Harry’s Bar: La dolce vita, London style

Say Harry’s Bar to most foodies or well-travelled tourists and the immediate response would be ‘Venice.’ Such is its fame that the Italian Ministry for Cultural Affairs declared the Venetian venue a national landmark in 2001. Part of going to Venice is saying you’ve been there, but now you don’t even need to. For a pleasingly authentic experience with significantly fewer tourists and a much more reasonably priced menu, central London now has an outpost of Harry’s. The integrity of the concept/brand has been thoughtfully preserved. Similar to its siblings elsewhere around the globe, Harry’s in London exudes old school charm. After navigating the slightly claustrophobic entrance to the restaurant, diners get to witness a 1950s take on la dolce vita. The dining room is a joy to behold: think wood panelling, some thoughtful positioning of mirrors and lovely deep brown leather banquettes into which it is too easy to sink. Situating the venue on James Street (right by Selfridges) is also a masterstroke since the whole ethos behind Harry’s is antithetical to the nearby predominantly chain venues. My dining comrade for a recent lunchtime visit also raved to me how good Harry’s is for breakfast and my sense after our experience is that, similar to the Wolseley, it really doesn’t matter what time of the day you visit Harry’s. The culinary angle – which works well in the current environment of geopolitical uncertainty where many restaurants seek to be the next new thing – is resolutely about old school Italian classics. There’s the likes of melon and prosciutto to start or pappardelle with Bolognese as a main, but there are also other options for the more adventurous. I began with a beautifully presented dish of courgette flowers (see photo – and check the crockery too). Even if the batter was somewhat greasy, the light and refreshing salad – which included a lovely lemon ricotta – offset this. There was no fault with my main, a competently grilled tuna steak served with an inspired combination of cannellini beans, olives and a basil salsa. Most memorable perhaps was the finishing touch: paired with our coffees came a plate of what looked like olives, but enhanced: stuffed with almonds and dipped in chocolate – just superb. Even if you are not wowed by Harry’s, you will certainly be comforted.