A review by Muddy Stilettos Devon editor, Sharon Ryan.
If Mr Muddy could've dreamt up his ideal nosh destination, it would be this Exeter institution.
I can’t believe I’d never eaten at Exeter’s Harry’s until recently. It has one of those names that sounds as though it’s been around forever (and in fact it has, in restaurant terms, 25 years!), and so I felt as though I must have visited at some point. But nope, turns out this one has escaped my gluttonous tendencies for far too long. With no prior experience, I wanted Harry’s to be the image that I’d built it up to be. Just the name sounds as though it should be one of those vibrant, noisy, neighbourhood spots where you go for the familiarity. Super-happy then, to report that it delivered!
This buzzy restaurant has been run by the Pounds family since it opened in 1993. Today, its chef proprietor is Samantha and her four daughters all have roles in the business. It’s an all-day casual dining kind of place, where breakfast blends into brunch and long lunches eventually become atmospheric dinners. It’s a place to come for conversation and cocktails, too, although the food, billed as simple, honest and seasonal is the star.
Just down the road from John Lewis on Longbrook Street, you’ll spot the iconic Harry’s, housed in such a cool red-brick gothic-style building with, I later learned, an equally quirky history worth celebrating. It was built in 1883 for an English architect and sculptor called Harry Hems. His business? Ecclesiastical sculpture and church fittings and his workshop was called ‘Ye Luckie Horseshoe Studio’, after finding a horseshoe when he arrived in Exeter by train in 1866. You can still spot the horseshoe above the main entrance (before the cocktails get the better of you). So hence the name Harry’s and the reason why the restaurant still holds the annual Harry Hems Night (paying tribute to a man who gave lots to charity in his time).
Busy, super relaxed with a cheerful vibe about the place. Think high ceilings, rustic wooden tables, a bit like what gastro pubs aspire to be, yet many fail at. Me and Mr Muddy visited on a particularly grim Friday night, so the place looked extra twinkly and inviting from the driving rain outside. Although we’d chosen to eat early, the place was already busy, with a steady stream of people heading out back where there’s a private dining space (a group booking, presumably) suggesting that Harry’s knows how to handle parties, which is a good job, being a University city. I reckon this is a super-popular spot for multi-generational get-togethers since there’s something on the menu for all tastes.
There’s no denying that meat plays a big role in the menu, but it’s a huge offering (over 75 dishes), plus a specials board to peruse. The team have spent years nurturing relationships with local producers and suppliers and the menu’s definitely reflect that. It took me ages to decide what to have since it all sounded so naughty and tempting. Choose from a steak & grill section, salads, a burger menu and a mexican offering, as well as some classic main dishes, like Hog & Mac and Devon Crab Linguine. I also loved that the extensive drinks list included wine descriptions that tell you what dishes each bottle works best with. Helps alleviate some of the decision-making, at least.
Eventually, Mr Muddy went for slow cooked BBQ pork ribs which, happily, kept him content. I opted for pappardelle with pulled pork and pink peppercorns. Rich, comforting and exactly what the night required. Worth saying that, regardless of how busy it was, we felt unhurried and able to take our time devouring our selection, which is always nice.
Pudding was from another planet and that was without ordering the ‘Harry’s Heart Attack’. We were so full that we had to share (not the norm, here), so that we could try the legendary Harry’s skillet pan cookie, which is basically a warm, doughy cookie baked in a pan, topped with nutella, hazelnuts and ice cream. Good God – if you’ve a sweet tooth you’ll really want to save room for pud. LOVED. IT.
Really, really enjoyed the Harry’s experience. 25 years in the business? This one’s definitely sticking around.
Absolutely. The sheer selection and variety of easy dishes, from nacho’s to burgers will be like catnip for kids and that’s before they reach the pudding part. The service is really well geared towards families, too.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: family get-togethers, catch-ups with mates and those who love big portions, meaty classics and the sweet stuff!
Not for: Couples, perhaps, wanting somewhere more intimate and hushed to whisper declarations of love might struggle here. I’d save serious conversation for somewhere else, maybe.
££: Considering the generous portion sizes, really reasonable. Starters run from £5, burgers between £10 – £15 and other mains are largely between £14 – £15. At the other end of the scale, a chateaubriand for two people is £52.
Harry’s, 86 Longbrook Street, Exeter, EX4 6AP, Tel: 01392 202234. Open daily for breakfast from 9am, lunch from 12pm and dinner from 6pm.