No doubt you will have read the multitude of pieces extolling the virtues of this greatest of London pubs. The pub’s shiny Michelin win, was both a surprise and a seal of approval that solidified its status as the epitome of pub grub in London. For the months that followed, the euphoria ensured difficulty in securing a free table, and this well hidden pub in Fulham had become a gastronomic destination of sorts. I wonder if the owners had predicted the frenzied success when they put their heads together to open this pub, a result of a partnership between Brett Graham (of two starred Ledbury), Mike Robinson (who owns Pot Kiln, a pub in Berkshire) and Edwin Vaux (of Vaux Brewery).
I had avoided the hurrah until a peaceful Friday in August, to have lunch with an equivalent food lover (who turns 30 this week) whose major goal right now is visit Noma, having failed to win a table at the closing El Bulli. This was to be both our virgin Harwood Arms meal… and we were a little surprised that HA looks exactly like a quiet neighbourhood pub, albeit painted of a harrowing red, with no particular features that stand out. The interior was a civil affair, there was no raunchy debauchery, no hype induced fandom nor happy snappers (except for me of course) filling the room. Instead, the lazy pub was unnervingly serene, with a couple of couples and a trio of retired folk (I assume) celebrating a birthday.
Service was as laissez-faire as the tiresome if friendly room, two waiters who barely patrolled the floor and one who occasionally popped up behind the bar; time dilation seemed to apply inside the pub, there was delay before we received the hessian napkins, a delay before we ordered our food, and pause before we could order our wines. I drank a glass of ice cold Pinot Grigio to cool-off (£5.50).
Home of the Venison Scotch Egg , £3 each.
It did not appear to be on the lunch menu (it appears on the ‘bar snack’ menu), but we asked for them anyway, after all, it is the major highlight of a visit to Harwood Arms.
Forgive the vulgarity of this diptych, but it’s got to be done.
Breaking the yolk was strangely satisfying, the texture of the whites, pillowy and verging on being fully cooked. The crispy, well salted exterior was a delightful crunch, the mince, juicy, wet and even better seasoned. It was warm, it was comforting, it was simply a gorgeous scotch egg.
Salad of smoked sprats, baked beetroots and fresh apple with a soft boiled hens egg, seaweed salt and sea purslane £7.00
Look at this dish – vibrant isn’t it? The sprats sat on top of a soft boiled egg, its surface powdered with seaweed salt.
Breaking into the egg, again – another visceral experience. Smoky bitterness from splats, the beetroot – so visually impactful – provided a grainy sweetness, and the gently boiled egg rounded off a dish, perfectly poise for summer.
Crisp brawn with tarragon mustard and broad beans stewed with smoked bacon and gem lettuce £6.50
My starters were much more visually reticent, but no less exciting on the palate. The brawn shared the similar fried crustiness with the excellent scotch eggs. A burst of muscular heartiness, with gentle hues of herbs; taking it apart, I saw carrots, fatty globules (which might be from the pig’s head or trotters or both), this lovely roasting quality about it – the consummate appetiser. The broad bean stew was a god send, the green broth with flavours of bacon and beans, resulting in something hearty and heaty. I kept tearing off more and more bread to soak up the soup, untill I had wiped the bottom of the ramkin dry.
The starters were filling, perhaps comforting was the more appropriate word, we definitely felt half way satisfied by the time the mains landed.
Roast Cornish cod with salt cod puree, stewed courgettes, marsh samphire and toasted walnuts £16.00
What wonderful aromas – one could smell the roast fish from a mile away, it was wholesome, hearty and fabulously arranged. The mash tasted unerringly of ginger, but sadly I felt the fish was a tad overdone, giving rise to a soggy and dense texture. The dish was perhaps a little to warm to have for the weather; the steam that kept hitting my face wore me down, before long, I was sweating and the stodginess felt like a chore. In the end I struggled, then failed to finish off the mash. It’s a solid dish, perhaps a little too solid, and maybe because of its Michelin star, my subconscious was searching for a spark of creativity, only to find that this recipe was forgettable, unremarkable and typical.
Grilled Steak of Berkshire Roe Deer and Douglas Fir Sausage with Raw Celeriac, Spelt Flatbread and Grilled Field Mushrooms £17.50
It would appear that I had missed a trick however, this colossal plate of food – one from the specials (written on a chalkboard no less) – looked downright stupendous! Mark was smiling ear to ear as it landed. He failed to finish it too, as the food just had us bursting at the seams. The sausage had fatty bits sticking out, full on and intense. The deer – presumably personally and proudly shot by one of Harwood’s owners – lively, bloody and wonderfully juicy. However I fear this was another dish which was better served as part of a wintry collection, rather than for the British summer.
Come to think of it, it was probably a little embarrassing to have two self professed food nuts (replete with man boobs and love handles) struggling to finish massive portions of gorgeously cooked, and extremely well presented grub.
Warm strawberry jam tart with clotted ice cream, £7.50
Even more embarrassing that we could only find room to share a tart to finish. Separate spoons however. Oh my giddy lord. This was a pudding. An exploding burst of summer jam, rich, gooey, dense and substantially sugary. The strawberries reduced to a mushy, muculent mess. It was better than brilliant, the warmth of the tart melting the ice cream to its constituent ingredient as we dug into the tart.
We paid £40.50 pounds each – great value considering the amount of food we had. There were definite highlights from this meal, but the main dishes were a real let down. On one hand, the food was well cooked and featured muscular, man-sized portions chock full of meat (and probably shot), very full on, and that’s kind of what Harwood Arms is all about. On the other hand, because of all its brawniness, I felt as if the meal was just a little too unrestrained. Little about it was refined (which of course, it shouldn’t be, its a pub!) and I think knowing it has a Michelin star probably degraded the experience. The weight of expectation probably works against it. Don’t get me wrong though, I think Harwood Arms remains true to its intent of carving a modest location in London where one can enjoy good food, down a couple and to chillax. It is more pub than gastropub (whatever the latter means) , and while I believe there are more serious Michelin-intended pubs around (Royal Oak, Sportsman perhaps?), food at Harwood is still very good nonetheless. Stephen Williams’ Ledbury training is ever evident, and if you have left it late to try it (like me), I think it is definitely worth a visit, but maybe when the weather is a little cooler. Just don’t expect to be bowled over with invention, it should be a case of familiar comfort food and perfectly awesome scotch eggs. I am slightly envious that people who live in Fulham have such a brilliant pub to call their local. When I return, I would definitely graze on a couple of starters as opposed to a stiff three courser. Maybe I should consider moving back to Mendora road.
The Gist of It
27 Walham Grove, London SW6 1QR
Tel: 020 7386 1847
Tube: Fulham Broadway
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