Chow was planning a visit on their opening week and offered to give me some photography advice over dinner.
For me, a restaurant experience doesn’t begin and end with the meal you have there. The way the restaurant presents itself to the world, physically and virtually, says a lot about it. Hartsyard happens to be unusual in the sense that their internet presence is not based on a static website, but on a blog and social media. I find this makes it feel more alive, and makes customers more involved with the evolution of the business.
As usual, I needed to find out if there were some safe dishes in the menu (at least gluten-free), which wasn’t on the website a that moment. I dropped them an email and got a fairly quick answer from Naomi (the restaurant is owned by husband and wife Gregory and Naomi; you can read everything about it in their site and several blogs). The response I got was not only helpful but warm.
Alvaro and I arrived that night and were greeted by Naomi with the same warmth. We waited a bit for Detective Chow and his partner, no longer caring that we never get to eat in the Gourmet Viking (the previous business in that address). This place felt great, perhaps because it was brand new and the staff were all pumped up, perhaps because they just got the right people together in the right place.
The menu has two main sections: seed (smaller portions, lower prices) and feed (bigger portions, higher prices). They say all dishes are designed to share, which I think is only a trend-compliance mechanism because the way the food is plated makes sharing awkward.
The restaurant has their own water filtering system, so they charge you for it but: (a) you get to choose between still and sparkling and (b) your glass gets refilled throught the length of your stay. No complains here.
Hartsyard offers custom-made beers and creative cocktails (more on that later) but this time we opted for a bottle of red: a 2011 Trapeze Pinot Noir from Yarra Valley, Vic ($46.00). Instead of regular wine glassware we were provided short glasses that matched the water ones, something that wine snobs would disapprove but we found it cute.
We ended up choosing dishes from the safe list Naomi had sent me (Mr and Ms Chow were nice enough to limit their choices in order to share) and ate them as they arrived to the table. First was radishes: smoked butter, onion, rye bread crisps. We asked for the rye bread crisps to come on the side, they forgot but it didn’t matter, Al and I just skipped them. I’m a huge fan of radishes, they were beautiful, the onion puree was sweet and tasty but the big hit of the dish was the smoked butter. If I was at home I would have licked the plate clean.
You won’t hear me saying this often but a vegetarian dish was my favourite of the night. The simply called winter vegetables featuring chestnut, porcini, walnut and cooking juices, along with the roasted baby carrots, onions, etc. was absolutely delicious. The earthy, warming flavours of the chestnut and mushrooms gave them the winter character that my homemade roasted veggies lack.
Winter Vegetables ($21.00)
As excited as I was about our first two dishes I was ready for some meat. There are two things that I almost always order when eating out: fish and duck, so the honey-glazed duck breast and confit with fennel, hazelnut praline and crackling was a given. The duck breast arrived in cute small slices and the confit in an interesting spherical presentation. The meat was tasty, but once again the non-animal elements of the dish grabbed my attention: the fennel puree and the hazelnut (my favourite nut) praline.
Honey-glazed Duck Breast and Confit ($31.00)
The salmon cooked in a jar was one of the dishes I was really looking forward to. Creme fraiche, sorrel, and cornichon were in the dish description but I was more intrigued by the jar cooking technique, a variation of sous vide, I guess. The salmon was great, but I still prefer it raw, cured or smoked than cooked.
Salmon Cooked in a Jar ($19.00)
Our final dish was the roasted pork with vadouvan (a “blend of spices that is a derivative of Indian curry blend with a French influence”, from Wikipedia), sorrel, and black-pepper maple bacon. Detective Chow found the dish a bit intimidating (too much meat), while for us was completely normal. I did find the spiced syrup on the plate a bit too sticky to graciously lift it up. I think vadouvan was a first for us all, we debated about its contents and concluded that cloves and cardamom were definitely there. We also found it hard to cut the skin side of the chop with regular knives and had to ask for a steak one. Other than that, the dish was as tasty as the others, but not my favourite of the night.
Roasted Pork ($27.00)
When dessert time arrived I was actually glad there were no gluten-free options, otherwise I would have been very tempted. Detective Chow ordered the now famous peanut butter + banana sundae with pretzel ice cream, banana doughnut and salted fudge, as per staff’s recommendation. Apparently the inclusion of salty elements made it a very interesting end of the meal, but I’ll let him elaborate in his fantastic blog.
Peanut Butter + Banana Sundae($16.00)
Because I wasn’t having any dessert I was entitled to finish dinner with a cocktail, right? The Hartsyard Manhattan sounded too good to miss: bacon-infused Jack Daniel’s, sweet vermouth, bitters, and maple syrup. Yum! A candied strip of bacon as decoration rounded it off. I’m not a huge fan of cocktails but this one was plain genius.
Hartsyard Manhattan ($17.50)
Ms Chow had the Pickle Back Martini, which is offered with Tanqueray gin or Finlandia vodka, dry vermouth and muddled Hartsyard dill pickle. With dill leaves as decoration, it looked like pickle juice just poured out of the jar. I’m definitely trying it next time.
Pickle Back Martini ($17.50)