Definitely not your average local
Gastropubs should combine the excellent cooking of a restaurant with the more casual and easy going environment of a pub, but many of the gastropubs I’ve been to have failed in this mission – usually in the cooking department. The Harwood Arms is one of the most respected and vaunted gastropubs in London, so I had to visit the place and check it out for myself.
The plainly decorated pub is located on a quiet residential street in Fulham. The service was polite once they deigned to notice my presence – it took 33 minutes from being seated to having my order taken which is a personal record. Although the place was bustling on my weekday lunchtime visit, this really is no excuse – especially when some of the staff feel it’s more important to polish glasses than to take my order. Being ignored did at least give me an opportunity to study the menu, which changes fairly frequently and features specials, and catch up on my email.
My grumpiness wasn’t helped by the watery orange juice, although it did at least have bits in it. At least I had a basket of soda bread to nibble on. Things started to pick up with my slice of game pie which had a dense, terrine-like texture and a meaty, slightly salty taste although I couldn’t pinpoint which game animals went into the rather anonymous melange of meat. The sweet and tangy jelly added an interesting edge, while the crust was surprisingly dense despite its thinness and the salad added some much needed refreshment. Not a bad opener to a meal, but I wouldn’t order it again.
If I was non-plussed by the game pie, then I couldn’t have been more blown away by the cheek and jowl of Middle White pork. The dense, slightly salty cheeks contrasted beautifully with the tender, fatty, herby and sweet bits of jowl. The crisp crackling and the sharp and fluffy celeriac mash were the only accompaniments and they were the only ones necessary. A truly impressive pork dish and should be force fed to anyone silly enough to think that pork is a bland and uninteresting meat.
Just as impressive as the pork was my dessert of cinnamon buttermilk pudding with poached pears and marmalade cake. The small madeleine-style cake was forgettable, but the cool, distinctly flavoured and creamy cinnamon pudding was addictive and was even better when paired with the warm, sharp and sweet taste of the poached pears. I’m getting bored of poached pears, which have become a cliche of modern European cooking, but their presence is justified when incorporated into a dessert as well executed as this one.
Despite a shaky start, I came away very impressed with the Hardwood Arms. Although the attentiveness of the service needs a swift kick in the pants, the quality of the cooking rivals that of many more formal and more expensive restaurants. I’ll definitely be back.
Name: The Harwood Arms
Address: Walham Grove, Fulham, London, SW6 1QP
Phone: 020 7386 1847
Restaurant Opening Hours: Monday dinner only 18.30-21.30; Tuesday-Saturday noon-15.00 and 18.30-21.30; Sunday 12.30-16.00 and 19.00-21.00 (the bar opens and closes slightly earlier and later respectively).
Total cost for one person including dessert, soft drinks and service charge: £41 approx.