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The Harwood Arms, Fulham

June 14, 2011

Note: This was actually written on November 29, 2009, before the Harwood Arms received their Michelin star, but never published. I’d taken photos using my phone, but never had the chance to upload them, and now my phone is dead. To be honest, I’m not sure why I didn’t just publish it earlier without photos, but never mind – in an attempt to revive the hiatus of Little Spoon Eats, a resurrection of a yet-to-be-published draft was necessary.

It was a long trek out to southwest London all the way from the eastern reaches of the Jubilee line, let me tell you. Not only that, but we ended up half an hour late from our reservation at 6:30pm on a Saturday because we couldn’t find our way from the tube station. Also, in my hunger-induced haze, I forgot to note down their phone number so it took a lot of frantic phone calls to various friends to see who could look it up for us. Fortunately, the man who answered the call at Harwood Arms seemed used to customers’ cries of “I’m lost, please help”, so we finally ended up outside the modest-looking gastropub at 7pm.

This was my first experience at a gastropub, and among the most highly regarded at that, so I had no idea what to expect (aside from great food, and game in particular). It’s cozy inside, with wooden floors and furniture and rustic decoration. It’s actually rather small – I was afraid they wouldn’t give us our table, being so late and all, but it was waiting for us. I had expected the pub to be busier, but it was mostly full of drinkers rather than eaters. Perhaps it was a combination of the persistent rain outside and it only being 7pm. I always think it’s odd when people book tables for 8pm and after because I get ridiculously hungry, but I’m veering off course. Let’s talk about the food.

One thing I must say and will probably repeat: the bread at Harwood Arms is the best I’ve ever had in my life. Ever. They brought us two thick slices each of a dark and white bread placed in a linen bag. The dark one might have been rye or pumpernickel (probably the latter, though I admit now that my knowledge of bread is pretty dismal) and I have no idea what the white bread was, just that both were excellent, crusty and warm and chewy. It’s not often that I eat bread without butter, but I ate almost all of my rye/pumpernickel one unbuttered – the flavour was unbelievable. Harwood Arms should just turn itself into a bakery (assuming the bread was made on-site) and I would make the trek from southeast London every week. (It’s an hour-long journey, if not more!)

Did I mention the bread was fantastic?

Sorry, I’ll continue with the rest of our courses now. For starters, it was a half dozen Hereford snails with oxtail braised in stout, parsley crumbs and bone marrow (£7) for me and Berkshire hare stewed in ale with chestnut dumplings and Lincolnshire poacher (£7.50) for my dining victim T. The snails arrived in delicate ceramic cups (for quail’s eggs, perhaps) arranged on a wooden board, with a little snail-pick. Unfortunately they didn’t provide any snail-holders (my snail-as-food terminology has clearly developed well) so I had to place my fingers on the burning hot shells to extract the chewy nuggets inside. They were delightful: little savoury bites that hit like an injection of umami straight onto the tastebuds, most likely from the oxtail and marrow. The hare didn’t taste very strong (not sure if that’s a good thing), but I could detect some of that “gamey” taste.

My main of whole rabbit leg stewed in cider and mustard with smoked bacon, prunes and Swiss chard (£15.75) arrived shortly after, along with the second main of roast pheasant breast and green peppercorn sausage with pearl barley, butternut squash and black cabbage (£15.50). I’d never had rabbit before, so I was surprised at its lack of gameyness. It was so tender that the knife was nothing more than a tool to push the meat onto the fork rather than separation. Personally, I found the liquid a little too salty, but I suppose that’s what the prunes were for! (I had to pass on the prunes – they’ve never appealed to me ever since my dad offered one to “aid digestion”.) Here’s where the bread would have come in handy had we not emptied the bag at the beginning of the meal. Creamy mashed potatoes offered a suitable subsitute to soak up the gravy, however.

The pheasant was pleasant (haw haw) but I only had a bite before it was gobbled up, so I can’t comment much. Tasted like a chicken with more complexity.

The bill came to just under £60 for two, with service and two non-alcoholic drinks. Service was flawless (I was allowed to keep a copy of the menu, although it’s all creased now), the ambience was buzzy if a little loud from tipsy drinkers within the same room, and the food was spot-on. Also, bonus points for the bread because I would seriously go back just to eat their bread for dinner.

The Harwood Arms
27 Walham Grove, Fulham

Addendum:While I raved about the quality of the bread back in 2009, I’ve had better at St John Bread & Wine since then. In the last few years we’ve seen a huge surge in the quality of gastropub offerings such as Bull & Last and  Anchor & Hope; I believe Harwood Arms is still one of the best places to go for game when the season is right, but there are definitely other gastropubs out there that rival the rest of the British food offered by the Harwood Arms.

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