The Harwood Arms – the best gastropub we’ve visited

As soon as I had a taste of one of the three real ales on offer at the Harwood Arms in Fulham I felt confident we were in for a good meal; anywhere that can treat beer with such respect would surely do well with food. We were further re-assured by the elegant design of the dining room and the offer of venison Scotch eggs as a bar snack.

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Needless to say, we ordered a couple of these Scotch eggs to sample as we looked at the menu; would they be as good as the [link2post id=”609″]Hind’s Head[/link2post] offerings? Indeed they were! Very meaty with a perfectly melting egg in the centre. Serving them on a little square of brown paper was perhaps a tad odd, but the sprinkle of salt crystals on top was most appreciated.

The menu had so many tempting dishes we found it easy to order three different starters and main courses between the four of us, only repeating choices that seemed so personally pleasurable it would be almost rude to turn them down. As is the current trend, it generally listed the sources of its main elements. This can sometimes seem a bit pretentious, but it wasn’t out of place on this ingredient-centric menu.

[image image_id=2152 title=”Smoked salmon with horseradish cream” align=”left” ]

‘Non-Stinky’ Jeff went for one of the daily specials, some smoked salmon with horseradish cream. Smoked salmon is usually an easy ‘opt-out’ dish for a restaurant; they can buy it cheaply from the local supermarket and just dish out the flavourless pap and charge through the nose for it. Not so at the Harwood Arms, this stuff had real character. I was really compelled by my little taste and NSJ, who claims not to be enthused by horseradish, said the cream was a perfectly balanced accompaniment.

[image image_id=2156 title=”Grilled salted ox tongue with a cauliflower cheese croquette” align=”right” ]Daniel chose salted, braised ox tongue with a cauliflower cheese croquette and pickles. My three dining companions were all a bit sniffy about the cauliflower cheese action, claiming not to like the stuff and saying it might not get eaten. How wrong they were! The smallest taste proved this to be a really top example of cauliflower cheese; even super-anti-cauliflower Daniel ate it with limited moaning. It was finished up with impressive speed. The tongue itself, something I would normally avoid as I’m not generally wowed by it, was very tender and had a really satisfying flavour; so good, in fact, that I would happily order this dish again should it be an option when we return here.

[image image_id=2154 title=”Snails with oxtail and bone marrow” align=”left” ]Dan’s and my choice of starter was thrustingly, pulsingly, throbbingly brilliant: snails braised in stout with oxtail and bone marrow. This re-defined the entire snail genre for me. Sure, the classic Burgundian and Alsatian styles with garlic, butter, parsley (and Riesling in Alsace) will forever have a special place in my heart, but this offering opened our eyes to new possibilities of snail brilliance. The richness of bone marrow and oxtail coupled with the intense flavour of the stout only added to the meaty, grassiness of the snails. The result was a dish which had us grinning with gustatory hilarity and positively chortling with aesthetic mirth. The only disappointing thing about the dish is that there were only six snails; we wanted, no needed. These really were Snails par excellence. Wake up Alsace and Burgundy, your snail crowns are under threat from a boozer in Fulham.

[image image_id=2146 title=”Grilled chop of fallow deer” size=”large” ]

We felt really rather satisfied with the starters, so expected more good stuff from the main courses. We were not disappointed. Daniel chose a grilled chop and braised shoulder of Lockinge estate fallow deer with crisp garlic potatoes, black cabbage and mushroom ketchup. The chop was served very rare and was unusually flavoursome. The large croquette of braised shoulder had a brilliantly soft texture and a rich, meaty flavour which was further enhanced by the mushroom ketchup. This was a quality venison dish.

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NSJ and I ordered glazed leg of Gressingham duck with smoked ham hock, split green peas and and crisp potatoes. The duck was so tender it yielded to the slightest touch from a fork; totally scrum-tastic too. This piece of duck sat on the crisp potatoes, which were nice enough, and they were on top of the peas and ham hock which were mixed together in a decadent melange of loveliness. NSJ and I were totally content with our selection. Then we tried Dan’s option.

