Scandinavia has arrived in Marylebone Village. The smart, but homely vision of Andrew Endean and designer Samantha Palmer opened its front doors earlier this year, transforming two gorgeous grade-two-listed buildings into Nordic restaurant, The Harcourt. Not that you’d be able to identify the Scandi influence from the outside: the Harcourt is by all appearances a very pretty, smart country-style pub.
Yet exploration through the maze of rooms, unravel something more. A narrow passage from the wood-paneled walls of the Oak room, where the main bar resides, leads you into a much brighter, modern space filled with potted palms, contemporary artworks, Moroccan style light fixtures and stylish mis-matched furniture; the centre piece being a long, medieval feast style table and benches. You could imagine sitting here late into the night with overflowing goblets of wine. There’s a small conservatory area too, for more subdued diners or a selection of private dinning rooms.
We began our meal, perhaps a little unconventionally, with afternoon tea or “fika” as its called in Scandinavia. Being our “starter”, we swapped Grannies Garden tea (no we’re not sure what that is either) for cocktails. Since choosing an alcoholic aperitif from tea stained pages of speakeasy inspired concoctions is usually more stressful than it is enjoyable, we were grateful for the succinct, intriguing menu. After getting the waitress to patiently explain almost every ingredient on the list, we opted for the Lavamble (Icleandic vodka, Reyka infused with lavender and blackberries) and the Freudian Slip (a kind of Nordic gin like spirit, Akvavit mixed with elderflower cordial, lychees and lemon juice, topped off with prosecco). Both arrived promptly in heavy crystal glasses with rustic garnishes (presentation is something the Harcourt excels at) and were delightfully refreshing.
The fika was also a triumph. The pickled herring was light and sweet on thin pieces of rye bread; the Swedish, toast skagen (prawns on bread) rich and filling; and the cinnamon buns sturdy and dense. On an average evening, that alone would be more than enough to sustain you, but we had time – the Harcourt’s the kind of place you’re more and more reluctant to leave.
For our main meal we moved from an outside table into the relaxing interiors of the Garden Room. The dinner menu is less overtly Nordic (reindeer with ligonberry being the exception), but we’d already had our culinary adventure and were quite pleased at the prospect of hearty staples. The homemade tagliatelle with fresh crab, tomato, garlic and chilli came with a spice warning that slightly disappointed on the first bite, but too much spice would smother a dish like this, which stands up very well on its own with the freshest of fresh ingredients.
You can really taste that the pasta’s homemade in the kitchen (not in Waitrose or the Scandi equivalent) and the crab (presumably plucked from nearby seas) serving is suitably lavish. The sirloin steak, on the other hand, we ordered medium rare and came practically mooing, but lashings of rich peppercorn sauce and triple cooked chips, as they so often do, saved the day.
On the whole though, The Harcourt is enchanting. The atmosphere relaxed and unpretentious, the food delicious and the service slick. Plus with a new express lunch menu, you can take your laptop, find a dark corner and spend the day sampling the excitingly exotic whiskey menu.
Words by Millie Walton