Once, a banking professional named Nick Leeson was a regular patron of a quayside bar in Singapore. He would head there almost every day after work, shooting the breeze with other financial traders. No one paid him any special notice; he was one of the many bankers who’d visit the pub before heading home. Then one day, Leeson was arrested for his role in losing $1 billion of his company’s, Barings, in speculative dealings, leading the ages-old merchant bank to the brink of fiscal collapse.
The bar that he frequented made the most of his notorious legacy and even created a drink after him called Bank Breaker. And the day Leeson was released from his Singaporean prison, the staff at the pub wore T-shirts that shouted ‘Leeson Learns His Lesson’ and served free beer to patrons for two hours! This is one of the more popular legends about Harry’s in Singapore, which has around 25 pubs in the island country. And now it has opened its doors in Mumbai.
When we visited Harry’s, we hoped to try the Bank Breaker, a whiskey drink with Midori fruit liqueur and soda water. Sadly, the Mumbai outpost didn’t have it, probably because it did not want to inspire any Leesons in Mumbai, which is also the financial heart of India! The two-month old Harry’s is relatively small and gets cramped once the crowd pours in post 8pm. But its designers have given thoughtful touches to make it a great after-work watering hole. There’s a brightly lit chequered display behind the bar, the volume of the music is not so loud that you have to scream yourself hoarse to make yourself heard to your drinking companion and the lights are dimmed, so that a solo drinker doesn’t find himself in the glare of curious looks.
The alcohol menu is thrice as lengthy as the food menu; the diminutive 2-page food menu includes a couple of salads, burgers, pizzas and four desserts. But a barfly told us that Harry’s is revamping its food menu because the management has realized too much emphasis was placed on the beverages. And luckily for them, since they share a common kitchen with Spaghetti Kitchen next door, expanding the food menu will not be a task. Coming to the beverages menu, some of the drinks have been Indianised with the help of mixologist Shatbi Basu, though Harry’s has retained some signature drinks from its Singaporean station. Beer lovers can choose from German, Irish, Belgian, Danish, Japanese, Mexican, Italian, American and Indian beers. Strangely when it comes to draught beer, you can choose only from the Australian Foster’s or Belgium Stella Artois or Hoegaarden – there’s no Indian beer there at all!
We preferred to try some vintage Singaporean Harry’s drinks – the Dirty Harry (229) and Harry’s Old Fashioned (269). The Dirty Harry, served with skinned whole litchis and crushed mint leaves, had too much ice for us to feel the potency of the vodka. We knew the drink came with an ice mist, but what we had was akin to a glacier. Drinking through the straws was challenging as the ice got stuck in them, while drinking straight from the glass was an invitation to laryngitis. If you would like to order this drink, better tell the bartender to go easy with the ice. Whiskey lovers will like the Harry’s Old Fashioned because the slight tang of caramel doesn’t hinder the bitterness of the whiskey that purists prefer, and we could see several dapper men in their work shirts sipping on this particular drink at the bar.
As an accompaniment to our drinks, we had the Singapore Chicken Lollypop (189), a safe dish to try if you are not too adventurous while ordering. The fried chicken wings were well charred on the outside, but slightly dry on the inside. A little juiciness in the meat would’ve been welcome, though the spicy chilly sauce drizzled on the lollypops does mask this flaw. The very crispy Fried Calamari is served with aioli and is supposedly amongst the most popular appetizers at Harry’s. It’s perfectly spiced, not too chewy, and can be easily shared in a group, making it an ideal bar snack.
Apparently, Harry’s sees a steady stream of ladies who prefer genteel cocktails, especially the sangrias. We tried the Red Wine Sangria (269) that is gently spiked with red wine and has a delightful quantity of pomegranate seeds and apple pieces. This is the perfect drink for working women talking shop who don’t want their brains to be addled while they are at it. We decided to try the Caramel Popcorn Martini (229), merely because it sounded unusual. And while it’s a pretty looking drink, it tastes as if you are having a chocolate dessert in a martini glass with a couple of popcorn kernels floating on top, which then get soggy if you leave them on the drink for a while. We returned the drink requesting the bartender to spike it with more gin, which made it bearable. You could follow our example at the onset while ordering the drink. The Singapore Sling had too much sweetened spirits, and we could not discern the flavor of the classic Benedictine and bitters.
It has oft been said that drinking without eating is a surefire way to welcome a hangover, which is never a pleasant prospect. So we had the Harry’s Jazz Burger, which is loaded with fried onions, mushrooms, bacon rinds and cheese with some pickles and fries on the side. Though the mutton patty was succulent, and accompaniments played a great supporting role, its sheer size was daunting and we couldn’t polish it off despite giving it everything we had!
Harry’s is located in the busy street of Powai that is populated with several hangouts for working professionals. Its closest competitor is Chili’s that is just a stone’s throw away and has already established itself as the prominent watering hole in the vicinity. The management of Harry’s has calculatedly kept the prices of its drinks reasonable to attract crowds, and the crowd we witnessed on a week night is testimony to the fact that the gamble is beginning to pay off. But it will have to do more than that to keep the crowd coming back.