Two former Andrew McConnell chefs open a woodfired-oven restaurant in West Footscray.
They must be cooking chef-y, fashionable food in their fashionable wood oven, right?
Harley and Rose is more akin to a suburban pizzeria, though chefs Josh Murphy and Rory Cowcher maintain it’s “not a pizza restaurant”.
The Black Sorrows, Midnight Oil, AC/DC and Steely Dan are on the stereo. Three-child families camp at tables littered with stray pizza toppings. Salads come in those dinky faux-wood bowls pubs used to serve chips in.
“We’ve matured a bit in the way that we like to eat,” Cowcher says. “We feel that food is much more about the experience – enjoying the company of your guests and the meal, rather than overly flamboyant dishes. I don’t even book at restaurants like that anymore.”
“Rory and I went to LA together a couple of years ago and the only booking we made was at Medieval Times,” Murphy says, breaking into a huge laugh. (See our gallery above for proof that two very reputable young chefs chose to eat at a medieval-themed restaurant.)
Thankfully, there’s no knights or jousting here. Just six pizzas; heaps of snacks and salads; and a banging wine list by peppy manager Mark Williamson, another Andrew McConnell alum. He also oversees the attached bottle-o, a weird little room behind the bar – one you’ll think you’re not allowed into. You are, and it’s filled with bottles from established producers and trendy low-interventionists such as Lucy Margaux.
Either style goes well with pizza. The 48-hour sourdough bases are less taxing to eat than most, thanks to Baker Bleu’s Mike Russell. On his advice Murphy and Cowcher are using 95 per cent baker’s flour from Whole Grain Milling Company in NSW and five per cent khorasan flour (an ancient wheat variety also known as kamut), which seals the crust and keeps the inside springy and moist. On top, the chefs pile Goolwa pippies, parsley, garlic and cream, or basil, tomato and buffalo mozzarella for a classic margherita.
Roberta’s Romaine Lettuce with candied walnuts, pecorino and mint leads a quartet of salads that bring some balance to the otherwise heavy selection. “We copied that salad from Roberta’s in Brooklyn,” Cowcher says. “That’s probably the most memorable salad I’ve ever eaten.”
The list of 10 or so snacks includes mortadella from Meatsmith; fennel salami made by Dave Roberts, an ex-Movida chef; woodfired octopus with pesto; and burrata with rocket oil and fig and olive tapenade. This is about as chef-y as the menu gets.
Each item is delivered without exposition, and the staff doesn’t preface the meal with the ubiquitous, “Have you dined with us before? The menu’s designed to share.”
The service is a bit shaky, actually. Dishes sometimes arrive at the wrong tables and some of the staff doesn’t know how to stack plates. They’re less than a week in – they’ll work it out. The important things – the food, the atmosphere – are there. Come with a group, order some pizzas and have fun.
The menu won’t change radically every few months. Right now a prime-rib minute steak – one of four non-pizza mains – comes with spiced eggplant. The garnish will change with the seasons, but the steak won’t. Likewise, the cacio e pepe spaghetti and most of the pizzas aren’t overly affected by the seasons. Shocking.
Harley and Rose
572 Barkly Street, West Footscray
Tue to Thu 4pm–late
Fri to Sun 11.30am–late
For Melbourne’s latest, subscribe to the Broadsheet newsletter.