You know how they says dogs are not just for Christmas? Well, a strange comparison I know, but neither is Harry’s. It really is for every occasion.
Situated down Longbrook Street, just a few minutes walk from the hustle and bustle of Exeter’s high street, Harry’s has been doing its thing since 1993; a family owned and run by the Pounds family since its inception, this independent restaurant is one of the must go-to venues even now, 25 years on.
“Harry’s Restaurant sits within an iconic gothic style building that dates back to 1883. Originally designed by architect Robert Medley Fulford, and brick built more than a century ago, the building was constructed for an English architect and sculptor by the name of Harry Hems.
Chef proprietor Samantha Pounds, who took over the running of the business from her parents, is now at the helm. All four of her daughters work alongside her, as well as an inseparable team that has been working together for years!”
So what is it they are doing right to survive the ups and downs that recession, increased competition and various other aspects that the industry and city has thrown at them?
I had heard for a long time how great Harry’s was, but it wasn’t until August last year that I paid my first visit. Since then I have been a further 3 times. My visits have consisted of one as date night, another I attended one of their special events to celebrate Harry Hems in aid of charity, I’ve been invited to road test everything (yes everything!) when the new Autumn/Winter menu was being released end of 2017 and I’ve been for a ladies evening out during February 2018 as well.
I recall initially thinking that the menu had some fairly ‘everyday’ menu items from quite a mix of cuisines and influences – Italian, British, American and even a dedicated Mexican section. I wandered why this attracted so many new and returning customers. This is mainly because, with a husband as a chef, we go out for things we can’t or don’t make at home, but what I now know is that Harry’s doesn’t just makes everyone’s ‘everyday’ favourites, but what they do is treat great food with passion and style, encouraging you to eat out, not just on a special night, but any day for any occasion.
On our couples night out, I was reminded of what it was like to eat out before we were parents; we had enjoyed many outings in a great eatery without a care in the world, enjoying tasty, hearty food, a lovely atmosphere, attentive service where nothing was too much trouble. Working in hospitality up to 2004, we used to love being looked after for a change when we had our days off after working the 80 hour week serving everyone else; I feel I have found such a place again. A classic restaurant with the right traits; ambience, attentive service without being over the top or too professional, serving food people want to eat and filling their bellies for a great price. Where you leave feeling your time and money were really well spent – an establishment where the customer is king. If a menu item isn’t popular, they revise it, if it is then it stays. No egos, trends or whims here.
With plenty of local suppliers being supported by their culinary efforts, they proudly display these for all to see. I’m no wine connoisseur but I knew a wine I had was just a little too plain for me and so I asked for a suggestion of something with a little more to it – what was handed to me was a delightful white rioja; a first for me but now an absolute favourite. They sussed me out and picked well. Their cocktails are fantastic too I might add.
Food enjoyed during date night included crab and brioche starter, and mains of surf and turf and a special of lobster roll. All the food was well executed, full of flavour and the steaks are something reminiscent of how the French do steak – sublimely covered in garlic butter! It certainly induces very agreeable yummy noises as well as food memories!
For dessert we indulged in an orange and polenta cake and hot chocolate fudge brownies. The polenta cake was a great finish to the meal for my husband who generally doesn’t indulge in sweet finishes to dinner, and it was incredibly light, whilst the brownie was as you would want and expect – a chocoholics dream.
At the tasting session we were delighted to be involved with some other local bloggers, to road test the Autumn/Winter menu. A dream-like evening where all the new dishes were cooked and passed round the table for enjoyment, commentary and occasional tug of war if one dish was preferred by one end of the table. Food was vibrant, fresh and full of flavour and the variety of choice was satisfying.
I particularly enjoyed the beef carpaccio, butternut squash risotto and the epic chateaubriand to share. Not pictured, the dessert of Harry’s infamous skillet pan cookie and Harry’s heart attack were, well… attacked with gusto!
Ladies night included sharing of some starters of homemade tortilla chips with guacamole and popcorn shrimp. For the main event fajita, steak frites and hog and mac were the chosen ones. I ummed and ahhed over a few things, but the sweet, smokey and incredibly tender pulled pork and the indulgent macaroni cheese were a great choice. We were so full from chatting and grazing over a few fleeting hours, we didn’t have room for dessert.
Harry’s serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and has space to cater for a party or business event if required. With its twinkly indoor lights creating a warm and friendly atmosphere, this really is the venue for all events and times of the day, with two or twenty of you.
If you haven’t been yet, you must go, but do book! Sadly, on a busy weekday or weekend they have to turn people away due to being fully booked, although we witnessed their support of other independents as they suggested some alternative indie places for these sad hungry diners to go to.
All I can say is – hooray for Harry’s!
86 Longbrook Street