Most people enjoy an afternoon out, especially if the sun is shining and a friend has asked to meet you for a drink. Saturday 27th May was an afternoon just like this and you know that you have to take advantage of this offer. After agreeing to meet, they had suggested the newly refurbished Harvester, Latham Road, North Swindon.

Having initially hanging up and saying yes, I suddenly realised that they had picked a family friendly place. I thought I was about to walk into a child packed, noisy restaurant, with kids running about and people shouting in the middle of a sunny weekend. Most readers know that I appreciate a lively pub but having kids running a mock and parents allowing them to do so is not good for my blood pressure. Most family friendly places that openly welcome children do not tend to know, or care about this fact. Knowing I could not back out, I ventured to the place, wishing I had put more thought into the location before agreeing.

harvester-entranceI got to the Harvester and went in through the entrance to the car park. The first thing that struck me was that there was a sign announcing I had arrived but the building behind said ‘industrial unit.’

I was beginning to kick myself thinking there must have been a better place to meet. Getting to the front of the building, everything changed and I had to stop beating myself up. The front of the place actually had an inviting entrance. Grassed areas with benches and outside seating, with big glass windows across a fresh looking frontage made me instantly change my mind.

Going in, there was the normal greeting lectern and no one was there. I looked around and saw that even though it was only 4pm the place looked busy. It was not packed but enough customers with children, to appreciate that this place is enjoyed by many at all times of the day. I saw the bar to the right and even before I started to walk that way, someone appeared, they were cheerful and asked if I needed a table. I thanked them but declined and went to the bar. Feeling slightly impressed by that one staff member, I wondered if all the staff we like this. At the bar I got my answer, I met another friendly and helpful bar staff member, she was waiting and welcoming.

After a brief chat about beer and what was on offer, she got my drink and I sat in the bar area waiting for my friend. I got my phone out and saw there was free wi-fi and a good signal. The seating area was, open, inviting, comfortable and airy. There were arm chairs in the corner and large tables dotted around. It all appeared to have come from a farm house, nothing matched and it looked part of the surroundings. It all seemed to work and I sat looking out the big windows at the car park in a soft seat.

After sitting for a while I realised that I may have made a mistake, I had sat next to the kids area, with games and a ‘grabber’ toy machine. Bracing myself to move just as my friend arrived, we ended up remaining by the kids centre.

After an enjoyable hour I realised that no children had ventured past us and that that grabber had not even been approached by a child, crying and demanding that their parent gives them a pound to play it. It had all worked out well and my friend was about to leave.

Knowing that the Harvester has a universal menu and it was getting close to feeding time, I thought that I would chance having a bite to eat there. After saying goodbye to my friend, I went back to the lectern where another member staff quickly appeared, greeted me and I was shown to a table and a drink order was taken, quickly efficiently and friendly.

Sitting down, I realised I was sandwiched between 2 groups, who were out celebrating birthdays, as the balloons and large badges worn, stating their age was on show however the noise was not too loud and parents were not shouting.

Looking through the menu, I knew it was the same as all the menus in the Harvester group. I settled on the chicken combo, as this had always good in the past. Although the waitress did not hang around the table after settling me in, as soon as I closed the menu she returned to take my order. I was really feeling impressed with the staff, they were attentive and appeared keen to serve.

As soon as the food was ordered, I was pointed towards the salad bar and I happily filled a bowl of the green stuff as a ‘free’ starter. There was plenty of choice, it all looked fresh and there was plenty of choice. Moving to sauces and toppings, again plenty of choice, it all looked as if it had been recently replenished. Sitting back down I saw my drink had been left at my table and I tucked into the bowl in front of me.

After only 2 minutes of sitting, the waitress reappeared with by chicken and rib combo, I had barely made it through half the bowl. I contemplated whether this was too quick, but the grace and friendliness of the staff took that worry away. Over the next 20 minutes, I worked my way through the hot plate of food and had scraped the rest of the salad onto the same plate. It all worked out rather well, the food was cooked well, the sauces and sides were just enough and it all tasted great.

Finishing the food, I sat back and looked around again, the place had gotten even busier. There was barely a table free and lots of families were there enjoying a Saturday evening meal out. I had not heard an increase in screams or shouting and I actually enjoyed being part of the dining crowd.

The waitress came back and offered me a desert menu again leaving me as she cleared away the plates and bowls. I read through the menu and fancied quite a few options, but after checking the time I felt I had to cut and run. She came back within a few minutes and after some small talk I asked for the bill.

The bill came out within minutes and I knew I was getting change from £15 for the meal and the drink and thought it was all good value, good food and the service was spot on. Leaving the money on the table, with a good healthy tip, I walked towards the door. I glanced over and saw that the grabber was still being ignored and I had a little smile to myself.

I walked out feeling that the experience of dining in a family restaurant was enjoyable. Everything worked out, even with the kids there, it was a great meal and I decided that it was a great place return at some point with no concerns about the ‘family’ noise.

Vince Penne

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