Have you ever been to a Harvester?
I remember that slogan from the TV adverts years ago – I think their USP even then was the fact that you got a free unlimited salad with your meal, which they explained to you if you didn’t already know – hence asking if you had been there before.
I recently went to visit my family near my sister’s house in Eastleigh and we went for a meal at the Ham Farm Harvester. My sister actually used to work in that exact restaurant, behind the bar, when she was at university; she said it had changed a lot since then - it did look very modern.
We were seated just in front of the main entrance so it was a bit cold every time someone opened the door to come in – not the best place for a table, to be honest – but it did mean we were near the salad bar and drinks machine. You get free refills on soft drinks and fill up your own cup with whatever you like; similarly, you take a plate and help yourself to whatever you want from the salad bar. It reminded me of the Pizza Hut salad bar from my teenage years, even down to having what seemed to be exactly the same potato salad!
There were a lot of things I'd happily eat on the main menu which had a lot of choice. Sometimes with this much choice you wonder if there are too many dishes to do well - or if they are bought in bulk from a catering supplier, which may well be the case, but everything was really good. There's too much on the menu for me to list here but if you can think of a way to cook chicken, they have probably got it; then there are 8 types of burgers, a slow-cooked section, ribs and grills, fish - though for such a big menu the vegetarian section is pretty small with only halloumi and chips, cauliflower cheese and tomato tart or pasta in a tomato sauce. I'd describe this as 'family food with imagination' - nothing that would cause you to puzzle over the menu to wonder what it is, nothing to think 'I like that but not the other things it comes with' (you are encouraged to switch the side orders if you want, from a list) - but it's more interesting than just fish and chips or pie and mash.
I was keen to try the 'beer-can style chicken without the can'. I've made beer-can chicken myself which was really good. I wasn't sure if the Harvester meant that it was cooked in this way but you weren't served the beer can (for obvious reasons) or if it was cooked in a similar way but using something else, which they don't elaborate on, other than to say it's a rotisserie chicken.
I had the half chicken which was plenty and very well priced at only £8.99 for the chicken with a piece of thick-cut bacon, a large flat mushroom, fries, gravy and a pot of smokey ketchup.
We'd all eaten a lot but had already caught a glimpse of the dessert menu which looked too good to resist! So the six of us ended up sharing two desserts - huge ice cream sundaes which were less than £4.50 each. One came with vanilla ice cream, pieces of honeycomb and toffee and a chocolate sauce, and the other had chocolate icecream (if I recall), pieces of Oreo biscuit and chocolate sauce. They were really good but very indulgent!
I was pleasantly surprised by the Harvester and pleased to find everyone in our group was able to have something completely different but that they really enjoyed, so I would definitely go back.