You expect everything to be impeccable at Harvey Nichols and the Fourth Floor Cafe certainly delivers. It champions good local produce and this restaurant has a wider appeal than you may initially think.
There’s something odd yet strangely exciting about dining in a department store when the lights are off and all the customers and sales assistants have long departed. It feels somewhat special, like you’ve gained access to somewhere forbidden, some kind of adventure. Harvey Nichols is a stylish shop filled with beautiful objects so it feels very enticing.
As you navigate through the Victoria Quarter, up the elevator and meander past the food department, you’re eager to know if what is waiting for you will be slick and stylish too. The restaurant is just that. It’s modern, light and airy with large glass windows and a small veranda/balcony looking out over Leeds, decorated with trendy potted plants. It would be nicer if it was a little higher up so the panorama allowed you to see a little further afield, to the river perhaps, but a plus to have any view at all on a pleasant evening.
There’s a small bar and in keeping with the theatrical element of fine dining, there is an exposed stainless-steel pass where the waitresses wait and the chefs shout and deliver their fashionable fare. White tablecloths, white walls and elegantly simple upholstery finish it off, emphasising its fine-dining credentials. It's slick, sleek and exactly what you expect from Harvey Nichols.
Politeness and etiquette are key as professional staff do their upmost to ensure a pleasant evening without your wine running dry. They are friendly, attentive and helpful yet allow you breathing space and the freedom to enjoy your meal without fuss. Like the tablecloths, the staff's uniforms are immaculately pressed and they are elegantly presented. They also have sufficient knowledge about the dishes to answer any queries or whim you may desire, proving substance over style.
Everything flows impeccably which adds to the feeling that this is a great restaurant for a suitably special occasion. The clientele is not what you might expect. It’s not filled with Gucci toting luvvies and aspiring celebs, nervously looking round from table to table for someone more popular than themselves. It’s filled with people enjoying themselves; trendy bright young things, small parties and what appear to be some serious foodies.
The general vibe of the Fourth Floor Cafe is more Saville Row suit than leopard print dress, more cultured crowd than footballers and their wives. And, pleasantly enough, it is formal but not formal enough for it to be intimidating.
The restaurant regularly has special menus, including an anniversary menu to celebrate the 10th year of chef Richard Walton-Allen being at the helm. This special tasting menu is a collection of favourite dishes from the restaurant over the past 10 years. Among the standout dishes are the trout wrapped in Cumbrian ham with creamed leeks, a perfectly balanced dish and the rich, tender slow cooked Dales shin of beef with anise and ginger, bok choi and mushrooms. And there's the chocolate mocha tower which is both delicious.
However, there’s no need to stray from the regular a la carte menu which, in essence, is what the tasting menu is celebrating. The menu is fresh and seasonal with care and attention paid to locally sourced, good produce. To start, the light seared fillet of bream with tomato and lemongrass consomme (£6.50) is beautifully delicate and perfect for a summer's night. Rich and velvety, the potted shrimp risotto (£8/£16) sits at the other end of the taste spectrum but with equally satisfying results. Both beautifully presented and kicking the meal off with a fizz.
The steak (£18.50 - chargrilled ribeye, parsnip puree, confit garlic and sage jus) and chicken (£16.50 - corn fed chicken breast, carrot puree, shaved fennel and sherry sauce) both hit with bags of flavour for the mains, however the steak should really come with a recommendation of a side as the parsnip puree is on the small side as opposed to the large steak. The sweetness of the carrot puree works superbly with the succulent chicken. There are an array of sides to complement your main if you feel the need.
And so to finish, the terribly elegant trio of lemon desserts (£6.25 - lemon meringue tartlet, lemon posset and lemon sorbet) is the freshness you crave after rich, meaty dishes. The posset is delicious and even if ladled into a cereal bowl, would still be sent back to chef without a delicious morsel remaining - outstanding.
The chocolate and hazelnut mousse pavlova (£5.50) is less elegant and a little on the big side, but very flavoursome with soft meringue. The food is definitely not cheap but the portions are satisfying and the quality of the produce and the skill of the chef clearly tells you that it’s worth it.
The Fourth Floor Cafe’s full wine list is mind blowing, featuring wines from all the favourite wine making regions and some more obscure ones. It’s easy to get straight to what you want as they are grouped by country and region. The a la carte drinks menu is comprehensive and well executed, the wine list specifically chosen with the seasonal ingredients in mind. The Auntsfield Sauvingnon Blanc (£26 - New Zealand) is clean and punchy, just as the description on the menu suggests.
All the wines come with these little descriptions which help you to get to what you want or maybe try something different. Their cocktails are interesting such as Bitter Sweet Symphony which is a mix of gin, elderflower, lime and orange marmalade (£7.50), some with a regional twist such as the Yorkshire Rhubarb Daiquari (£8), looking very sleek and attractive as they float past.
It's great how there is a little bit of a celebration of this great region in every aspect of the menu, highlighted further with the appearance of Sam Smiths Organic Ale (£4.50 for 500ml) which is brewed in Tadcaster.
If you’re feeling in a celebratory mood there are loads of champagnes to choose from by the glass, half bottle or bottle ranging from £7.50 for a small glass to £170 for the most expensive bottle. Hot drinks include fruit teas from Taylors of Harrogate £2.50, Harvey Nichols own tea selections and coffees (cappuccino £2.50) and fruit juices (tomato juice £2.50 or elderflower £2.75).
The Last Word
Those out there who love all things Harvey Nichols will adore this place. It’s certainly modern, classy and stylish but, with the help of a clever menu, a top chef and some down to earth Northern produce, it appeals to a wider audience. Trying to think of a reason not to like it is futile - a great restaurant.