Here is, finally, my review about Harwood Arms, where I had dinner with WJT on my first weekend in London this fall. It is a gastropub with 1 Michelin star: a typical London pub made simply elegant by candles, dim lights, wild flowers on wooden rustic tables, non-matching chairs and, obviously, a traditional bar serving various English beers. It is very down to earth and especially the wooden floor (which looks like it has seen huge crowds of people drinking beer) reminds you that you are in a pub – despite the Michelin-starred quality of the food. The staff is also easy-going, welcoming and very much willing to do anything to ensure you enjoy your meal at its best.
It re-opened in 2008 with two excellent chefs: Mike Robinson from the Pot Kiln, Yattendon (Berkshire) and Brett Graham from the Ledbury, Notting Hill. Robinson shoots his own game, while Graham is a young Australian who obtained a Michelin star in his first year at the Ledbury. Together, they’ve created a very typical British menu.
We started off with a set of three starters: a venison Scotch egg; a warm salad of wood pigeon with creamed wood pigeon liver, bitter leaves and turnips; and ox hearts on a liquorice stick with Oxford sauce. The place is known for its legendary venison Scotch eggs, so that was something we really had to try – it was indeed the best I had ever had. The yolk was quite runny, yet the deep fried crust around very crunchy. Despite the seemingly surprising match, licorice and ox went extremely well together, especially with the Oxford sauce (made from black sugar, white vinegar and mustard). These two dishes were really outstanding; nevertheless, I would say that the pigeon was my favourite. The meat was extremely tender, also due to the fact that the animal had been shot just days before by the chef himself. Matched with the creamed liver, the dish was simply stunning.
As the main, we had the daily special: shoulder of Berkshire roe deer wrapped in smokey bacon and served with celeriac purée. It was a huge lump of meat (the whole shoulder actually!) and came with delicious gravy. Also this animal had been shot by the chef himself and this guaranteed the high quality of the meat. What impressed me the most was the purée – the celeriac added new flavour to a dish which can often be quite plain. Other side dishes that came with it were carrots and mushrooms covered with herbs. I liked the latter the least of what we had; the herbs on top of it were too dry and hence they would stick at the top of your mouth without complementing the flavour of the mushroom. Some of the locally grown carrots had funky colours such as violet and brown. They differed in the level of sweetness, the purple being the least sweet and most acidic (I liked this ones most). Overall, it was a delicious, huge dish, worth the whole trip to London.
Even though at this point of the dinner we were pretty much full (and for the very first time, after a big struggle we had to give in and ask for the rest in doggie bags!), after taking some time to give our stomach a rest, we decided to try one of their desserts. Taking the waiter’s recommendation, we opted for brown sugar doughnuts with sea buckthorn curd and sour cream. Something like doughnuts is just what you would expect to find in a pub, so I’m very glad we had them, as it was very interesting to have this really outstanding version of such everyday food. They were filled with the sea buckthorn curd and the waiter explained us we were supposed to dip them in the sour cream. These two quite acidic ingredients balanced well the sweetness of the doughnuts that were covered in brown sugar.
We finally moved to the sofa where we finished the wine (Cal Pla Tinto’s 2007 Mas d’en Compte from Priorat). I also had mint tea to end the meal in a refreshing way and WJT enjoyed a glass of their 15-year-old Somerset “Alchemy” cider brandy.
Harwood Arms was a very good find by WJT. Check it out if you are looking for genuine and outstanding British food in an easy atmosphere (but make sure you book in advance as the pub gets quite full, especially on weekends). You also might want to pop by at Vagabond, an amazingly well fornito wine shop extremely close to the restaurant, where you can taste their entire range of wines – and of course buy what you have enjoyed. We’ve been there many times and always discovered very interesting wines. This time’s favourite was Klein Constantia, Vin de Constance (a South African wine mentioned in works by Dickens, Austin and Baudleaire).