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Restaurant Review: Harry’s Bar, James Street in London

There aren’t many parts of Oxford Street in autumn that can put you in mind of Venice on a summer’s day but the new Harry’s Bar is one of them. Just the swing of a Selfridges bag from London’s main retail thoroughfare lies the buzzy eating-and-drinking enclave of James Street and St. Christopher’s Place.

It’s home to the usual roundup of ‘causal dining’ chains such as Carluccio’s, Côte and Pizza Express, all of which do a perfectly respectable job of feeding the hungry masses in need of a quick refuel and respite from their Christmas shopping.

However, there’s now a new kid on the block with a more luxurious pedigree who is seriously upping the neighbourhood’s culinary credentials.

Harry’s Bar in James Street is at the heart of the West End

The original Harry’s Bar (actually more of a restaurant than a watering hole) on Venice’s Calle Vallaresso is famous, amongst other things, for being the birthplace of the Bellini.

This classic cocktail — a blend of sparkling wine and peach juice — was invented by head bartender Giuseppe Cipriani who named it after the pink colour of the toga worn by a saint in a 15th century painting by Giovanni Bellini.

It’s also where the raw hors d’oeuvre Carpaccio was first invented and it has been patronised by such glamorous patrons as Ernest Hemingway, Aristotle Onassis and, more recently, George Clooney.

On the evening I visited in early October a throng of fashionably dressed diners was enjoying the last of the Indian summer sunshine at the alfresco pavement tables.

The interior decor has a stylish 1950’s aesthetic

The smart green and white striped awning had been rolled back in concession to the unseasonably warm weather and the scene, if you squinted hard enough, could almost make you believe you were seated on the terrace of an upmarket Italian resort.

Inside, the decor is more traditionally British and almost clubby in feel with wood panelling and mirrors everywhere (including the ceiling) as well as brown leather banquettes filling the cosy 150-cover space.

Fans of the TV series ‘Mad Men’ will find plenty to love about the stylish 1950s “mid-century-modern” aesthetic. Like its sister, the Harry’s Bar members club in Mayfair’s South Audley Street, this restaurant is owned by Richard Caring who also owns The Ivy and Princess Diana’s old favourite, Le Caprice.

Meals can be taken at the cocktail bar

If you’re pressed for time or are dining alone, there’s an elegant cocktail bar where, as at Le Caprice itself, you can choose to eat your meal, served by the handsomely besuited bartenders and red-dressed waitresses.

As well as the Cicchetti (Venetian small plates) menu featuring ideal sharing fare like Zucchini Fritti and spicy N’duja Flatbread (from £3.50 to £6.95), there’s an extensive range of antipasti to choose from.

I opted for a starter-sized portion of Harry’s Tagliolini (£12.50) — the long cylindrical tubes being the ideal shaped pasta to hold the gorgeously decadent truffle, parmesan and cream sauce. The list of main courses was so long it took me two glasses of a rather fine Gavi de Gavi (£38) to fully peruse it.

Tagliolini is one of many tasty Italian dishes served at Harry’s Bar

It’s worth pointing out that there is also an extremely decent house wine available for £19.50 which is surprisingly good value for a central London restaurant as good as this.

In the end, I couldn’t decide between an exotic-sounding black squid ink Nero pizza with smoked salmon and dill sour cream (£17.50) or the Lobster Risotto with creamy carnaroli rice, slow-cooked leeks and fennel salad with Amalfi lemon and lobster dressing (£29.95)…so I had a small portion of each — for research purposes only, not just sheer gluttony, you understand.

The restaurant serves seasonal food throughout the day

Being in Venice (or at least imagining I was), I couldn’t leave without trying the Harry’s Bar version of that classic Italian dessert Tiramisu.

Their’s is the real deal with a dusting of Valrhona cocoa powder covering a deliciously creamy mascarpone and marsala egg mousse, laid on top of espresso and rum soaked savoiardi sponge biscuits…buonissimo!

And, at £7.95, like most of the temptations on offer here in refined and stylish surroundings, it’s an affordable slice of la dolce vita in the heart of the West End.

Address: 30-34 James Street, Marylebone, London W1U 1ER
Phone: 020 3971 9444

Photography credit – John Carey