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HARVESTER, RAYLEIGH WEIR, RAYLEIGH, ESSEX
Harvester Pub & Grill
Member Name: GentleGenius
Harvester Pub & Grill
Advantages: Good food, good service, pleasant surroundings, reasonable prices
Disadvantages: Sometimes badly behaved children, sometimes food could be hotter, often very crowded
We've used this branch of Harvester quite a few times a year since about 2007 and mostly have been pleased with the overall results. Our last visit was on the evening of Tuesday, 13th December 2011, and we arrived at the restaurant at approximately 7:15pm.
Firstly, if anybody should be visiting Harvester at Rayleigh Weir for the first time and isn't familiar with the area, the entrance to the car park can easily be missed....it is just a hundred or so yards on the left, just to the side of the adjoining Premier Hotel. Once inside the car park and regardless of what day and time you choose to visit Rayleigh Harvester, it usually is pretty full and on a couple of occasions we have had to wait a few minutes for a parking space. I believe this is caused by Harvester and the Premier sharing the same car park. Although there are limited parking spaces, a section of about ten are reserved for disabled people.
INSIDE THE RESTAURANT/AMBIENCE
The outer appearance of Harvester is quite pleasant, with a few tables and chairs dotted around in a well-tended garden. The building façade is country pub style and the entrance door is small, although you can't miss it as there are usually a few people standing around outside smoking - of course Harvester has a no-smoking inside the restaurant policy.
There is no need to book a table, but on evenings when the restaurant is crowded, you may have to wait up to 30 minutes to be seated. The staff recommend that you wait in the bar area which is furnished quite nicely with a combination of tables, low wall seats and wooden cushioned chairs. If you decide to have a drink whilst waiting for your table, the bar is fairly well-stocked, although sometimes on a busy night, it can take a while to get served. The bar staff are mostly quite young, smartly dressed and very pleasant.
The restaurant area is very pleasantly decorated in subtle shades of pale brown and cream, and the walls are dotted with paintings and framed photographs of historic Southend-on-Sea and Rayleigh scenes. The lighting is warm and a little subdued, but not to the point where it's too dark to read the menu. The tables are made of heavy light wood, and the seating is the same as that in the bar. On each table is a selection of menus; main fayre, all-day breakfast, takeaway menu, children's menu, desserts and drinks menus....and on this occasion, a Christmas menu. There are one or two vegetarian items on the main menu, such as pasta in a herby tomato sauce, but I'd personally say Harvester is more suited to carnivores unless any vegetarian person is happy to largely make their meal from salad bar items. Interestingly, quite a few of the items on the food menus give nutritional information such as calorie, fat and fibre content. The aisles between the tables are reasonably spacious, yet I would guess anybody in a wheelchair or using crutches may find it a little difficult to negotiate their way to the salad bar or toilets, as both can be quite a distance from your table, depending upon where in the restaurant you are sitting. It isn't always possible to pick and choose as to where you sit, due to the restaurant being popular and often very crowded....you really have to expect to sit where you are put.
If you are lucky enough to pick a rare evening when the restaurant isn't too crowded, the atmosphere is very pleasant.....relaxing, homely and with quiet background music which usually consists of chart oldies from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Close to Christmas, the music will be peppered with festive songs. However, if you are unlucky enough to visit on a very busy evening, it can be quite noisy to the point of discomfort, especially when there are a lot of not very well-behaved children present. Rayleigh Harvester describes itself as 'child friendly', but there is an absence of notices requesting that parents keep their children under reasonable control. Consequently, I have seen less well disciplined children running riot through the restaurant and bar areas, which makes things very difficult for the waiting staff and decidedly uncomfortable for other diners. I have visited Rayleigh Harvester on evenings where well-behaved children are present, and that has never been a problem.
MENU AND EATING EXPERIENCE
All of Harvester's menus are standard from branch to branch, nationwide, and can be viewed in .pdf format from their website. The starters include items such as Fresh Melon, Breaded Mushrooms, BBQ ribs etc. The main menu largely consists of grills and combos, seafood dishes such as scampi, meat dishes mainly consisting of steaks, burgers, ribs, lamb, gammon and a mixed grill. There is an option to mix and match various items, such as creating a 'surf'n'turf' platter. Various extras are available such as onion rings, garlic bread, corn on the cob, dough balls and similar, together with different sauces and dips. You can help yourself to unlimited amounts of salad and fresh baked rolls with butter or Flora from the salad bar - this salad bar is very popular, and the items available can vary greatly from day to day. Mostly it is a selection of chilled metal deep trays containing things like lettuce, grated carrot, diced beetroot, cucumber, sweetcorn and various dressed cold/raw vegetable mixes.