[image image_id=2143 title=”Beef cheeks stewed in ale” align=”right” ] Beef cheeks stewed in ale with clotted cream mash was an inspired choice by Dan. Beef cheeks are super-fashionable at the moment and the Harwood Arms are clearly at the bleeding edge of food trendiness. The cheeks themselves were stewed to the point that they almost dissolved on your palate, releasing super-beefy flavours of richness and complexity. These were mind-bendingly good things to be eating. Mash is a good accompaniment to stewed meat and this one had both the required light, fluffiness and the much appreciated rich decadence. The lump of clotted cream on top of the mash was an amusing addition, and it added more of that lovely, lovely dissolute character. We all thought this was the best main course and I will find it very difficult to turn this option down should it be on the menu on our next visit.

We are generally not terribly thrilled by desserts in most restaurants, but all but one of the offerings on the menu seemed interesting and as cleverly constructed as the preceding courses. We ordered four different desserts and passed spoonfuls of them around so we could all share in the experiences. There were moans and sighs of pleasure from all around the table.

[image image_id=2165 title=”Baked custard with stewed Bramley apple” align=”right” ]

Daniel chose baked custard with stewed Bramley apple, cider sorbet and Grassmere gingerbread. The custard had a good vanilla character and the cider sorbet and apple gave it a fresh, invigorating feel rather than making it seem heavy, ponderous and overly sweet. The ginger character of the gingerbread was quite fresh and intense; good if you like ginger, I don’t.

[image image_id=2161 title=”Buttermilk pudding” align=”left” ] Dan went for a buttermilk pudding with pears and raisins poached in mead. The buttermilk pudding was creamy and attractively flavoured with a very agreeable consistency. The raisins were powerfully characterful, but Dan found it hard to discover any pear in the dish. This was a bit of a pity as the inclusion of pear was what had drawn him to ordering this dessert. He still loved it.

[image image_id=2163 title=”Warm marmalade doughnuts” align=”right” ] My bowl of warm marmalade doughnuts were real comfort food. The sweet but light doughnuts had marmalade in their core and they were quite scrumptious when dipped in the provided bowl of whipped cream. It was good cream rather than the thin, watery, rubbishy cream normally associated with pub desserts; good cream can make all the difference in making a dessert delectable rather than merely average. I was quite pleased with the portion size. There were enough doughnuts to pass one each to my fellow diners with enough left for me to horse down with great satisfaction. I really was satisfied; I rather like doughnuts and these were truly superior examples of the genre. I was sad to eat the last one; I would happily have eaten a bowlful even more epic in terms of size.

[image image_id=2148 title=”Sticky toffee and date ice cream” align=”left” ] The final dessert was NSJ’s sticky toffee and date ice cream with caramelised brown bread and lemon curd. I loved the rich ice cream, sweet and crispy brown bread slices and agreeably acidic lemon curd. Yet, whilst each of these components were awfully jollity-augmenting in themselves, they worked together synergistically to create a downright complete dessert experience. Yet another bull’s eye from the Harwood Arms kitchen; there had been many during our meal.

With an embarrassment of riches on the menu and each dish executed with not only a high degree of competence but also definite élan it is easy to see the hand of [link2post id=”218″]The Ledbury in this establishment; they have the one of the same owners and their chef is an ex-Ledbury geezer. It is also not terribly surprising that the Harwood Arms has a star; high praise indeed for a gastropub. Although to be honest, this is only euphemistically a pub; even though they have tremendously well kept real ale on offer most of the floor area is taken up with dining tables with little space dedicated to the committed drinker. But when the food is this good who cares if the booze hounds are cramped with nowhere to sit? The wine list was short and very reasonably priced for London. Among the wines of interest was a Mac Forbes Pinot Noir (albeit the generic) and as we love his wines we drank a bottle of this with much gratification after we had finished our thrillingly lively beers.

The service was friendly but unobtrusive. They did get a bit rushed when the restaurant was full, but it wasn’t too difficult to collar a waiter when we needed to. The prices are closer to a one-star level rather than a boozer, but when we got the bill it was once again remarked upon that quality dining is one of the most under-priced recreational diversions one can engage in. The Harwood Arms has our most enthusiastic recommendation as a destination for food of an obscene pleasure quotient.

When we stepped out of the pub one of the wilder locals was waiting to bid us goodnight.

[image image_id=2316 title=”The Harwood Arms' local fox”]

Contact details: The Harwood Arms, 27 Walham Grove, SW6 1QR Telephone: 020 7386 1847