Advantages Good portions. Super-friendly service. Cheap and cheerful.
Disadvantages Bland and unimaginative "safe" dishes. Rough clientele.
|Value for Money|
|Standard of Menu|
|Standard of Service|
Do you remember that annoying advert for Harvester Restaurants from the 90’s when some over-made up girl chirped “Have you been to a Harvester before”? I do, and for years I would parrot it out every time we went past a Harvester - much to the annoyance of my partner. In fact, no doubt I irritated him so much, he never wanted to actually go inside one. However, when Harvester opened up a unit fairly recently in our home town of Chichester, it was only a matter of time before I managed to “persuade” him into making our first foray into the world of Harvester.
The décor is much lighter and brighter than the majority of pubs I know. The furniture comfortable and functional - after all they’re going to need to wipe it down and clean up it up after some children (and adults) have finished their meal! The entrance area to any Harvester is though the bar. You can have a drink at the bar, or move straight in the dining area. We went up to the bar straightaway and ordered a couple of drinks, before enquiring about a table. The barman mistook my request for a Pimm’s as a pint of Guinness for some strange reason (I must have a worse speech impediment than I thought…), but happily rectified his mistake with a smile. If you wish to dine in a Harvester you need to wait at the entrance to the dining area by the sign which says “Please wait to be seated”. Evidently you can book at table, and I would imagine this is a very good idea at peak times such as a Friday or Saturday night, or Sunday lunchtime. We ate there fairly early on a Wednesday evening, so we were able to go through straight to a table in the restaurant without having made a reservation. People that came in later on in the evening were not so lucky, and were asked to wait in the bar area until a table became available.
The menus are massive, with plenty of choice for everyone. Gourmet cuisine it isn’t, but you don’t really go to a Harvester expecting that. The food is simple and largely unfussy. Dishes are instantly recognizable and for the most part rather unadventurous. Vegetarian options are highlighted with a large V beside the description, and low fat or lower calorie choices marked with a heart symbol.Starters are keenly priced and range from an inexpensive Soup of the Day at £2.49 up to Prawn Cocktail at £3.49. Other “safe” choices include Melon, Breaded Mushrooms or Flame Grilled Chicken Wings. They do offer slightly more exotic international options in the form of Spicy Lamb Koftas or Loaded Nachos - but you can almost guarantee the spices in these dishes will be dumbed down in order to avoid any controversy and not offend their clientele. If you’re a keener sharer, then there are a couple of platters on offer such as a Harvest Feastival - basically a pile of deep fried cholesterol laden Iceland inspired “delicacies”. However, in all honesty, you can easily boycott the starters at a Harvester, as every meal ordered includes a visit to the salad cart, and you can go up as many times as you want to. It’s easy enough to fill yourself up for “free” with salad and bread rolls from the cart whilst you’re waiting for your main course to arrive.
Main courses range from an extremely reasonable £5.99 up to £12.99. The main menu is definitely slanted towards fans of burgers, steak and chicken. They offer several variations on the same theme of Spit-Roasted Chicken cooked freshly on their in-house rotisserie. The chicken comes served as it is, or with a variety of different sauces such as garlic, piri-piri, mojo, chilli and, of course, barbecue. Harvester Inns are extremely fond of barbecue sauce and it’s offered on many different dishes. If chicken doesn’t really float your boat, then how about a burger or a steak? Harvester offer a variety of burgers and steaks - all served with a portion of chips on the side (or jacket potato if you so wish). Non-beef lovers will find less to choose from, but they do offer a Duck in Orange Sauce, Rack of Ribs or a couple of lamb dishes. Fish eaters will find a salmon, tuna and sea bass dish on the menu, but you get the impression that Scampi and Chips is the most popular fishy option. In all, there is plenty of choice - something for everyone, but nothing that makes you think “hhhmmm, I’ve never tried that before” - it’s all a fairly obvious and safe selection of old favourites.Desserts are once again very reasonably priced, starting at just £2.49 (Ice-cream Sundae) and only going as high as £3.99 for a Chocolate Brownie and Ice-cream. Despite several old favourites such as Apple Pie and Profiteroles, the dessert menu at Harvester does seem a little more imaginative than you’d expect. I was certainly tempted by a couple of the descriptions, but too much starter, salad and main course put paid to that.
One thing of note at the Harvester chain is their Early Bird offer. If you eat before 6.30pm during the week many of the dishes on offer are up a third cheaper in price - definitely a good offer if you don’t mind eating early or you have a large family to feed. Children are made extremely welcome in Harvester Inns with their own menu to choose from (Young Guest Menu), which includes balloons and activity sheets.
