Recently, I spent an evening at Harvey Nichols, part of the Mailbox complex. One half of the experience was great – the other was pretty unmemorable.
I’m part of a supper club, and once a month we meet up for dinner at a random location. This time it was the restaurant within the Harvey Nichols food and drink department – I’ve been here before for afternoon tea and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Unfortunately, the meal and service we had on this occasion was somewhat… underwhelming.
The bistro itself is modern and attractive with a view of the open kitchen and chefs at work. However, for some reason we were seated in the dingy side room off the main floor that has all the charm of a potato, so we didn’t get to enjoy any of that. With a reasonably priced set menu available the group consensus was to try that over the a la carte. Just £18 gives you two courses and a cocktail – upgrade to £22 for three courses. There’s no doubt that’s a good deal when you consider most cocktails at HN will set you back £9 plus.
Two cocktails were available – my Paloma was a refreshing silver tequila based long cocktail with fresh grapefruit juice. Others found this too strong, but that’s how I like my booze. The vodka alternative (I had a sip of someone else’s) was incredibly sweet and far too heavy on the vanilla flavour. There was a long wait between ordering the drinks and receiving them – this would be the annoying theme for the next 2 hours.
Starters arrived 45 minutes later, which seemed ridiculous being that there was only a handful of diners in the main room. I was immediately jealous of the breaded ham hock with piccalilli, although my salmon ballotine was a decent size and looked pretty enough. While the poached fish tasted fine it lacked seasoning and was actually quite dry. The red cabbage paste below the fish added very little in terms of flavour or moisture and I found the whole dish a bit boring.
Another 45 minutes passed between our starters being cleared and mains arriving. By this point I’d already decided I was going to skip dessert for fear of having to book a hotel room for the night. My haddock (salmon was off, despite being available for the starter) fishcake looked fairly standard and tasted nice enough, with the tangy mustard sauce making it all a bit more interesting. The poached egg was a bit watery inside, and again I wish I had my friend’s meaty alternative. The fishcake I had at Opus last month was better. The large glass of Sauvignon Blanc I ordered – 20 minutes before – also finally arrived, which was undeniably delicious but no longer necessary as I’d finished my meal. The timings throughout were, in the politest terms, notably slow – just under two hours for two courses (in an almost empty restaurant) seems a bit odd to me.
On the flip side, the wine tasting we attended in the bar before dinner was excellent. Over an hour we tried three wines (including a delicious Pinot Noir) and heard more about where they were from and how they were produced. As part of this event you also get a hefty cheeseboard to share. This is available for free to anyone every Wednesday 7-8pm and you can book a space via the official website.
This is well worth trying and I’d go again, but I wouldn’t bother with dinner afterwards. I’m not sure if it was the fact that the winter menu was coming to an end, or that a midweek visit was the wrong call, but it all felt a bit lacklustre and lazy to me.
Harvey Nichols Restaurant, Mailbox, 65 Wharfside Street, Birmingham, B1 1RE
Disclosure: We paid in full for the meal. The wine tasting is free – this is available to anyone that books online. All words and photos are mine.