It took a while to get off the ground but Harbor House is quietly asserting itself as one of Bristol’s best-kept dining secrets. It also happens to boast one of the city’s finest alfresco spots – ideal for anybody looking for lunch in the sun this bank holiday weekend.
A Grade II-listed former boathouse designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel when he was building the Clifton Suspension Bridge, this harbourside venue was previously the Severnshed restaurant and bar. It was also where Banksy had his first hometown exhibition in early 2000 – anybody lucky enough to buy the artwork on sale must be sitting on a fortune now.
With its comfortable armchairs, rugs and plants, the space now has an almost country pub look to it. There’s even a dartboard should you fancy throwing a few arrows before your meal.
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The food side of things is overseen by executive chef Ross Gibbens, who previously ran Bristol restaurant Wellbourne and worked in Michelin-starred London restaurants before that. He is joined by Jose Perez (another chef with a stellar CV in high profile London kitchens) and head chef Matt Winfield.
Since it opened in August 2020 and dealt with the uncertainty and upheaval of two lockdowns, Harbor House has fine-tuned its menu in keeping with its waterfront position. The latest addition is an expanded choice of fish and seafood, which is delivered from Cornwall every day.
It’s not all fish, though. For £ 15, there is an excellent burger and fries on offer, made with 100% Hereford beef and served with cheese, bacon, homemade burger sauce, lettuce, tomato and pickle.
Seasonal dishes include a vegan-friendly gnocchi with wild garlic pesto (£ 12) and a 14oz grilled Barnsley chop with minted Jersey Royals, wilted spinach and chimichurri for £ 22. One of the signature dishes is chicken schnitzel, fried egg, sauerkraut with salad and fries – a serious portion for £ 14.
Portion sizes are generous here. Tempting as snacks such as ‘posh’ onion rings and tartare sauce (£ 5) and pigs in blankets with a honey and mustard glaze (£ 6) might be, past experience told me to go straight to the starter for fear of overdoing it so early in the evening.
I’m glad I did as both starter and main course were filling enough. St Mawes smoked haddock kedgeree arancini with house salad cream (£ 6 for three) set a high bar for the rest of the meal.
The golden orbs had the correct balance between flaky, smoky fish and rice. The salad cream was as good as any you’ll find outside a Heinz bottle, if not better.
Sticking with a similar Cornish theme, a main course of Looe day-boat pollock fish cake (£ 14) was a golden puck of good quality white fish and mashed potato with assistive seasoning. It was served with a perfectly cooked poached egg, sweet and gently spicy grain mustard sauce and a nest of peppery watercress.
A deceptively simple dish, it was also one that requires an experienced hand and that all-important quality of knowing when to stop – less is more, and all that. It was essentially a modern British brasserie classic transported to a Bristol quayside.
To finish, a lemon tart (£ 7) boasting crisp, buttery pastry and a wobbly, zesty filling was paired with a sharp and fruity raspberry sorbet. Again, a timeless classic done well.
With lunchtime sandwiches, afternoon teas and a bar where you can simply pop in for a pint or glass of wine and lounge on sofas, Harbor House is a venue that has a lot going for it. It’s almost a pub, hotel bar, private members’ club and restaurant all rolled into one – I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Harbor House, The Grove, Bristol, BS1 4RB. Tel: 0117 9251212.
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