Underrated joints: Second Floor Restaurant
by Jess Carter
27 August 2019
Hidden in plain sight among the ever-buzzing urban shopping quarter of central Bristol are a golden dining room and refined, skilled cooking
You’re suspended somewhere between the city and the sky in the dining room of the Second Floor Restaurant, housed inside Harvey Nichols, the full-length windows affording views of the clouds overhead and the concrete below.
It’s all decadent gold and peach in here – it feels almost as if you’re inside a glass of Champagne, E notes, as we survey the surroundings. There’s something rather ’80s about it, too – thanks to that colour palate as well as the cool retro-style chairs and metallic banquettes – but ’80s of the nostalgic, glam kind as opposed to the what-were-we-thinking sort.
I’ve been here a couple of times before, so am feeling some real anticipation; Leiths-trained executive head chef Louise McCrimmon has been heading up the kitchen here since the restaurant’s inception in 2008 and her food is delicate, fresh and full of well-balanced harmonies of flavour and texture.
First, a bundle of delicate handpicked Cornish crab meat (£9) comes arranged on a disc of silky avocado alongside dollops of orange mango purée. The lime and coriander dressing and tiny flecks of chilli boost the freshness and bolster the flavours, while tiny, crisp charcoal-coloured tacos offer their services in scooping mouthfuls of it up. Finished with micro coriander leaves, it’s a really thoughtful – not to mention attractive – starter.
E settles on the tortellini to start (£8.50). The delicate and neatly folded pasta parcels are stuffed with spinach and goat’s cheese and served with plump orange tomatoes. A fragrant consommé is poured over them in front of us at the table, intensifying the fresh summer flavours.
An assembly of tempura broccoli (greens still count if they’re battered, right?), bok choy and peanut sambal is next, dressed with a perfectly pitched chilli sauce (from the vegetarian set menu; three courses for £22). This dish was faultless on every level, E concluded, with each mouthful distinct from the previous one, the savoury, salty, sweet and fiery characteristics alternating in prominence.
The organic Stream Farm-raised chicken main (£24) involves three different preparations of the bird. The breast is rolled and sliced into pearly white discs of tender meat, while a wing is given a deliciously sticky-sweet glaze, and there’s a brittle shard of crunchy skin to get my teeth into as well. Underneath the meat is a heap of lush springtime greenery – spinach, fresh peas and beans, and long, slim asparagus spears. A tarragon sauce pools around that lot, light enough to not overpower the mild, fresh flavours, but rich enough to add another dimension. I could have done with more of it, truth be told.
On the side – and if you’re foregoing starters you may well want something to bolster your mains – are whole roast new potatoes (£4) with a caramelised onion and sherry topping that I would quite like jarred up for my own personal use, please.
Call me the fun police, but I’m usually a bit of a stickler for not having two of the same dishes on the table when I go out to eat. When you put the words ‘peanut’, ‘butter’ and ‘parfait’ together on a menu, though, are there any other options to consider? Turning my back on my principles (which is, you’ll be unsurprised to learn, a regular occurrence), I echo E’s selection in a heartbeat.
And I regret nothing. The smooth, cold parfait (£7) is sandwiched between two peanut shortbread biscuits for the classiest version of an ice cream sandwich going. The shortbread was just crumbly enough to relent under a spoon (who am I kidding? I mean teeth – I picked this bad boy up with my hands and bit straight into it like I knew it wanted me to), meaning the filling wasn’t forced out the sides and the stack held together easily. The poor sphere of chocolate mousse that it came with was rather neglected, to be honest, although it was silky and rich and I’m sure would be the star of the dish for someone else.
We watch as the sky changes from grey and stormy to blue and sunny then back again – weather that’s as telling of the summer season as our thoughtfully composed dishes. Harvey Nichols’ restaurant isn’t somewhere just for shoppers to refuel, it deserves to be a destination in its own right – especially considering the inviting price tag on the set menu, which offers three courses for £22. In keeping with the high standards of the a la carte, it’s a bit of a steal – only one you won’t get chased out of the department store for.
Second Floor Restaurant, Harvey Nichols, 27 Philadelphia Street, Bristol BS1 3BZ; 0117 916 8898