PM: Peter picked the title, but I think it morbid and sensational – as is much of what he writes.
PW: I’m going to ignore that. Courtyard’s windows look onto Parramatta Road, which, when you really look at it, has the same infinite quality as a cloud. The road might symbolise possibility, or the new HSC English area of study ‘discovery’, or – when you’re weighed down by gnocchi – that too-full kind of sickness you feel when potato, cheese, and olives stick to your guts.
In terms of ambience, the restaurant’s all Ikea: white walls and bare wooden tables. The product of a commercialised imagination, it’s as if they want you to draw on everything (‘make your own fun’, as it were), but there are no crayons in sight.
PM: While Peter resents this cliché (though not his own), the Japandanavian minimalism is clean and elegant as well as, according to one builder, eye-wateringly expensive. It’s a high quality finish that speaks to an outlet trying really hard to be taken seriously. It is light, spacious and just so nice to sit in. While the exterior quickly dissolves into embarrassing benches in bright primary colours, for the most part, Courtyard is a beautiful place to be.
PW: The entrees are remarkably – it hurts to say – good value for $15.00 (better value still, at $12.70 with ACCESS – PM), which nets you a tasting paddle of four beers, a bowl of olives, and a garlic pizza crust. Our garlic crust – which is an entire pizza cooked as if it were crust – erred on the side of burnt, but I would say this is a flaw in execution and not in concept.
PM: The entree was great so long as you don’t expect an orthodox pizza. I’ve had the paddle several times since and the pizza crust was better on each of those occasions.
Done with beer and pizza, we agreed on the bruschetta for our starter. It was fine; a satisfying light snack with a salsa that lacked bite and came with slightly soggy bread. I’m not decided as to whether it’s fun or inconvenient that you get to build it yourself, but this is likely how they pass the savings on to students.
Having flirted with conventional Italian (I think Courtyard is meant, predominantly, to do Italian food? Are Courtyards a big thing in Italy?) for most of the meal, Peter and I strayed into what should have been bolder territory for the main course. A chicken (ORGANIC! IT’S ORGANIC CHICKEN! – Menu) and avocado pizza was sweet and confused, but unexciting, while eating the burnt butter gnocchi was like consuming Clag Paste.
PW: One mouthful of the pizza and I had a panic attack, thinking the part of my brain that regulates taste had been severed. Turns out it just tasted like nothing.
PM: After mains, Peter was approached by a certain immediate past President of the USU Board who insisted that if he just mentioned her name at the bar, the bill would be settled for him. With a smile, she returned to the launch party, but absent-mindedly left a full glass of champagne at our table! I tried to correct the mistake but the anonymous ex-President was quite sure the champagne was Peter’s. I think she was just being kind! This is presumably a courtesy extended to all who visit Courtyard, and not just to those who regularly and violently lambast Union establishments in student news outlets.
PW: Courtyard’s prices are reasonable enough that I only mildly regretted not taking the bribe. I won’t lie; I drank the champagne, but I paid the bill in full! You’re unlikely to find a three-course meal for two as cheap as Courtyard is on ACCESS, which is a refreshing suggestion that the USU actually cares about students on a budget. Sidenote on ambience: once it turned dark, Courtyard’s vibe was affecting, especially when combined with the Radiohead on the sound system. It may have overtaken the balcony of the Holme Building as Sydney University’s number one place to have an early-life crisis. I can imagine being dumped here, my sobs violently echoing while the server awkwardly asks me to settle my bill.
PM: But before Peter cried and settled our bill, we squeezed in (and by this point it was a squeeze) a canola and a coffee éclair, with cappuccinos. It’s standard Union coffee. It mightn’t win prizes, but it’s drinkable. The desserts were rich and sweet, but it tasted like that they had been on a shelf all day. Actually, the vanilla cartocci is the pastry in the window I keep coming back for, and, at a similar price point to banana bread, it is – (to the dismay of my arteries – ) my new go-to breakfast.
PW: After paying, I looked at the window to see my own reflection and, beneath it, cars speeding past. The image, combined, was of my head being repeatedly run over. I want to say that Courtyard is a failure of the imagination – the kind of place you’d take your grandparents to die – but that would be spiteful. I enjoyed my meal here, despite the errant mains.
PM: Peter is a wanker. If you want a beautiful place to sit in all weathers, with an impressively affordable, if middling, menu then Courtyard is brilliant. Pasta of the Day is laughably cheap and usually quite good. Failing that, none of the warm staff members mind if you bring in microwaved meals from home. For all that this place does to cater to the conference crowd (given its proximity to The Refectory) it is, unfailingly, a student venue.