Renowned for its designer fashion and luxury produce, Harvey Nichols has another string to its bow in the shape of a seriously stylish Birmingham restaurant, as Amy Norbury discovers
It’s the first port of call if you’re after a glamorous new outfit, a pair of designer heels, or if you want to stock up on the best beauty products in the business. But Harvey Nichols may not immediately spring to mind when it comes to fine dining – or any dining, for that matter.
And that’s something which needs putting right, as we discovered when J’AIME were invited along to try out the new autumn menu at the Harvey Nichols Restaurant in Birmingham’s Mailbox.
Descend the sweeping staircase into the swanky bar – OK, you can walk in from straight from the beauty department but the staircase is the way to make an entrance – and you’re immediately struck by the opulence of the decor. It has a rather art deco feel, with sumptuous leather and velvet, gleaming gold and polished marble creating a seriously stylish setting – nothing less than you’d expect, though, from a store whose name has become a byword for luxury.
And that feeling of understated elegance continues as you venture into the restaurant itself. It really has got to be one of the city’s most stylish eateries.
The focal point of the restaurant is the huge open kitchen, complete with seating where diners can watch the chefs at work. It’s a vote of confidence in the quality of the cuisine on offer, and adds a whole heap of theatre to proceedings for those lucky enough to score a front row seat.
On the Friday evening of our visit, the restaurant was a little on the quiet side so we were offered our pick of tables by our welcoming waiter, opting for the remaining leather-clad banquette – perfect for a cosy tête-à-tête.
I’d been given the heads-up about the cocktail list just the night before by a friend who described it as one of the best places for cocktails in the city, so couldn’t resist a cheeky aperitif. As well as classic cocktails, there are some fabulous-sounding in-house concoctions. I opted for the current cocktail of the month – the Chin Chin, £11, which combines Jam Jar gin with strawberry and Champagne jam and Harvey Nichols Champagne syrup to splendid effect.
I’d already spied the cocktail I guessed my husband would plump for, and he concurred. The Astoria, £12, is a heady combination of Woodford Reserve bourbon, fresh passion fruit, passion fruit syrup and orange bitters. Long and refreshing, with a sharpness from the passion fruit playing nicely against the smokey bourbon and sweet orange, it was a delightfully decadent drink.
To accompany the meal we also ordered a bottle of Harvey Nichols Rouge, £22, a medium-bodied, fruit-driven easy sipper from the Ollieux Romanis winery in Corbières. The combination of carignan, grenache, syrah and merlot creates a well-balanced red which brings juicy, dark fruits and an underlying smokiness.
Having taken a sneaky peek at the menu online beforehand – it’s always nice to whet the appetite in advance, I find – we were swift in making our final decisions. The newly-launched autumn menu showcases some of the best seasonal flavours, with produce locally-sourced as far as possible.
To start, I opted for a perennial favourite – mussels steamed with shallots, garlic, white wine and a touch of cream, £8. The succulent mussels were perfectly cooked, in a liquor that was rich and deeply satisfying.
And if the mussels were a tantalising start, then my husband’s creamed truffle tart with pickled girolles, £8, was nothing short of sublime. The delicate tart, with its impossibly thin and wonderfully crisp pastry, was a thing of culinary beauty. The truffle filling was immensely flavourful, with the generous truffle racing through, and the slightly sweet pickled girolles providing a lovely contrast to the creaminess.
Onto the main event, and for me it had to be the Barbary duck breast with mango, carrot puree and coriander oil, £15, while my husband stuck to his guns with fillet steak – served blue – with skinny fries, slow-roasted onion and tomato, £32.
The duck was meltingly tender, cut into thick slices and still pink in the middle, just how I like it. The rich gamey flavour perfectly complemented the sweet carrot puree, and even sweeter mango disks, which added a refreshing bite to the dish.
My husband’s steak, although more rare than blue, was beautifully seasoned and simply charred to bring out the wonderful flavours of the meat – when a steak is that good, simple treatment is best I think!
Side portions of Pink Fir potatoes, £4, and green beans with shallots, £4, were worthy accompaniments – the green beans were particularly moreish.
The dessert menu offers tempting treats such as an autumnal take of Eton Mess and a sticky treacle tart, but a couple of dishes immediately stood out for us – and what delights they were.
My husband’s apple tarte Tatin was finely constructed with thin slivers of pastry and apple soaked in rich caramel and served with a sweet vanilla mascarpone. Delicious as it was, my baked hazelnut cheesecake with popcorn ice cream and blackberry compote just edged it. Beautifully presented, this was a dessert as artistic as it was mouth-watering. Sweet cheesecake infused with nuttiness and buttery popcorn were adorned with succulent, sharp seasonal berries, while a sesame and hazelnut crumble added a layer of texture. It was divine, and the perfect end to an exquisite dining experience.
With a menu which hits the culinary high notes, superb cocktail concoctions and exceptional service, the Harvey Nichols restaurant really deserves to be one of the hottest spots in town. As it is, it’s a hidden gem which is sure to delight any discerning diner. And those in the know can be suitably smug about discovering one of the city’s culinary treasures.