On this particular visit, my friend chose to forego a starter, helping herself to a large bowl of mixed items from the salad bar with a roll and butter. For my starter, I had tomato and basil soup with a roll and butter. My friend's salad looked delicious....fresh, crisp and tasty. She is a very picky/fussy eater - that's putting it mildly - yet she ate the lot, declaring everything in her salad to have been first class. I really enjoyed my soup. Although I doubt if it actually was, it tasted home-made - zingy, chunky, rich tomato soup flavoured delicately and decorated with fresh chopped basil. Our rolls were very good too - crispy on the outside, spongy on the inside, and still warm from the oven.
Very impressed with our starters, we sat and waited a little longer than we'd have liked for our main course. The restaurant wasn't too crowded and there didn't appear to be any children present, but a couple of long tables were full with parties of people presumably enjoying their workplace's Christmas outing. That could account for the service being a little slower than we usually experience at Rayleigh Weir Harvester. However, our very young waitress was delightfully pleasant and chatty, without being overbearing or vacuous. She efficiently took our orders (for starters and main course).
Our main course eventually arrived and it looked delicious on the plate. My friend had ordered a sirloin steak in a barbecue sauce with mashed potato, peas and tomato and I had ordered a plain rump steak with chips (fries), peas and tomato. We also had side orders of onion rings and garlic bread, which we shared. We were quite impressed that the waitress had asked us how we'd like our steaks cooked, as both of us have in recent years experienced various local restaurants where we haven't been asked and it's been a case of you get it how you're given.
My friend declared the mashed potato - which looked as if it had been mixed with onions, formed into a patty shape and baked or fried - was delicious, as were the peas and tomato, but she had a problem with her steak. She said the sauce tasted very piquant and nice, but it seems they'd given her the rump steak and me the sirloin steak. We couldn't swap over, as the rump steak she'd been given was already covered with the barbecue sauce which for reasons that aren't important to this review, I was unable to eat. My friend declared her mistakenly issued rump steak to be very tough, and I could see she was having problems getting her knife through it. She battled away with the steak for a while - declaring it to taste fine but to be inedibly tough - she managed to eat about half of it, then left the rest. My own sirloin steak (which should have been rump, as that was what I ordered) was the opposite. It was a generously sized piece of meat....cooked to perfection, with a lovely hint of chargrilled flavour on the outside. The inside was tender and medium rare, exactly as I like it. I was sorry that my friend was given my ordered piece of rump steak instead of the sirloin which I ended up with that should have been hers, but other than to ask the waitress to rectify the mistake - which my friend preferred to pass on - there was nothing we could do about it.
The accompaniments to my meal were good. The chips, although frozen, tasted freshly cooked and the peas were nice and firm. The tomato was ripe, sweet and not overcooked. As for our side orders, they too were delicious. The garlic bread was ciabatta, generously steeped in rich garlic butter, and the onion rings were beautifully crisp, deep fried in a beer batter.
All of the portion sizes were reasonably generous....not enormous, but ample for our appetites and certainly worth the money. Aside from the steak mix-up (which was the fault of the kitchen I believe, not the waitress), the only thing we'd have preferred was that the whole meal, together with accompaniments, could have been a bit hotter. It wasn't stone cold, but wasn't scorching, piping hot either. We concluded that it had been left standing on a counter for longer than it should have been before being brought to our table. Perhaps they should invest in a heated counter at the point where the chefs line up the meals ready for the waiting staff to deliver to the customers? On the other hand though, maybe the health & safety brigade might have a few words to say about that.
Overall, and aside from the not so hot food and the steak switch error, we were very pleased with our meals. Everything was well-cooked, well-presented and tasty, especially my sirloin steak and the onion rings.
Soon after we finished eating the main part of our meal, our lovely little waitress asked if we wanted dessert. My friend ordered Banoffee Pie Sundae, and I went for what is a relatively new addition to Harvester's dessert menu, but I've had it a couple of times before and it was love at both first sight and first taste....Cadbury Ultimate Sundae, which comes in a tall glass dish and is a heavenly mixture of layers of vanilla ice cream, Cadbury's Chocolate Sauce and Caramel Cups, chunks of both Wispa and Cadbury's Dairy Milk Chocolate, covered in mounds and mounds of squirty cream then topped with a small Cadbury's Chocolate Flake. The Banoffee Pie Sundae also comes in a tall serving dish and is made of layers of banana studded crumbly biscuit, vanilla ice cream, runny toffee sauce, a white chocolate sauce then topped with an almost obscene yet welcome and delicious serving of squirty cream.
The ice cream used in these desserts isn't of say Ben & Jerry's or Haagen Dazs standard, but nonetheless is still of good quality....firm, creamy and not too sweet. The cream is very airy and does tend to lose its shape quickly, but that's to be expected of the squirty variety. My friend declared the individual elements of her dessert to be delicious, and as usual, the whole of my own Cadbury Ultimate Sundae dessert was exquisite.
To round off, my friend ordered a black decaffeinated coffee and I had a cappuccino - both were served in quite deep, thick china cups, and were piping hot and delicious. The coffee used appeared to be of high quality and the portion of chocolate powder sprinkled onto my cappuccino was reasonably generous.
