YOU’VE got to hand it to the people of Swindon; they know how to show their support.
That’s not necessarily what I was thinking when I was queuing out the door of the newly-opened Harvester in North Swindon, only to be told I’d have to wait another 45 minutes for a table. What I was thinking then was ‘what on earth are all these people doing here at 6pm on a Sunday?’, quickly followed by ‘this had better be good’.
But with hindsight, I reckon it’s pretty amazing that so many people are turning out to part with their hard-earned cash at what is, after all, a chain restaurant we’ve probably all eaten at many times before. Use it or lose it, so the saying goes, and the people of Swindon have obviously decided they don’t want the latter.
The new restaurant, next door to the David Lloyd gym off the A419, only opened on September 7, but any early teething problems seem to have been ironed out already. Despite the huge number of people, the waiting system was working well and we were called to our table well before the 45 minutes promised.
Starters are pretty standard fayre – chicken wings (£3.49), button mushrooms (£2.99), nachos (£3.99) and the like. I was disappointed that the recommended Spicy Crackerjack prawns (£3.79) were finished, but my salmon and mozzarella fishcakes (£3.99) were a satisfying substitute. Bizarrely, the wings and mushrooms arrived in the kind of basket you’d usually find in a Chinese restaurant (the ones that hold the pancakes for your duck). It seemed a strange choice to me, but my husband and kids didn’t even notice as they gobbled down the food.
There’s a formula for ordering from the mains menu at the Harvester – pick a dish from the grill menu, choose your sauce, add a side dish, and then go back and forth to the salad bar as many times as you like.
The full rack of ribs (£8.99) caught the eye of the youngest member of my clan (but the one with the biggest appetite!) and he wasn’t disappointed. My husband and elder son both had the bacon and cheese burger (£6.99), which came as an impressive tower and still sizzling from the grill.
My choice was the 8oz sirloin steak (£9.99), which I wanted cooked medium, with a side order of baby potatoes. When it came it was definitely more well done than medium and there were no baby potatoes left, so I had fries. It was still tasty, if not entirely perfect, and I made up for the lack of potatoes with plenty of potato salad and coleslaw from the salad bar.
Incidentally, the salad bar is well worth a mention. So often, I’ve been to places where the lettuce looks limp and sorry and the choice is limited to some floppy cucumber and a few cherry tomatoes. The salad bar here was superb, with at least 20 options, including a delicious beetroot salad which I admit I went back again (and again!) for. Bread rolls are also unlimited and the basket was restocked constantly.
Another thing worth highlighting is the soft drinks refill system. For £2.09, you get a large glass of your chosen drink, which you can then top up as many times as you like from the self-service drink stations. Great value.
With no room for desserts, our bill came to £58, which I don’t think is too bad for satisfying four adult appetites. And as we left at 8.30pm, the place was still bustling and people were still arrriving if not queueing to get in.
Something tells me this will be a pretty good investment for the Harvester chain.
Tel: 01793 702631. Opening times: 11am to 11pm daily. Food served: Monday to Saturday noon to 10pm, Sunday 11am to 10pm.