135 Harrington Street
The Rocks, Sydney
When winter hits I suddenly become ravenous. I crave meat and potatoes and all the other various things that will sabotage my figure for the big wedding day.
This winter is no exception and how else to stave the hunger pangs but with the hearty fare of a beer café. In this particular instance, a Belgian beer café.
In the late 90s, Belgian Olivier Massart renovated an old restaurant in Cammeray and created the now famous Epoque, a beer café that feeds and waters the upwardly mobile of this north shore suburb. A few years later Massart took over a heritage listed site in The Rocks and created a city version of his successful Belgian pub: Heritage.
The interior of Heritage was designed by a Belgian firm, Creneau, that worked with the listed building’s historical flavour to create a unique yet traditional space. Dark wood is featured throughout and a long bar imported from Belgium is a crowning glory in this room. Hundreds of tiny drawers and cupboards, akin to a turn of the century herbalist shop, decorate the bar’s back wall. At the entrance, a glass floor shows the ruins of stairs underneath the building, relicts of Sydney’s first settlement.
I booked for seven on a Sunday night and had plans to make this a bivalve feast with mussels and oysters.
I was determined to try the oysters Kilpatrick ($26 for 12), a style I had never tried before. I shared these with Tim Y and they were juicy, plump and absolutely delicious. The salty bacon contrasting nicely with the sweet edge of Worchestershire sauce. Others snacked on mashed potato and cheese balls ($15.50), complete with sweet tomato compote. There was also a Monk’s Tart for the vegetarians ($15.50), effectively a quiche or frittata by another name.
For main I simply had to go with the house speciality: mussel pots ($20.50). The black pots came crammed with mussels and you can choose your flavour from a wide variety including laksa-like coconut cream, lemongrass and chilli; Thai red curry and bacon, wine and cream. Nicki took the Provencale which was white wine, vegetables and fresh herbs while Tim Y and I opted for the blue cheese, leek, spinach and lemon juice. This was absolutely divine and fortunately I had the patience to remove every mussel from its shell before scooping up spoonfuls of cheesey, salty goodness. It was an experience I hope to repeat over and over and over again.
Sumi and Tim W opted for the Belgian sausages with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes ($21.50). Heaped high, the sausages looked very good and I’m a sucker for sauerkraut so there were no complaints from me when my fork accidentally detoured onto Sumi’s plate.
Jonas chose two sides (cheese balls and chips) since the vegetarian main wasn’t very imaginative.
For dessert Sumi ordered the Belgian waffles ($12): crispy, golden waffles came topped with delicious chocolate sauce and blueberry compote. This was good! I managed to eat more than half of her waffles and she took it with good grace.
Other interesting desserts on the menu included a trio of beer sorbets made from peach beer, cherry beer and an apple beer.
Now, speaking of beer we should outline what we sampled:
Tripel Karmeliet (330ml $10.80)
First made in 1679, this was a golden beer with a large head made from three grains (wheat, oats, barley) and fermented in the bottle. It had an almost sweet edge to it and was strong and fruity without much bitterness. I quite like this one.
Timmermans Peche Lambic (250ml $10.50)
This wonderful mild and sweet beer is the result of adding peach juice to Lambic while it’s in oak casks. It came served in a champagne style glass and was a truly wonderful dessert or aperitif beer. My favourite of the night.
Belle-Vue Framboise (375ml $9.80)
Again, fruit is added to a lambic, this time raspberries. It’s fruity and sweet and is best served as an aperitif or dessert beer.
Hoegaarden (250ml $6.30)
This is a very pale, light beer with a fruity and bitter flavour. It is an unfiltered light beer which I thought was pretty average. Tasting notes for this beer claim hints of honey, coriander and curacao.
Chimay Grande Reserve (750ml $29.00)
This beer is actually corked and is Chimay’s flagship beer. It’s a trappiste beer, which means it’s made by monks and is Appellation Controlled. It is very dark, almost caramel in flavour with a bitter end and is soft. A very good beer.
Also taste tested were the Leffe Blonde (250ml $6.50); Leffe Brune (250ml $6.50); Duvel (330ml $9.50); De Koninck The Bolleke (330ml $7.50), but these were drunk by Jonas who can’t remember enough to describe them for you.
The food and beer were good, but I was extremely disappointed with the service. Three words can describe it: rushed, unfriendly and stressed.
I had visited the venue before, during lunch, and thought the waitress serving us then was good, making helpful suggestions and providing generally good service.
This time our waitress was run off her feet and asked us to order before our entire party had arrived, pushed the next courses onto us without a gap in between and the instant the main was cleared she forced the dessert order onto us.
We lost food to the clearing monster also. Sumi had given me her sauerkraut on a bread plate and this was removed before I’d had a chance to dig in properly. My fork was cleared with it, indicating that potentially someone was still eating it. The same went for my chips which I had only half finished. Before I knew it the waitress had commandeered them, dumped them onto Jonas’ dirty plate and was marching off to the kitchen. Tim W also lost his ice cream before he’d gotten halfway through. This kind of service is clearly unacceptable.
As this was a Sunday and due to Sydney's draconian liquor licensing laws, the bar closed at 10pm and this could have accounted for the rush to get us through the meal, although it certainly didn't excused it at all since our booking started at 7:00pm.
Although rushed, our waitress was at least pleasant, but I can’t say the same for her colleagues who dumped beers on our table without speaking or smiling and who gave me the impression that they were depressed refugees from some bleak dictatorship. One waitress mistakenly brought another table’s beers to us and then scowled at us when we told her we hadn’t ordered them. At the end of the night a waitress cheerlessly announced final drinks and stormed off without any kind of smile or politeness.
Service certainly needs a major overhaul.
The mussel specials ($25 for mussel pot, beer and chips) are good value for money but otherwise prices seemed on the high end. The beer is expensive as well, but I guess that’s to be expected when you're ordering imported beer by the bottle. As long as you’re aware that it won’t be cheap, you should be happy.
Despite the unwelcoming service, I had a good time due to the lively company of my friends and the tasty mussels. I will most likely come back for the mussels and the peche beer, but I certainly hope someone does something about the waitstaff or even the mussels won’t be enough for long.