2010 has been a good year for Brett Graham. Not only did his restaurant The Ledbury gain another Michelin star – bringing the total to a highly respectable two, his other baby Harwood Arms (a joint venture with Mike Robinson of Berkshire pub The Pot Kiln) also won a star, making it the first pub in London to do so. Opened barely two years ago under the direction of ex-Ledbury chef Stephen Williams, the gastropub has garnered praise from the get-go, with the 2009 Catey “Menu of the Year” award one of many accolades.
Located in a sleepy residential street in Fulham, the pub is spacious and homely, with light spilling in from the large unadorned windows onto the simple wood furnishings. The friendly staff, much like the surroundings are informal and laid-back, so much so that I felt completely relaxed myself within seconds of being seated (it helped that it was a lazy, sun-drenched Saturday). The homemade bread arrived cosily tucked into its own little bag; the white crusty offering was very good and quickly eaten, but we shunned the dry cereal-encrusted slices which were less to our liking.
We kicked-off with a salt-sprinkled Venison Scotch Egg which had a crunchy breadcrumb coating, a thin layer of venison sausagemeat and an incredible orange-yolked wonder of a soft boiled egg. B would have preferred more meat cocooning the egg, but for me it was scotch egg perfection (besides, a thicker layer of meat would require more fryer time, resulting in less gooey yolks).
My starter of Longhorn Veal Schnitzel looked suitably summery – chunky strips of moist veal escalope encased in a crisp panko with a pretty mélange of Raw Cauliflower, Wild Celery and Radish garnish, and a dainty pot of Broken Eggs. The scrambled egg mixture (a sort of lumpy mayonnaise) went well with the veal but I was less convinced by the salad garnishes, feeling that the schnitzel needed something wetter to compliment it. Still, it was a well-cooked piece of veal – just not that exciting.
B’s Grilled Salted Ox Tongue with Cauliflower Cheese Croquette and Bread and Butter Pickles, also presented enticingly on a long wooden slab, again had disparate components. Each was well executed: the thick slices of tongue were beefy and succulent, the golden croquette rich and creamy and the pickles both sweet and (maybe too) sharp, but it didn’t quite mesh on the palate – the tongue and pickles were fine together, it was the croquette that stuck out like a sore thumb.
On hindsight my choice of Beef Cheeks braised in Stout with Herefordshire Snails, Parsley Salad and Smoked Bone Marrow on Toast, was probably too hearty for such a bright day. Nevertheless, it was very satisfying – soft tender slow-cooked meat and juicy earthy snails in a rich gravy, on a heap of silky mash. However it was not exactly earth-shattering, and B does a mean braised cheeks dish at home that in my opinion, trumps it.
The bone marrow toast that came alongside (partly the reason I picked the main) had three generous chunks of the good stuff but the bread could have done with a few more seconds under the grill, and it wasn’t anywhere as special as St. John‘s majestic version. That being said, for a side it wasn’t half bad.
The Warm Salad of Smoked Pork Belly with Soft Boiled Berkshire Pheasant Eggs and Raw Celeriac ate well, but even with the accompanying potatoes wasn’t quite substantial enough to be filed under the mains. In fact B, expecting glorious pieces of pork belly, was visibly disappointed when the thin bacon-like slivers were presented to him, and after polishing off the perfectly-pleasant-but-not-altogether-memorable plate he eyed mine eagerly – not because he actually fancied cheeks, but as he was still hungry.
The Welsh Rarebit Potatoes and Piccalilli that came with the salad, was another odd pairing, and didn’t taste quite as delicious as they sounded. They would probably have been better off dropping the spuds and serving the pork belly dish as a starter.
In a rush to make the 2pm cut-off for our parking, we ordered a Buttermilk Pudding with Raspberries, Lemon Verbena Jelly and Shortbread to share. It was a quaking creamy pud and was quite delightful, lifted favourably by the hint of delicate citrus from the jelly and fresh, first of season British berries. The lightly-sugared thin shortbread was crisp and buttery, lending a welcome textural contrast.
While there is no disputing that Harwood Arms is serving up some top-quality grub using outstanding British produce, I can’t help but feel it isn’t quite Michelin standard, especially when compared against fellow 1-star gastropub, The Sportsman. But stars aside, I love the warm, chilled vibe and Williams’ cooking is still notches above your regular pub in both creativity and execution. We will certainly be returning, if nothing else for that superb specimen of a scotch egg.
27 Walham Grove
London SW6 1QR
t. 020 7386 1847