I hadn’t intended to dine in Harry’s Bar today. Having finished my Saturday morning activities in the West End, my plan was to find somewhere to eat a quick snack before heading home to north London.
But the café I usually visit was full and, resigning myself to hunger pangs, I began heading across to Oxford Street in hot pursuit of a number 73 bus. And then, as I crossed St Christopher’s Place, which always makes me nostalgic for the years I spent working there, my eyes alighted upon Harry’s Bar and, with a jolt of recognition, I realised I was standing in front of the new sister to the legendary Venetian establishment so beloved of Ernest Hemingway.
I love trying new restaurants; that’s no secret. But Harry’s Bar holds a special allure for me. Years ago, I visited Venice and marvelled, as all first-time visitors do, at its beauty – soaking up the canals, architecture and everything else that historic city offers. Alighting upon the original Harry’s Bar I vividly recall peering, wistfully, through its window knowing full well that, as a broke student, I wouldn’t be able to afford an orange juice in there, let alone a meal. One day, I promised myself, I will dine in Harry’s Bar.
Well, the years have passed and I’m no longer a student (nor, mercifully, broke), but for one reason or another I’ve never made it back to Venice. And now, as fate would have it, Venice has made it to London. And here I was, all over again, peering wistfully through a window.
I’ll blame the pull of nostalgia but, before I knew what was happening, I was inside the restaurant, being welcomed by a beaming manager and showed to the very last available table (see: I told you it was fate). And here’s the first thing I noticed about Harry’s Bar: everyone who works there is lovely. From my charming & knowledgeable waitress, to the sommelier, to the chef who I bumped into downstairs, having got myself lost en route to the ladies’ loos…you’re made to feel that they’re genuinely delighted to see you. I wrote a post recently about afternoon tea at Aqua Shard, in which I commented that it lacks the ability to make customers feel special: well, Harry’s Bar could teach them a thing or two.
It also offers a very interesting menu – with some surprises. The first is that you can order a glass of wine for £5. Now, bearing in mind the location (St Christopher’s Place, where even Pizza Express charges more than that) and also the pedigree: this was a very welcome surprise. The second is the extensive menu: Harry’s Bar serves everything from brunch to evening meals.
It was midday, so I was in time for brunch and, after much deliberation, I plumped for the Eggs Royale. A heady combination of smoked salmon, poached hen’s eggs and foccacia, this dish was everything I hoped it would be. It was accompanied by a portion of hand-cut chunky chips – not ordered by me, I hasten to add, but included as part of the dish. I was just going to nibble on one or two, but then there was all that glorious yolkiness from the perfectly poached eggs that needed to be mopped up…oh well. At least I didn’t eat them all (quite).
Every element of my Eggs Royale was delightful, from its rich hollandaise sauce to the luscious strips of salty salmon. The latter, I should add, were complemented perfectly by the Falanghina which, with its citrusy nose and pleasingly dry taste, stood up well on its own but also made a good food wine.
As I tucked in, I was able to absorb my surroundings. The restaurant is compact – cosy, really – being one of a row of restaurants which adorn James Street. It is also bright, well-lit and eminently comfortable; I could have stayed there for hours, propped up against my cushions.
As I mentioned at the beginning of my post, this was intended to be a brunch stop. I was planning to fully enjoy my eggs and then make tracks for home. But then, Maria handed me a dessert menu and…the thing is, who in their right mind could resist a dessert called ‘Harry’s Toadstool’?
I’m delighted to say that this dish did, indeed, taste as fabulous as it looks in the photo below. The restaurant’s signature dessert, it’s concocted from iced parfait and mascarpone housed under a white chocolate shell and accompanied by mascarpone cream, basil and fresh raspberries– the latter providing a refreshing sharpness against the sweetness of the other ingredients. The finishing touch was the miniature jug of pistachio sauce which Maria poured, with great ceremony, around the Toadstool. Judging from the looks I was getting from the diners around me, my dessert was having quite some impact.
Harry’s Bar’s food, ambience and friendliness combined to make this the most enjoyable 90 minutes I’ve spent in quite some time. I’m going to have to find another reason to venture back to the West End: Christmas shopping, anyone?