Italian food is as much of a British staple as a roast dinner and the choice of those restaurants here are as common as finding a pub. I like to separate them into the following three categories: shit (Bella Italia, Pizza Express etc), homely and bustling (Ciao Bella in Russel Square) and upscale and refined (Frescobaldi). Harry’s Bar on James Street, the newest addition to the growing London-based family, falls under the latter. My first taste of the atmospheric, sultry restaurant came as a press invite. These are always a bit tough because you’re bound to have a decent time if the host knows you’ll be paying them a visit. Even so, with its healthy price point and satiating yet elegant meals, I paid a visit to the venue twice in the same week. The second time was out of my own pocket and the experience was every bit as wonderful as the first.
For upscale-casual, Harry’s Bar feels cozy. Tables closely packed together, leather booths, mirrored walls and very dim lighting, which makes for some of the best ambience, and possibly one of the most perfect date restaurants in London. That is if you don’t mind having to talk a little louder when it gets busier. Cocktails are the best way to start off a meal here, their gin based signatures don’t disappoint. The lime and mint sgroppino (£9) is a refreshing, zesty blend of prosecco, limoncello and sorbet. If you’ve ever been to the Amalfi Coast, this is what you’d imagine it to taste like. The Rosebud Spritz (£9.50) is another great choice of tipple, floral and not too sweet, it makes you want to wander a manicured Italian garden for hours. But the closest thing we have here is a few tube stops away at Lancaster Gate.
Like any restaurant, this has a few must-try dishes. Burrata (£9.95) is a popular choice here and for cheese lovers, it doesn’t disappoint. Tuna crudo (£9.95) is fine tuned as flavourful, luscious carpaccio laden with a rich lemon drizzling and pistachio crunch. Pizza is a strong contender, where the dough is proved for three days, and the result is a crispy, light crust. I know everyone has their preferences when it comes to texture, but this is undeniably addictive. The linguine vongole (£16.50) comes heavily recommended and if there’s one carb-loaded dish I don’t mind spending calories on, it’s a good mix of parsley, white wine and clams entangled in a mass of pasta. Harry’s Bar uses butter instead of olive oil – to each their own. It didn’t change my life but it was worth returning for, especially when the same dish is out there for £22 at Bocconcino. My first choice was the lobster risotto (£29.95), which is a fantastic dish: chewy rice in a fragrant creamy sauce studded with juicy pink bits of lobster. Comfort food for foodies.
It’s hard for me to leave any Italian restaurant without sampling their tiramisu (£9.95). It is the dessert of my childhood. There is nothing more delightful than the warm tang of the liquor, the sweet bitterness of the coffee, the density as your spoon curls through thick cream into light sponge. And of course, the heavy dusting of cocoa powder on top. Harry’s Bar does a wonderful version that leans towards sweet and heavy, using mascarpone cheese, for those who prefer that weighting. They’re also famed for Harry’s Toadstool (£8.50), a whimsical fairytale creation of white chocolate, raspberry and pistachio, packaged just as the name would suggest. If that doesn’t leave you with a smile on your face, very little will.
30-34 James Street,