If we were to have a little Venice here in Manila, complete with a faux Grand Canal, Rialto and a Tower of St. Mark, might as well have a Harry's Bar, too, right?
Those who were lucky enough to have toured in Venezia (a dream destination which shares a spot with Santorini in my bucket list) must have heard about or even visited the famed landmark which have been many times graced by stalwarts like Hemingway, Hitchcock, Welles, and some royalties (Thank you, Wikipedia!). On the other hand, those who, like me, are still on the way to attaining that dream trip (ahem, practicing the law of attraction here), might have chanced upon the bar's name in the many times they've Googled for Venice travel guides.
So it wasn't much of a surprise for me when I chanced upon a similarly named restaurant while exploring Piazza Venezia in McKinley Hill. After all, they're making a replica of the Grand Canal which will feature gondola rides on the other side of the place, right? How hard is it to open up a ristorante Italiano of the same name? Eager to try out something new that time, and okay, thrilled to dine-in “Harry's Bar” at “The Venice” (albeit the faux ones), I, along with a couple of friends, decided that the day's lunch shall be there.
A step into the place, and we immediately noted that Harry's Bar, technically, should be classified as a trattoria--not a ristorante, since it's more of a casual place rather than a stiff and expensive Italian restaurant. The small, box-type cubbyhole, has the requisite brick posts, but has bolder and brighter colors of the red and yellow palette for the walls. This made the well-lit place generally cheery and casual. We also approve of their use of woven rattan chairs. Nothing makes a resto's ambiance more relaxing and fun than breezy pieces like these. But of course, the floor to ceiling glass windows share the credit to that.
I've counted 6 tables inside the resto. The rest of the tables are out for dining al fresco. I could just imagine how doubly better it is to dine outside during the night. The cool breeze, the wide open space, and the well-designed plaza right across must look a lot better at night time. But since it was lunch that time, we decided to dine-in; the noon time sunshine in this country isn't exactly lovely, nor healthy. We were served with colorful plates upon sitting and were asked for our orders.
The promo they had for a set menu of 4 courses for P600 was enticing. The set already includes antipasto, primo, secondo, and dolce. Plus coffee or tea, as well. Ristorantes usually charge a much higher amount for this. I noticed the other diners near our table (yuppies from nearby offices) ordered for that. We, on the other hand, didn't have the leisure of time to be served with 4 different courses so we decided to order some of their specialties and share them all. That way, our food will be served at once and consumed at our pace. As soon as our orders were placed, we were served a basket of complimentary focaccia bread-- home made, our server notes. The five triangular slices came came with a salsa-tomato dip.
Complimentary Focaccia Bread
This isn't the best focaccia I've tried, but that's not saying it isn't any good. I found it a little too airy to my liking, but other than that, it was decent.
All the bread was consumed by the time the Napoletana Pizza (P290) arrived. The 8-slice pizza came in steamy, and as if on cue, the strong odor of the anchovies wafted as soon as it landed the table.
If Italian restaurants must be judged solely by their pizzas, then I would say Harry's Bar passes the test fairly well. The not so thin, flaky, and slightly bubbly nature of the crust gets my commendation for being well-made. Experts note that authentic Italian pizzas are judged mostly by how the crusts fare. The toppings and sauce are secondary in consideration. That is why it's a rare thing to find restaurants here that apply little tomato and frou frou to the pizza, allowing the crust to sing the lead. Harry's Bar's Napoletana pizza is exactly that-- boring and undecorated to the naked eye with so little toppings peppered on top. Even the anchovies promised in the menu aren't what you can consider plenty. But a bite after the other would reveal how well-balanced the flavors are. Strong salt from the anchovies, slight tang from the capers, slight bitter from the olive, subtle salt once again care of the mozzarella-- all enveloped in the flavor of a mildly salty, but rightly chewy crust. Bravo, if I may boldly say!
The pasta dish that came at the same time as the pizza, the Maccheroni Funghi El Salsiccia (P270), also was better than I had expected.
Maccheroni Funghi El Salsiccia
As with any pasta in any decent Italian restaurants, it should be cooked well, ergo, al dente. Gladly, the Maccheroni was. Pass the good consistency of the pasta, the sauce proved to be great. Spectacularly tangy at times, then subtly countered by salty thanks to the the sausage, and finally bitter care of the mushrooms, this dish is surely a welcoming delight to any palate. Needless to say, we all approved of it.
Last to arrive on the table was the Livornese (P290), which the menu described as fish fillet slowly cooked in white wine and Rosemary.
It was a big fish topped with capers and olives, with spinach and wedge potatoes on the side. A Cobbler fish, our server said. I found both the potato and spinach lacking in flavor. A teeny piece from the fish told me why. Any more intense flavor will steal the spotlight from an already (and impossibly) flavorful fish! One bite and there's no denying on the white wine used for cooking. “Hint” can't be used in this matter. It's definitely rich, and overly so for some. I guess one who is not keen with strong bitter flavors in their dishes should order something else. The rest though should enjoy this great catch at P290.
Those three dishes knocked us down to a food coma. Though not plenty in quantity, the variegated flavors we had were what probably made us raise the white flag. Dolce for me was Basilicor (P70) which was a refreshing mix of basil and orange. My friends, who still had some space to spare, ordered the Affogato for P200.
To be honest, I initially had little expectations for Harry's Bar. Believing it was placed there to complete the picture of a miniature Venice, I thought that they wouldn't bother serving a food program this inspired. It may not be your go-to Italian ristorante of all-time, but I would say Harry's Bar is not to be passed up when in the area. And to those who are dreaming of visiting the real deal soon, let Harry's Bar at the Venice Piazza serve as your primer for now. Brush up your skills in Italian by reading their menu, feast in their authentic food offerings and bask in the reproduction of the Venitian atmosphere while sitting in one of their al fresco tables. After all, you deserve la dolce vita!