The visit of a friend from back home for the weekend recently proved to be the catalyst to organising a girls’ night out at Harvey’s Cellars – somewhere that’s been on our ‘must try’ list since it opened a few months ago. Tucked away underground on Denmark Street, in the home of the former Harvey’s Restaurant, the venue was bought up in 2011 by local businessman Clinton McLeary who was keen to give the Harvey’s brand a permanent home in Bristol.
The entrance to the bar is flanked by two Harvey’s barrels, and we were somewhat surprised to be greeted by doormen when we arrived…but then again, it was a Saturday night.
Having never visited the restaurant when it was open, I was amazed by the size of the place. The steps down from street level lead to an art installation from the View Gallery in Hotwells on the right hand side, along with a beautiful feature created from backlit rows of blue glass Harvey’s bottles.
The live music room and VIP area, along with a mini museum dedicated to Harvey’s memorabilia, are accessed either through the gallery or the main dining area, which is where we ate on this occasion.
Customers can sit and drink at the bar in the middle of the room, or opt to book one of the tables to enjoy a selection of tapas.
Although fairly quiet when we arrived, Harvey’s soon livened up with the arrival of a 40th birthday party at the table behind us.
Having heard good things about the cocktails from another blogger, we decided that this was the perfect way to start our meal. It took us a while to decide, however – the cocktail menu is extensive, to say the least! The list spans ten pages of the drinks menu, consisting of almost 60 options – and that’s not including the numerous varieties of whisky or rum that you can use as the base for your Old Fashioned, or the many gin and vodka brands that can make up your Martini.
I think Harvey’s have missed a bit of a trick, if I’m honest, when it comes to the cocktail menu. Somewhat surprisingly for a sherry bar, the sherry-based cocktails don’t appear until page six of the menu, and the range of six Harvey’s sherries by the glass (£3 – £6) until page 14, making them somewhat difficult to find.
I eventually decided on a cocktail called ‘Bristol’s Bitter Truth’ (£6.50) – a punchy and satisfying combination of Harveys Bristol Cream, Kings Ginger, lemon, Peychaud’s and apple juice.
With a table of six, we had the perfect opportunity to try out a wide range of dishes from the tapas menu. This menu was a lot easier to digest than the drinks menu, with 19 savoury and 3 sweet dishes, along with a selection of three specials. Deep fried whitebait (£3.00) was crispy and served with a homemade aioli, and the sauteed prawns with garlic and chilli (£4.50) were juicy and the intense sauce eagerly mopped up with the contents of our artisan bread board (£3.00).
The piquillo peppers stuffed with cream cheese (£3.50) were sweet and a little spicy, and packed to the brim – a very generous portion. The ham croquettes (£3.75) were one of my highlights, the three breadcrumbed morsels stuffed with a rich white sauce and lovely salty ham.
Only two of the dishes we tried didn’t quite hit the spot: while the quails’ egg Scotch eggs with morcilla were a nice idea (and nicely presented, with the yolk of the egg still runny), we weren’t 100% convinced by the combination of the two. The patatas bravas were also a bit of a let down, but our table was full of compliments about the rest of the meal.
Harvey’s also has two sherry flight offerings available – set price menus encompassing both sherry and tapas – but we weren’t offered this when we visited. Maybe next time…
A great evening all in all: a fantastic atmosphere and good food at even better prices meant that we enjoyed a meal and a cocktail each for under £20 per head. For a venue that wants to celebrate all things Harvey’s, though, I was surprised that the brand wasn’t more strongly promoted.
Don’t get me wrong – the Harvey’s name features in the desserts list as well as the cocktail and spirits menus…it’s just not as prominent as we would have expected. With the sherry cocktails buried deep within a hefty tome of a drinks menu, and the lack of mention of the sherry flights by any of the staff on the night, we were a little bemused. Having said that, Harvey’s Cellars had only been open for a few months when we visited, so maybe things will change. With art, music, tapas, cocktails, a VIP area, a mini sherry museum, wine and private tasting nights, it’s certainly a venue that aims to please – we just hope that they’re not trying to do too much.
Find Harvey’s Cellars on the Bristol Bites Directory…