What? The trend for Scandinavian dining is showing no signs of slowing down. Over in Marylebone, The Harcourt has been doing things this way for a while with a special ‘Fika’ menu served alongside the a la carte.
Where? 32 Harcourt Street, Marylebone, W1H 4HX, www.theharcourt.com
New? The Harcourt opened its doors a year ago on the former site of Grade II listed Scandi pub, The Harcourt Arms and has recently launched a new menu to celebrate the occasion.
On the Menu: A Modern European menu had more than just a nod to the Scandinavian heritage of the building; gravadlax, rye crusted mackerel and reindeer all feature, with hints in other dishes thanks to classically Nordic ingredients like lingonberries, pickled cucumber and Swedish mustard. The Swedish tradition of Fika also gets its own menu – coffees and teas are served alongside a selection of pastries and snacks as a more laid-back alternative to our afternoon tea.
First Impressions: The Harcourt is positioned on an elegant Marylebone street, nestled away in the corner amongst houses you could only really ever dream of living in. The heritage of the building is clear (the site has been a pub since 1826) although sensitively refurbished into a modern, design-conscious restaurant and bar. It was practically deserted when we arrived (7pm on a Wednesday evening) but by the time we left it was packed with everyone from intimate business dinners to more rowdy group on work drinks who had moved on to the shots. By this point, the music had been up more than just a notch. The vibe was full on club and we were right under a speaker so the ambience left us a little confused.
The Look: Once a pub always a pub. Ok, this isn’t strictly speaking true (The Harcourt describes itself as a ‘neighbourhood restaurant’) but in terms of interior, it bears some truth. Wooden panelled walls are adorned with contemporary artwork available to purchase – a neon sign reading ‘I still love you Mr President’ hangs in a cosy nook, whilst a worn parquet floor hints at the history of the room – if only the floors could talk. Tables are intimately laid out and private areas offer space for a (potentially rowdy) evening. Although the bar is in front of you as you walk in, the venue isn’t really a place just for a drink. You could perch at the bar but, once the tables fill up, you might end up feeling like you’re looking down over everyone eating and end up requesting a table anyway.
What We Ate: Our Scandi dining experience began with Maldon rock oysters and some house rye bread which was rich and nutty and tasted almost like Christmas cake. Steak tartare and slow-cooked duck egg were each well seasoned and well presented, with the duck eggs’ huge yolk satisfyingly runny as it oozed over potato ‘straws’ and crispy leeks. Skipping Nordic reindeer and Swedish meatballs, I opted for line-caught ‘skrei’ cod – a sustainably-caught, lean, Norwegian Arctic cod – which sat atop wilted spinach, roasted cauliflower and a generous smear of curry sauce. Curry isn’t the first thing I think of when I think Nordic but it worked well with the cauliflower and added depth to the cod which itself was perfectly cooked and crispy-skinned. My guest sought comfort in potato and sage dumplings which was more like gnocchi than I was expecting, but satisfyingly pillowy, and accompanied by pumpkin, wild mushrooms and slightly soggy scorched lettuce.
Pudding was a sophisticated vanilla panna cotta, beautifully presented with slices of clementine, a shortbread crumble and dots of meringue. A satisfying end to a good meal.
What We Drank: Intentions of not drinking mid-week failed almost the minute we sat down and were brought an avocado-based Mezcal cocktail which was equal parts intriguing as it was refreshing. New to the menu, it showed the bar’s flair at making cocktails, accompanying the likes of ‘The Swedish Maccloud’ and ‘Berry Pine’ as well as various authentic whiskeys, vodkas and akvavit. Peppermint tea concluded our meal, served in an Instagram-worthy teapot adorned with an Adam and Eve-esque couple.
Go With: The Harcourt has a lovely neighbourhood feel to it but whilst we can’t all call W1 home, we can count The Harcourt as a would-be local favourite haunt.
Final Word: Offering a tempting insight into Nordic cuisine, The Harcourt is a great dining destination for when you want a low-key meal with good service and cosy surroundings. Visit mid-afternoon for Fika and get your camera at the ready for when those teapots come out or plan your next birthday/business dinner in one of the private dining rooms.