All in all and despite the mistakes, we really enjoyed our food at Rayleigh Weir Harvester. I would even go as far as to say my own meal was truly faultless, but it not being as hot as it should have been prevents me from awarding my personal golden pig-out badge on this particular occasion.
All alcoholic drinks, apart from wine taken with a meal, are ordered from the bar and are only a tiny bit more expensive than pub prices.
As far as soft drinks are concerned, there is a dispensing machine in the middle of the restaurant. One of the bar staff or your waitress will give you a tall glass, and you help yourself to whatever you want at the dispensing machine. Beside the machine is a large ice bucket which is frequently replenished, and the drinks available are Pepsi Max, Diet Pepsi and R Whites Lemonade. You choose what you wish, and just pay for the first drink....you can then top up, self-service, as much as you like for no extra cost. Also, you can mix and match. If for instance you choose Pepsi as your first drink, you can go for the lemonade as your second, and if wished, swap back and forth between varieties of fizzy drink throughout your stay in the restaurant.
My friend had a small glass of white wine which she said was of good quality, and because she was driving, she made that last right through until the post-meal coffee. I plumped for a Pepsi Max without ice, and although it was quite pleasant and refreshing, I could tell that it had been slightly watered down. For my second drink I chose the R Whites Lemonade, and that hadn't (as far as I could tell) been watered down, so I stuck with that for the remainder of the evening.
My friend and I have, as said above, visited this particular branch of Harvester on several occasions, and have always found the service to be first class. The staff members are always pleasant, polite and chatty, without being intrusive. The waitresses may be a little slow bringing your meal on busy nights, but they are always smart, attentive, thoroughly pleasant and delightfully courteous. Our experience on this occasion was the same as always....faultless! I really do think a few other restaurants in the vicinity could perhaps take a leaf out of Rayleigh Weir Harvester's book when it comes to training their staff on how to relate to the public.
If you are sitting at the other end of the large restaurant area, the toilets are quite a trek away, which can be difficult for those who have mobility problems. However, the toilets are spacious and spotlessly clean. There is plenty of toilet paper available and the wash basins are well stocked with liquid soap, plus there are a few warm air hand driers to use, or if you prefer, a plentiful stock of paper towels. The floors are tiled, non-slip (as far as can be determined on one visit) and sparkling clean. I didn't notice any baby changing facilities though, which I found a little odd, as Harvester claims to be - and it largely is - child-friendly.
For the quality of food, overall eating experience and including things such as waitress service, Rayleigh Harvester is very reasonable. On this occasion, our bill totalled £45.17 which sounds quite high for just two people, but we did eat rather a lot....well, I did!! Both my friend and I agreed that if we'd have visited a small bistro type restaurant in either Rayleigh or Southend-on-Sea and ordered exactly the same items, the bill probably would have far overshot the £50 mark.
LOCATION: Rayleigh Weir Harvester is along the A127 at Rayleigh Weir Roundabout, Rayleigh, Essex (approx. 3 miles west of Southend-on-Sea). If you are travelling to this Harvester branch from an easterly direction, you will have to traverse the large Weir roundabout and negotiate more of the quite complex traffic lights system.
CONCLUSION: In summary, I probably enjoyed our latest trip to Rayleigh Weir Harvester more than my friend, as they didn't get my meal wrong. The mistake with my friend's steak and the issue of the food not being as hot as it should have been was a slight fly in the ointment, but wasn't serious enough to put us off visiting in future. For the most part (and this summary includes my thoughts on other occasions I've visited this restaurant), the food is of very high quality and delicious. The waiting and bar staff are well-mannered, efficient, pleasant and friendly, and the hygiene standards (including the toilets) appear to be high. The restaurant and bar areas are welcoming, well-decorated, comfortable and inviting. The only problem I do have - and this only occurs now and again - is that sometimes, due to young children being welcome, if they are badly behaved it can seriously interfere with my enjoyment of the meal and the evening. Not all children who visit Rayleigh Weir Harvester are monsters, but through no fault of their own, some are and their parents seem unable to teach them how to behave appropriately in a restaurant environment. I realise that if I don't want to encounter badly-behaved children then I should go to a more adult-orientated establishment, but I like to visit Rayleigh Weir Harvester for all its other attributes and as said, not all of the child diners behave badly...it's a case of the minority making the majority look bad, and I don't personally think it's a mortal sin to expect good behaviour from anybody, regardless of their age...obviously the responsibility for young children's demeanour depends on how their parents deal with any misbehaviour.
I have been told and do appreciate that quality of food and service varies greatly up and down the country and from branch to branch in Harvester restaurants, but I for the most part give the Rayleigh Weir branch the thumbs up!
Over and out!
Thanks for reading!
~~ Also published on Ciao under my CelticSoulSister user name ~~
Summary: A good local eatery