Monday, 5 February 2018

Aberdeen Restaurant Week - Cafe Harmony: Review (Aberdeen)

Pure escapism is what I experienced when I visited Cafe Harmony on Bon Accord Terrace for the first time last week. It had been so long since I'd actually felt relaxed and at ease, and for one night, I left my worries at the door and finally got to breathe.

The cafe is gorgeous, and from the outside looks cosy and welcoming. And that it is. Having strolled past the eatery on numerous occasions, I always felt jealous of the customers sitting inside the beautiful setting nursing their glasses of wine. An Italian speakeasy I like to call it, this cafe and wine bar is the perfect way to let loose and relax after a busy day at work.

The weather was miserable when we visited, and the cosy, relaxing ambiance of the place set me at ease almost immediately. It's quaint, and decorated beautifully. Francesco, the manager of the eatery greeted us and showed us to our table. Opposite me was what looked like the comfiest, grandest chair I'd ever seen, and shockingly, Calum allowed me to park there for the night. I'd met Francesco at the launch of Aberdeen Restaurant Week which Cafe Harmony is participating in. He was a charming man, and someone who you could instantly tell loves his job. He'd asked me to pay a visit, and one week later there I was.

I was surprised at how busy the restaurant was. It was full to the brim, and he was now having to turn customers away. A great start in kicking off Aberdeen Restaurant Week. He talked us through the menu, and offered if it was ok for him to bring a selection of starters of his choosing. I loved this approach and welcomed the offer.

Returning a little while after, he was equipped with four dishes. The first being arancini with a beautiful bolognese ragu inside, the second; homemade chickpea hummus, the third; a warm pitta bread topped with tomato paste and lastly, the panzerotti.

The arancini was stunning. The ragu was full of flavour and it worked really well with the saffron rice in the stuffed rice balls which were coated in breadcrumbs and had been deep-fried. Filled with the ragu and cheese which had now melted, they were extremely tasty. Each forkful left a string of melted cheese between my mouth and my plate, and the shallow bed of tomato sauce in which it sat, was cleaned up with pitta.

A bright yellow colour, the chickpea hummus looked incredible. I'd never seen hummus have such a distinctive colour to it which was clearly a result of using lots of olive oil within it. The hummus also came with additional green olives on top and was scooped up quickly by Calum and myself with the  flavoured pitta bread. It was a healthy serving for sure.

The pitta was hot and the tomato paste on top was bursting with roasted tomato and Italian herb flavours. The bread was lovely and soft, and the paste was super rich which was perfect.

I'd never had panzerotti before, but it resembled that of a small calzone. Stuffed inside the pastry was Aberdeen Angus minced beef (from McWilliam's) and ricotta cheese. The ricotta was light and creamy, and went very well with the tomato sauce the panzerotti sat in.

The restaurant was busy, but no-one seemed in a rush and I could see lots of people were enjoying the recommended wines with their dishes. It’s no wonder the cafĂ© is called harmony. The interiors are very cosy and inviting, and it almost feels like you could be sitting in someone’s front room, but with the added bonus of best home-cooked Italian cuisine being served up.

As we ate, Francesco sat with us and explained the dishes. His casual, calming approach to dining out really made me feel at home. Not to mention the big lounge chair which I continued to sink into. He explained the cafe's ethos and that Cafe Harmony was focused on blending traditional Sicilian food with local produce, creating the perfect nod to Aberdeen and Sicily. The chef - a 60-year old man from Sicily - is passionate about good quality Sicilian food. And I loved when Francesco told us about his Italian grandma who used to make pasta for days on end, inviting him to go and enjoy copious amounts of delicious food with his family.
Moving on to mains, Francesco had also decided to take the lead and ordered us a dish each to enjoy. I was rather excited about not knowing what dish would be presented to us, and you can imagine how shocked I was when he returned with the exact two dishes me and Calum had looked at ordering. This man hardly knew us, but by just asking a few questions, knew exactly what we would want. My mind was blown.

I was given the Penne Lucullo with King prawns and Sicilian chorizo, and Calum got the Tortino de Farfalle. The penne was outstanding. Cooked in a rich tomato sauce with a kick of heat to it from the spicy chorizo pieces, the slightly creamy, tomato sauce was to die for. Not to mention the juicy king prawns which were thrown into the dish, and the more I delved into the long spaghetti pasta, the more I uncovered. The chorizo was in abundance and everything was dressed in the sauce - Mamma Mia!

Calum's tortino was served with minced lamb and ricotta. The lamb was superb and was very succulent. There was lots of it too which he rather enjoyed, and the moist lamb complimented the slight dryness the ricotta boasted. The big helping of ricotta on top was covered in parmesan and it crumbled away as he stuck his fork into the soft, delicate pasta. Both dishes were very filling, and very homely.

We had been in the restaurant a few hours now, and had decided to take a breather before investigating if dessert was on the cards or not. Deciding to share a cake of the day, Francesco brought us our a white and milk chocolate homemade cheesecake.

The cheesecake looked divine, and the white chocolate was beautifully sweet. Not sickly sweet, just sweet enough. The milk chocolate provided a more smooth taste to the cheesecake and the biscuit base was delicious and crunchy, whilst the cheesecake on top was very indulgent - almost too indulgent. We both tucked in, and slowly but surely polished it off.
With its peaceful yet busy atmosphere, a gorgeous setting, brilliant food created by the talented chef team and faultless service, Cafe Harmony over-delivered on every aspect. I couldn't quite believe that I hadn't paid them a visit since opening, and I'm already excited about heading back. The front of house team were excellent and I'm extremely grateful to Francesco for spending so much time with us and introducing me to a number of new Italian dishes.

The meal we experienced at Cafe Harmony was margins above similar restaurants I've recently visited. With an affordable, varied menu available for Aberdeen Restaurant Week (which ends this Thursday - 8th Feb) this is one place you'll want to frequent to with friends. Not only for the food, but for the array of wines they have on offer to match alongside any one of their dishes.

As well as participating in Aberdeen Restaurant Week, Cafe Harmony is now also promoting a wine and Italian tapas deal for those feeling peckish straight after work. You can now pop in for two tapas and a glass of wine for £9 - a steal for anyone who's ravenous before dinner time.

A true testament to great Italian food by using the highest quality of fresh, locally sourced produce.

   For Now...

Just Julia


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