Ah, Enmore Road. These days, it's a high-energy ghetto of pink hair, hand-sewn gingham jumpsuits, vintage boots and beards; a place where people just hang out, hungry to be a part of a mixed-up, multicultural mob. But not, actually, like, hungry.
Even five years ago, there was no Stinking Bishops for pork pies and pickled eggs, no Queen Chow for typhoon shelter Moreton bay bugs, no Stanbuli for Turkish fish sandwiches, no Saga for Andy Bowdy cakes, no Cairo Kitchen for falafel-stuffed pita, and no P & V bottle shop for natural wines. And no Hartsyard buttermilk fried chicken and deliriously flavoured smashed soft-serve cones either, before the power couple of Naomi Hart and American-born chef Gregory Llewellyn opened in 2012.
They doubled up in 2015 with The Gretz bar down the road, and have now reinvented Hartsyard itself, surgically removing the fried chicken – and the fryer – while dropping hints about building a separate business around it alone.
The high communal table up front has also gone; a big window now opens to the street, the bar drips with greenery, and seating has been upped from 32 to 46. New head chef Jarrod Walsh has moved in from QT and Automata, and vegetables are at the core of the shortish menu.
The kitchen's focus on smoking, brining, dehydrating and fermenting delivers layers of meaty flavour in clever and thoughtful compositions of things-that-remind-you-of-things. So a simple chips-and-dips dish of cheese puffs ($14) tastes mysteriously like a vegetarian reuben sandwich, dusted with the same spices used for pastrami. Cute, without changing your world.
More chips 'n' dips, and more substance, come with a scampi and prawn tartare ($27), splodged with saffron rouille and mounds of bright orange tobiko roe. The crisps on the side are sensational, with the acidic punch of freeze-dried vinegar, pepper, chilli and salt. I need to carry a small jar of that with me at all times to ward off the evils of blandness.
In line with the new level of technique lurking behind each dish, servings are smaller and prices higher.
Some dishes stretch a friendship – small, sweet Hervey Bay scallops are $7 each, scattered inconsequentially with half-cut grapes.
Others are genuinely interesting, like a warm, dark round of "brewery bread" that tastes like a Danish scone ($11), with a pool of butter and vadouvan curry oil.
Grilled radicchio with crunchy kraut ($18) is bravely bitter, mellowed with caciocavallo cheese, and a roasted head of cauliflower ($22) – like Enmore Road, roasted cauliflower will never die – is peppered with crunchy fried capers.
Instead of fried chicken, there's a brined and rolled pork neck ($31), cooked low and slow for seven hours then finished on the grill and served with mustard greens. It's clean and simple, delivering hints of smoke, maple syrup and spice – but it's not fried chicken.
Dessert is a hint of the old, rowdy, rambunctious Hartsyard, with busted waffle, cherry ice-cream, poached cherries, labna and wild fennel pollen ($18) getting together for a party on a plate.
And there are still good wines, pleasant service and a warm buzz to be had.
If you're a fan of Chippendale's Ester and Automata, you'll love the new, more serious Hartsyard as it grows up and brings a level of maturity to Enmore Road. If you're a fan of fried chicken, you may not.
Address 33 Enmore Road, Newtown, 02 8068 1473, hartsyard.com.au
Open Tue-Sat from 6.30pm
Vegetarian A real vegetable-first focus sees meat-free "dips and chips" as starters, and charred broccolini and curdy sweetcorn as small/share plates.
Drinks A happy mix of house sodas and shrubs, "kitchen beer tinnie of choice", and a short but colourful (red, white, orange) list of wines served in stemless glasses.
Cost About $130 for two, plus drinks.
Go-to dish Scampi and prawn tartare, $27.
Pro tip The doors to the backyard loos don't lock properly, so you might make new friends when you least expect it.
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