Harley & Rose, 572 Barkly Street, West Footscray. Phone: 8320 0325
The Harley & Rose dining room has a cosy, almost clubbish, vibe about it.
The tables are many, but there’s no sense of overcrowding.
A long bar runs down most of one side of the room.
The place is all a-bustle earlyish on a Friday night, but about half those bar stools remain untaken.
Though the outside tables are chockers.
Despite the happening vibe and happy restaurant theatre in full cry, one of our fears – based on many experiences in similar places – stays wonderfully mute: The noise levels are fine.
Even though there’s a happy hubbub going on all around us, we are able to converse pretty much normally.
Though you wouldn’t want to be in whisper mode.
Most excellently, the place appears to have already earned places in the hearts of many, including West Footscray’s young family demographic.
And, yes, there is a kids menu.
Tables are adorned with real-deal serviettes.
The Team CTS of four on hand can rise to the occasion of three-hour-plus meals.
But mostly we’re very much of the “bring us food and make it snappy” school.
So we really appreciate the terrific service and the beautifully paced arrival of our various choices.
By no means are we in any way rushed, but our dishes arrive in a steady stream.
It could be said that Harley & Rose serves mostly orthodox Italian – but that would be misleading.
For instead of bolognese or veal scaloppine or minestrone, there are wonderful surprises at almost every turn.
We share four starters.
Salami ($12), with caper berries on the side, has just the right perfume level of fennel.
Our other choices mostly display exactly the same levels of light and right.
They include Noix de Jambon with fresh fig ($15) …
… and smoked ocean trout, Grand Marnier and horseradish ($16).
Though the crunchy/gooey gorgonzola dolce croquettes with quince ketchup ($9) certainly up the richness factor quite a bit.
For mains, for us, two pasta offerings and two pizzas.
Spaghetti cacio e pepe ($19) is profoundly simple, sinfully rich perfection – just pasta, cheese, pepper and not much else.
From the short specials line-up, Bennie chooses rigatoni with a sticky tomato sauce including fermented chilli and pancetta ($18).
Loves it, he does, though its consumption concludes with a familiar refrain from him: “Wow – that was bigger than it looked!”
If anything, perhaps our sooper dooper pizzas are the real high points of our eating evening.
Neapolitan ($20) with sweet pepper, tomato, anchovy, olives and oregano and …
… and house sausage ($22) with pork sausage, fennel, tomato, eggplant and pecorino both exhibit great flavours coming from perfectly matched ingredients.
Oh, yes, we’re definitely in that sort of mood.
Tiramisu ($14) is a straight-up top-shelf rendition of a classic.
Meringue with pink pepper melon and apple granita ($12) is amazing.
The blending of the poached meringue (a bit like a gooey marshmallow) with the cool pink cubes, crunchy granita and the all-important mint equals a taste explosion.
We’ve ordered, eaten and spent without restraint.
Our four-way meal, with a full round of drinks, clocks in at $207.
But give the starters a miss, and stick with the terrific pasta/pizza options, and Harley & Rose invitingly presents as both a night-out deal and as a regular, weekly destination.
And if I lived around here, I’d be eyeing that bar up for the odd, quick, solo meal-with-book-in-hand.
Check out the Harley & Rose website – including menu – here.