Recently re-launched following the closure of its Michelin-starred restaurant back in 2003, the home of Harveys Bristol Cream now constitutes a cocktail lounge, tapas restaurant and mini museum – the latter paying homage to the tipple which has become increasingly synonymous with our City given that it has been imported from Spain and bottled in Bristol since 1796. Consequently and in light of the supposed 'sherry-drinking comeback', there has been a predominantly positive response to this venue be it the first of its kind in outside of the capital's multi-tasking metropolis; a factor which further encouraged the Best Foodie Friend (BFF) and I to explore it for ourselves...
Date and Time: Thursday 1st March 2012, 19:00
Name of Establishment: Harveys Cellars
Location: 12 Denmark Street, Bristol
Reason for Visit: A lesson in Bristol's rather boozy history!
After navigating the dark, cobbled back-streets of the city-centre, the BFF and I found ourselves behind a pair of heavy glass doors at the top of a thickly carpeted staircase. And, gazing down into the fresh, rather official-looking foyer, it became clear that this was not quite what we had envisaged; the minimalistic, rather 'vanilla' feel to the décor proving a little disappointing. Unfortunately, this was heightened further upon being allocated an intimately placed table-for-two whereby the magnolia paint-job dominated our eye-line and the bright, industrial-style lighting overhead seemed to encourage the notion that, we really could have been anywhere...Given the vibrant neon blue of the website, (meant, I'm sure, to reflect the role of Bristol Blue Glass within this venue, whereby empty bottles are utilised for table water, not to mention built into an illuminated display upon one of the walls – aiding, in my view, the indubitably Bristolian identity of this space), I guess I was expecting a little more by way of an atmosphere - the epic status of the 13th Century building this venue occupies coupled with the mysterious, almost cavernous attributes that one would normally associate with a cellar, further fuelling our preconceptions. That said, the well-stocked 'island' bar proved a stylish focal point and beyond it, the relaxed 'music-room', defined by a baby grand piano, was certainly more in keeping with the desired ambiance given its hazy lighting and candlelit nooks and crannies which, both quirky and comfortable, had been decked out with squishy sofas and authentic wooden sherry barrels that masqueraded as table-tops...and, all the while with an upbeat salsa-style soundtrack overhead; lovely! Furthermore, completed with a cordoned-off VIP area and small shrine to the Harveys brand as well as the aforementioned 'bottled wall' and the 'View Gallery' (which, reportedly interchangeable, showcases locally-sourced art work), this area absolutely encapsulated the productivity of our talented community whilst capturing the attention of its clientèle.
Moving on and at this point, I must mention the staffing; those waiting our table delivering an attentive and chatty service whilst proving knowledgeable; both in terms of the menu’s content as well as in relation to specific dishes and tipples. For, if ever there was an establishment where a little guidance was required, this was well and truly it; the volumes (yes there is more than one instalment) of available beverages proving somewhat overwhelming to say the least! Here, an extensive line-up specialising in wines, cocktails and spirits amounted to a mutual bout of umm-ing and ahh-ing that amazingly, led both the BFF and I to succumb to the unique appeal of the ‘Fino Fizz’ (£6.50)- a complex blend of Fino sherry, Manzana Verde and St. Germain (Elderflower Liquor), crisply finished with a sizeable slurp of good-quality champagne. Plus, served in a delicate flute and adorned with a mouth-watering slither of green apple, this was a fantastically original composition; the varying flavours coming through in bursts and leaving a sweet, full-bodied glow upon the palate – just divine. I think in the event of a return visit, I’d also be inclined to sample 'Daisy's Dream' (£6.50) which muddles Harveys Bristol Cream with Martin Millers gin, lemon juice, egg white, rhubarb bitters and Fraise de Bois – a unique combination I'm sure you'll agree and, utilising that signature spirit to perfection!
Onto the fare and supporting the unmistakable Spanish undercurrent, the menu consists entirely of Tapas which has been reasonably priced between two and five pounds a plate. The BFF and I made six (rather carb-heavy) selections between us which were served in stages so to compliment each other and the drinks that we had ordered. Proving uncomplicated yet fresh and tasty, not to mention thoughtfully presented, adequately portioned and prepared using ingredients carefully sourced in order to provide a top-notch dining experience, it's fair to say that we were suitably impressed. Starting with a shallow bowl of plump, juicy olives which had been marinated in oil, the BFF and I began our descent into a comfort-food coma - the two full dishes of patatas bravas that came next; slathered in a sun-ripened tomato sauce, aiding this process with their satisfying warmth. The ham croquettes had been paired with a punchy aioli dip – the contrast of tastes and textures here alone proving an absolute delight. Meanwhile, the Artisan bread board made an entrance and although this was supplemented with a fusion of rich olive oil and balsamic vinegar, it was also just in time to mop up the flavoursome oil emanating from the Iberico chorizo which had been braised in red wine, herbs and garlic – hence, serious yum-factor*, (*a Greg Wallace term!) To follow, a range of bite-sized desserts and amongst them, a house sherry and fresh fruit trifle (£3.50) which, I'm told, is served in a martini glass; inspired! However, on this occasion, the BFF and I managed to resist, opting instead for our bill and the creamy twang of the Liqueur chocolates that accompanied it...
|Carb Indulgence - No. 1!|
|Carb Indulgence - No. 2!|
In conclusion, this is an establishment offering a touch of pizazz to Bristol’s drinking culture and there is undoubtedly the potential for Harveys Cellars to refine its identity so to secure its status as one of the City’s unequalled hotspots. I love the Mediterranean tradition of accompanying a tipple or two with a selection of tapas-style munchibles – a concept which has been optimised here given the ample array of affordable dishes which are of an exceptionable standard. However, whilst the fare was appropriately balanced in terms of quality versus quantity, there was rather a lot going on in regards to the drinks menu and thus, perhaps the focus should have remained on Harveys Bristol Cream (and its sherry-related counterparts) – utilising the expertise of the bar staff with a proviso whereby favourites can be accommodated, but only upon request. This would eradicate the danger of bombarding its clientèle with the option of drink after drink…which may in turn inadvertently encourage those who wouldn't typically venture into the unknown, to try something a little off the beaten track, (sherry converts even!) Furthermore, you might say that I was a little disheartened by the rather insipid nature of the restaurant and yet, the music-room, with its capacity for live entertainment and close-knit cosiness, made up for this and then some! In fact, upon my return visit (of which I am sure), I will be nestled between the localised art work and the melange of memorabilia with a well-earned sherry-based cocktail in-hand; basking in the glory of my home-town amidst what is essentially a tribute to a fundamental part of its unequivocally animated history.
|Chocolates of the Harveys Bristol Cream variety...What else?!|
And now for the second opinion…
The BFF gave Harveys Cellars a rating of 8/10 and in three words, described the venue's overall ambiance' as 'Spain meets Bristol'.