Despite the free salad bar on offer, we decided to gorge ourselves and have a starter too, choosing the Harvest Feastival, which is a platter for two to share at £5.99. It comprises flamed-grilled barbecue chicken wings, breaded mushrooms, corn on the cob, crackerjack king prawns and beer battered onion rings - all served with a selection of three dips: spring onion, barbecue and chili and ginger. The flame grilled chicken wings were nice, but the rest was all a bit too Mum’s-gone-to-Iceland, in that it was all deep-fried, possibly defrosted, bread-crumbed or battered finger food. Nice enough, but all a bit bland and tasteless. You’d think you’d be able to liven it up with one of the three dips in came served with, but they were all fairly similar in taste too - plasticky and glutinous. We had shared a similar platter dish earlier that week at The Slug and Lettuce, and it was vastly superior i.e. the deep fried vegetables still had their original flavour and still had some crunch to them. The Harvester version was just a little too bland and processed. That said, the portion was generous and nicely presented - it just lacked any specialness.For my main course I choose a Kickin’ Garlic Chicken at £6.99. Described as half a freshly spit-roasted chicken drizzled with a buttery, roasted garlic sauce with a feisty chili kick. Sadly it was the most disappointing part of my entire meal. The chicken was described as “fresh, wholesome, British farm assured spit roast chicken…succulent because it’s freshly prepared and slowly cooked on our rotisserie by our chefs throughout the day”. Personally I found the chicken meat to be rather watery in texture and lacking in taste - almost as if it had been boiled rather than roasted. With a spit-roast dish you’re expecting lots of crispy skin with some succulent, plump meat underneath suffused with the flavours of the spit roast. What I got was some rather dry looking skin with some suspiciously watery and damp flesh underneath. As for the garlic sauce - I think it must have been shown the chili and then had it whipped away again quickly. It was mildly garlic in flavour and had no hint of the chili kick promised. Added to which, it was an extremely greasy sauce, and the overwhelming flavour was off melted butter rather than garlic or chili. It came with a portion of chips - and they were rather good. Sadly I was unable to finish the chicken dish as it was just swimming in the buttery sauce and it was doing nothing for the dish at all.
My partner made a better choice of main course with his BBQ Stack Burger at £7.99. This was described as 100% beef burger topped with crispy, streaky bacon, barbecue sauce, Emmental cheese, iceberg lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise and served with beer battered onion rings and fries. It was a nice sized portion and cooked well, and he pronounced it as tasty enough, but nothing special.We were rather full of starters, salad and main courses so we decided against a dessert on this occasion. Our bill came in at a rather reasonable £30 mark, which included my Pimm’s and two pints of lager.
As you’d expect in a pub, Harvester Inns offer a full range of averagely priced beverages. Lagers and bitters are served in both draught and bottled format. Wines are sold by the bottle or glass and there a good range from all around the world. In keeping with the family dining theme, there are a good range of soft drinks on offer.
You get what you pay for at a Harvester. Simple, unpretentious food in generous portions. It’s not gourmet cuisine, but to be fair you’re not going to be dining at a Harvester if you’re looking for poached turbot or scallion of venison. Personally, I won’t be rushing back to dine at a Harvester anytime at all, simply because I’m not really a fan of that sort of unimaginative, over-processed cuisine, and what I did eat when I was there didn’t really set my world on fire. I’d rather spend a bit more and go The Slug and Lettuce or spend the same and go to Nando’s.My thoughts on the menu aside, for a family on a budget, Harvester Inns offer a good plateful at a price that won’t break the bank. Added to which their Early Bird Offer can make your evening out even cheaper. The menu offers something for everyone, and you can easily fill yourself up on the free salad bar. The service is friendly and welcoming, and the kids will love it. I’m going to award it three stars - despite the average and uninspiring menu, it offers good portions, great service and it’s very family friendly.
Harvester Inns are owned and operated by Mitchells and Butlers Plc, a truly massive catering company who operate around 2,000 outlets throughout the UK, mostly pubs or pub restaurants. You may recognise some of the other brands in their stable as they also run All Bar One, Browns, Crown Carveries, Ember Inns, Innkeeper’s Lodge, O’Neills, Toby Carvery and Vintage Inn as well as a legion of lesser known names.Mitchells and Butlers Plc
Telephone No: 0870-609-3000
Fax No: 0121-233-2246
• The full menu can be found at the Harvester website above and there is also a restaurant search facility. There are around 170 Harvester outlets throughout the UK.
• All major credit cards are accepted
• Disabled access is good at the Chichester outlet as it’s all on one level
• Toilets were clean and tidy when briefly inspected.
• The emphasis is on family dining, so the dress code is very relaxed and informal (someone was wearing shorts when we dined there!)
• Harvesters tend to offer ample free parking
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