The Harcourt used to be one of those wonderful local pubs that are now so rare in London: with the Swedish church almost opposite, it became a home away from home for the Swedish community in London. A proper boozer.
It still has nods to its previous incarnation (there is reindeer on the menu, one section of which is entitled "Fika", and the sign above the door is the wooden, dala horse), but long gone is the Freddie Lundberg signed shirt, the TV with Swedish sport, the menu of meatballs and the annual Kalle Anka and Santa Lucia celebrations.
What they have done really well, however, is the conversion: what had been the garden (aka smoking den) has been integrated into a light, airy bar area, a private dinning room added on the first floor, whilst the shape and feel of the original ground floor bar and surrounds has been kept intact. Rather than be a pub, however, this is most assuredly now a restaurant.
Well I say that, as the level and style of music as far more reminiscent of a '90s disco.
The first time we went was in the soft opening. It was a disaster: we were given The Worst Table In The Restaurant, a table in the corridor between the main entrance and one of the private dining areas. It was a Siberia of tables, made worse only by the fact that is was directly under a speaker blearing out Donna Summers at her loudest. Repeated requests to please turn the music down to a level where we didn't have to shout at each other to be able to hold a conversation were ignored. Eventually, clearly sensing that all was not well in the State of Denmark, the waitress came over and asked (well shouted so that we could hear) if everything was ok.
On hearing the problem, the manager was summonsed: he apologised, saying that there was nothing he could do about it, as all the music had to be at the same level, to which I pointed out to him that he had a Sonos system so could control each speaker alone. Eventually, after much faffing around and wafting of floppy hair, the sound was reduced to a level where we could talk, yet the disco could continue elsewhere.
Going back with Swedish friends, one of whom I used to come with regularly when she was in London when it was still a boozer, we found that we had been upgraded to the Second Worst Table In The Restaurant, one the other side of the bar from the Worst Table In The Restaurant, but so close to the bar that those sitting on the outside got whacked every time a waiter went by (made worse by one of the owners standing shouting at the table next to us. I hasten to add he wasn't annoyed with the folk at the next table, it is just that Donna Summers was still blaring out and he had to speak in a raised voice so as to have a conversation with them).
The waiting staff are laid back, to the extent that, when asked if we were ready to order and being assured that we were, our waiter promptly wandered off, to come back some ten minutes later with his pad, having in the meantime served somebody else. Oh and please, when we said we wanted two sets of chips between four of us, if the waiting staff know that one of the dishes comes with chips, tell us: there is up-selling and there is plain dishonesty, and this falls into the latter category, as we ended up with three plates of the fried potato sticks. OK, it's a plate of chips, but the goodwill that you've lost for a couple of extra quid is just not worth it. For you.
All of which is a real shame, as the food is actually really good: other than a slightly disappointing crab linguine (which admittedly was at the soft opening and which one of our number subsequently had and said was lovely), everything we have had there has been spot on. Especially the fish. The skrei cod was firm and flaky, perfectly cooked with mussels and samphire, adding just the right amount of taste and texture to a fish that can need the lift of those around it. Gunard comes roasted whole, trailing over the edge of the plate, with a wonderfully crunchy skin, and firm flesh. It isn't just the fish though, as the bone in sirloin and the burger (complete with the, as advertised, "thick" bacon) both got two thumbs up too.
Wine too is well priced (for London), with many being offered by the standard glass, large glass or carafe, as well as cocktails and Swedish lager.
I hope that the place does well, but, good though the food is, I preferred it as a boozer, and will not be returning in the disco guise that it has now adopted.