I can imagine re-launching an establishment is a tough old job, let alone one that is just shy of being 200 years old (1826) and positioned in the affluent area of Marylebone. To see for myself I visited The Harcourt one Thursday evening to find out whether the newly re-opened restaurant still celebrates its Scandinavian heritage and if it has won over not just Marylebone’s finest but also London’s masses.
The grade II listed Georgian townhouse stands out for its rich, dark wooden exterior which provides seamless transition from outside to in. Upon entering you are greeted by classic oak panelling, vintage looking leather and art filled walls. There are a number of uniquely characteristic and luxurious private dining rooms in which you can picture businessmen closing deals with single malt Swedish whisky in hand. The whole space feels intimate, almost as if a cosy English pub, yet retains the class and sophistication you expect from Marylebone.
Having thought this was the whole venue and about to happily occupy one of the inviting window seats we were surprised when the host asked if we would prefer to sit downstairs. We were welcomed by a naturally lit, second dining space leading into a plant filled conservatory. The ground floor has a charming, homely feel with striking light fixtures and copper tables. Here I could instantly imagine myself spending afternoons enjoying Fika (Swedish afternoon tea) or fine wines. Adorned with bold, abstract paintings whilst in-keeping the wooden ambiance of the floor above, I knew this was the room in which I wanted to spend the evening.
The Food and Drink
We first started with the cocktail list which was full of inviting, fruit infused combinations. I was immediately taken by the Chilli Cactus Margarita (Olmeca Altos Plata, Cactus Pimento) which added a new dimension to my favourite cocktail that I didn’t know I needed until now. We also tried the ‘Grandma Fashioned’ (Apple Pie Makers Mark, Sugar, Bitters blend) which delivered smooth flavours and added a twist to the time-old classic.
The seasonal menu is diverse and wanting to experience a Scandinavian journey we put our trust in the recommendations of the waitress. The House Gravadlax (Nordic Salmon dish) with pickled cucumber, quail eggs, apple and dill seduced our senses with beautiful presentation and a light, fresh taste. The Atlantic Sea Bream Poke with spring onion, soy, ginger, sesame seeds and coriander was deceivingly filling and well balanced despite the mix of diverse ingredients.
When ordering mains, the waitress insisted that if I hadn’t yet in my 25 years tried reindeer, now was the time. Although initially dubious (after all I was born in a country where reindeer are characters of Christmas tales, not a local dish) since the previous suggestions had exceeded expectations I gave a hesitant nod of approval. The dish was based around Swedish classics; Nordic Reindeer and lingonberry served with pearl barley and cabbage wrapped faggot. The tender and lean meat, served rare, was rich and came as the biggest surprise of the evening for us. Our second main was Crispy Pork Belly with red lentils, celeriac, mustard seeds and dulse seaweed. The unusual flavours faultlessly complemented the meat with the mustard seeds giving the plate a daring kick. A bottle of the Gruner Vetliner Franz Anton Meyer, an aromatic Austrian white, was the perfect companion to our mix of fish starters and meaty mains.
To finish we sampled a selection of mature cheeses from the renowned Spitalfields’ Androuet, an enticing dark chocolate mousse with liquorice crumbs and salted caramel accompanied by Moscato D’asti and the Jurancon Uroulat dessert wines which satisfyingly rounded off our indulgent evening.
When hearing I would be dining in Marylebone, you can’t blame a South London girl for fearing an evening of snobbery and subdued whispers over up-tight dining. But to my delight, The Harcourt shook off any stereotypical shackles cast by its location.
We immediately relaxed into the warm and stylish surroundings and although the restaurant was on the quiet side, any atmosphere lost through the lack of patrons went un-noticed due to the engaging and attentive staff members. Each one we conversed with was from sunnier European shores and embodied more of an East than West London vibe.
The Harcourt claim their signature stamp is their fun ambiance and after spending an evening in the charming establishment I couldn’t agree more. I left feeling as though I had enjoyed multiple experiences in one; the ingredients invited me into the heart of Scandinavian culinary traditions whilst the presentation of the food and lavish interior didn’t let me forget I was dining in the ever esteemed Marylebone.