To say I was intrigued by the second floor restaurant at Bristol's Boutique Harvey Nichols' store was an understatement. I'd heard stories of carpeted walls and glitzy metallic décor as well as experiences whereby a distinct lack of atmosphere and questionable service had a somewhat negative impact. Yet, all the critiques I had read had one thing in common; they all agreed that the cuisine itself was of a very high standard, which I suppose one would expect from a venue which constitutes a prestigious UK institution. Consequently, the Best Foodie Friend (BFF) and I proceeded to book-up a table in order to suss out this venue for ourselves and, as the elevator 'ding' marked the second floor, it would be fair to say that we were really rather excited...
Date and Time: Tuesday 26th July 2011, 19:30
Name of Establishment: Harvey Nichols Second Floor Restaurant*
Location: Quakers Friars, Bristol
Reason for Visit: Dinner date with the BFF
Passing the cordoned-off areas and glass fronted displays of vintage bubbly into the restaurant, the initial feature which is somewhat obtrusive is the colour-scheme. Decked out in gold from the ceiling to the plushy carpet underfoot and everything else in between, (including the walls which are indeed textured), it's reasonable to describe this space as unnecessarily extravagant, especially when the evening sun pours through the full windows casting the whole space in an amber haze! Not that this meant that the BFF and I weren't comfortable; quite the contrary as we were quite content, especially considering the appeasing ambiance created by cushy furniture and the chill-out soundtrack overhead.
Given the apprehension created by the accounts I’d read, it can be noted that the BFF and I found the service during our visit to be both polite and efficient. Despite the minor niggle that our coats were not taken and instead, sat next to us within the booth-style seating for the duration of the evening, we were pleased overall with the upbeat attitude of our particular waitress who proved a smiley asset to the evening's proceedings. Menus were dispensed and a choice between the à la carte, whereby main courses average £15, and the 'prix fixe' which offers two courses for £16 or three for £19. The latter comprises a choice from three options in the case of each course and includes complimentary canapés as standard. BFF and I were uncharacteristically in sync on this particular evening, both settling for two courses from the set menu and choosing the same main and dessert (though, more of that later). We also decided against a supplementary vino on this occasion but casually noted the range of champagnes on offer, the vintage variety coming in at a mere £1750 a pop – I'll take two! After ordering, our canapés arrived; melt-in-the-mouth parmesan sable biscuits and cheddar gougères which, essentially savoury profiteroles, were delicately textured and subtly cheesy to contrast the punchy notes of its parmesan coupling. Clearing the empty sharing plate signalled the arrival of the bread basket and a choice between sweet rolls, sliced soda bread or salted focaccia. The latter was an obvious choice for me and, proving fresh and delicious, I just had to ask for seconds to accompany my main course.
Main courses arrived and the courgette fritters, which were stacked under their triangular canopy of fried feta, were served alongside courgette ribbons, a soft herb salad, a dollop of dill mascarpone and finished with a beetroot dressing. This was simply beautiful both in terms of its colour and its arrangement. I loved the complexities which existed in terms of contrasting textures and tastes as well as the Greek-inspiration behind the nature of marrying together the different elements; the underlying bitter-sweet bite of lemon against the freshness of dill and the rich tang of feta. The BFF and I were particularly pleased that we had ordered a side of Cornish new potatoes with English butter and Cornish sea salt (£3.25) to share as they were the perfect accompaniment to the smooth mascarpone. All-in-all, indubitably resting within the fine dining remit but without the stingy portion sizes that one would normally associate with this genre of cuisine – subsequently, this dish left me feeling satisfied and enthusiastic about what was to follow….
|Main Course - easy on the eye as well as the stomach!|
There was rather a long wait between main and dessert courses and although we weren’t in a hurry, this did build a real sense of expectant appreciation for the Valrhona Chocolate Mousse we had opted for but had yet to sample. Upon first mouthful though it was evident that this glutinous pud would fully live up to our hopeful preconceptions – made, we were told, with olive oil, this stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth indulgence was perfectly textured and hard-hitting with the richness of good-quality dark chocolate; the result of which was an almost intoxicating kick! Finished with a fennel biscuit (which the BFF suggested was a little too elusive in terms of the usual distinctness of its aniseed flavour) and a flourish of mint, this dessert was the highlight of the meal for me and really took my experience of this venue from fantastic, to simply outstanding.
I think that Head Chef Louise McCrimmon’s creative flair for putting together a menu which ticks all the boxes in terms of taste whilst focusing on high quality, locally-sourced ingredients is offered so reasonably that it perhaps explains why the venue was so well attended on the evening of our visit. Initially, this is where Harvey Nichols’ exclusive reputation may have hindered it with many perhaps dismissing the restaurant as too expensive. However, word has obviously gotten out and rightly so because there really is something to tantalise the taste-buds within the most platonic of palates. After all, metallic flamboyances aside, this is a venue which had me planning my next visit before I'd even returned to its ground floor exit (I certainly want to come for brunch – buttermilk pancakes with smoked back bacon and maple syrup at just £4.50 – yes please!). To sum up, I may not be able to stretch to the cost of its designer handbags, nor can I do little more than ogle the Jimmy Choos from afar, but I can certainly afford Harvey Nichols; cuisine - at last, I have discovered an aspect of the 'bling' that is comfortably within my grasp!
And now for the second opinion…
And now for the second opinion…
The BFF gave Harvey Nichols' Second Floor Restaurant a rating of 9/10 and in three words, described her experience as 'pretty', 'modern' and, of course...'gold'!
|I just couldn't resist...!|
To note: At the moment, the second floor restaurant is offering a deal whereby children, when accompanied by an adult, can dine for free from Head Chef Louise McCrimmon’s Children’s menu – great stuff!