86 Longbrook St, Exeter EX4 6AP Tel: 01392 202234 Twitter:@HarrysExeter
Its not often that I get to review a restaurant that has such a legacy. Whilst at work on the day of the review a couple of conversations I had with colleagues went along the lines of
“What are you doing tonight?”
“Going to Harry’s for something to eat…”
“Oh I love Harry’s, its really nice, you’ll like it”
The number of times I’ve had this sort of conversation is uncountable, pretty much because I don’t count the number of times I’ve talked about a restaurant as I am not that particular about reoccurring topics of conversation. But also because I have never once heard a bad thing about this place. They have a new summer menu which we were invited along to have a look at, and experience the legend that is Harry’s Restaurant.
Harry’s Restaurant has been in the same family for the last 21 years, it is in my mind, one of the longest serving independent family-run restaurants in Exeter, I might be wrong (correct me in the comments) and has been housed in the iconic red brick building which is number 86 Longbrook Street for that time. Having been many things in its past, its history is a blog post in itself, but here is a digested version.
86 Longbrook Street was purpose built for a successful businessman named Harry Hems, who ran a church fitting business from the premises. Hems had made a name for himself with his carvings and ornamentation which had gained international reputation for its quality. The workshop was built in the 1880s and designed by R Medley Fulford. It remained a workshop until 1938 when his son Wilfred and business partner retired. It subsequently became a leather workshop, wine-sellers and later Harry’s Restaurant in the nineties. For a full history head to Exeter Memories.
A few peeps who read this blog will remember Harry’s Grill & Bar behind Boots. Not long ago Harry’s moved out (it has now been turned in to Circa 1924) and brought the grill menu down the road to 86 Longbrook Street. Some of the grill items that were served are now available on the menu at Harry’s.
As the restaurant isn’t a purpose-built establishment, the layout is quite interesting. There are two sides to the restaurant floor, with the kitchen open to diners with only partition separating the action of the kitchen from the seating area. The door at the back leads to the toilets and the back room which the restaurant hires out to parties and larger gatherings, the walls adorned with collages of photos which make up the background of the menu.
Stepping through the door, we were greeted by Amy who looked after us with a smile and a lovely demeanour throughout the whole meal. We were lucky enough to have a window seat which gave us lots of light as we chomped away. The atmosphere was friendly and busy, it wasn’t overly loud but for a Wednesday evening it was still very bustling, it felt comfortably busy.
The new summer menu is an eclectic array of Modern British, Grill and Mexican items, all of which sound quite epic. There are a few items that are considered classics which are still there, and the one that considered almost legendary is the Harry’s Heartattack (chocolate brownies, marshmallows, chocolate and vanilla ice cream and peanut M&M’s, chocolate ﬂake, whipped cream and hot chocolate fudge sauce). There are some new items as well (Beef Bon Bons for instance).
We kicked off our meal with a Grapefruit Fizz (light and very nice) for Tori and a bottle of Harry’s Cider (£4.00) for myself. Nope, not produced by Harry’s Restaurant but actually by a farmer from Somerset. Currently Harry’s Restaurant is the only Exeter restaurant that is serving this lovely stuff.
It was Nachos for starters (refried beans, cheese, jalapeños, salsa & sour cream £5.50) and liking the sound of a new addition to the menu Tori went for Beef Bon Bons (balls of pulled beef, crispy coated and served with a horseradish sauce – £5.00). For someone who forgot that they don’t like horseradish, she did very well. The nachos were a good size, it was a basic starter but it makes me laugh how terribly some restaurants do Nachos, in my experience a good Nachos is often indicative of a good restaurant. And these were great…
The main courses were a lot harder to choose. There were quite a few amazing sounding items on the menu, which is lethal for someone as indecisive as me. Should there be a smaller menu? The balance between new dishes and classic Harry’s dishes has to be kept, and if you are a restaurant that has definitive favourites, what would be the point getting rid of them just for the sake of change? Despite the fact I have moaned about places with larger menus, this isn’t the largest menu I’ve had to read through, and although there is a lot of choice, it is not unwieldy. The menu is constructed to cater for a wide range of tastes, and it does this adequately.
Rather predictably I ended up having a burger, The Mothership sounded good (bacon, cheese, onion, tomato & dill pickle – £12) and Tori went for the Pulled Pork Burrito (sour cream, Mexican green rice, cheese, shredded lettuce, guacamole, salsa – £10). I had considered the Hangar Steak but felt my taste buds needed a grilled burgery thing but next time I go? It will have its moment.
The burger was fully loaded. The fries were fresh and the coleslaw was slaw-ey. I am not sure that is a word, but if it trends enough I am sure ‘slawey’ might get in to the OED.
As with previous burgers that come in the ‘fully loaded’ category, there is a certain amount of debate about how to actually fit in my mouth. I opted for the ‘take it apart’ method, which allowed me to see inside. Large tomato, lots of good ingredients stacked carefully. It was a good burger, and I felt it was good value considering the the fries came with it.
Tori’s burrito was packed full of filling, the sour cream, salsa and guacamole laid on the top was colourful in presentation. There was a lot of it, and as she takes ages to eat anything this was a good indicator that this portion was a generous one when considering portions from similar chain counterparts.
No matter what anyone says, there is ALWAYS space for dessert. The Harry’s Heartattack wasn’t going to be on our list today, as we were both quite full. But the great thing about Harry’s is that there are some really divine sounding desserts on the menu. Tori kicked off the final chapter of her meal off with a Hot Chocolate Fudge Brownie (vanilla ice cream, hot chocolate fudge sauce – £5.00) and for me it was the Affogato (vanilla ice cream, shot of Kahlua, single espresso £6.50)
After working out that I had to tip the Kahlua and the Espresso over the ice-cream, then promptly spilling half of the Espresso over the table, I managed to get it in my mouth without drawing too much attention. It was a lovely combination and a perfect end to a really good meal. Tori made satisfied noises from the other side of the table too, the Hot Chocolate Fudge Brownie a success with her, it literally melted.
Harry’s Restaurant is a legend in its own right. A family owned, independent restaurant which adds itself to the exclusive list of really good places to eat that I will return to in the near future. Exeter is blessed with some awesome independents, but they need our support especially with the growing competition from the chain restaurants of this world. In the spirit of independent reporting, my closing thoughts are this. When you have such a great restaurant, using scratch-made, local produce on your doorstep, why would you want to go to Jamie’s Italian?