Wednesday, 18 February 2009
The Harwood Arms, Fulham
The Harwood Arms, a handsome Victorian pub a stone's throw away from Stanford Bridge in Fulham, is famous for its Scotch Eggs. Not many places are famous for their Scotch Eggs, because not many places do them very well. If all the Scotch Eggs you've ever eaten have been those processed rubber balls you buy in the multipacks at Iceland, I don't blame you if you're wondering what all the fuss is about. By way of an explanation, let me show you this:
Crispy, flaky breadcrumbs cover a whisper-thin layer of spiced Venison meat, which in turn surrounds a perfectly soft-boiled egg. It's a pleasure for all the senses, not to mention a marvel of engineering - how they manage to get the yolk so soft while the white remains firm and the meat not overcooked must be a result of many hours of trial and error. Topped with a light sprinkling of Maldon salt, the Harwood Arms Venison Scotch Egg is worth a trip to Fulham alone, but lucky for me I found the time to sample some of the rest of their menu as well.
My starter of pigs trotters and ears was a bit of a Curate's Scotch Egg. The strips of deep fried ears weren't overly flavoursome but were useful for dipping in the herby tarragon mustard. However the trotter meat on toast was excellent - sausagey and yummy, and ideal with the accompanying expertly-seasoned salad. A good, British starter and a sign of a confident and experimental kitchen. Highlights of the rest of the starters were some huge, meaty oysters and a perfectly decent onion quiche.
Main course was a generous - in fact, slightly overly generous as it turned out as I had to leave some - portion of grilled Ox tongue with a vegetable gratin. The gratin had a good, deep flavour but a rather odd texture - quite thick and gloopy. But the ox tongue was good, well seasoned with attractive grill marks on it and a rich beefy taste like hot pastrami. Again, a solid gastropub dish that had "inspired by St. John" written all over it, and was none the worse for that.
I also shouldn't go any further without mentioning the cute little bags of house bread that we were served. They contained a very nice white bread with a lovely crust, but a truly extraordinary soda bread which they bake in-house. Sweet and moist, with a perfect crust and lovely depth of flavour, it is the best bread I've tried all year and almost the highlight of my entire meal. Spread with the provided salted butter, it's a delicious reminder of the enormous advantage of having a kitchen confident and skilled enough to bake its own bread; it's baffling why even the very top restaurants (the 3-star Gordon Ramsay restaurant for one) sometimes don't bother when the results can be this good.
It was just as we were finishing our main courses that the evening's entertainment began. Tuesday night at the Harwood Arms is Quiz Night, and there was no escaping it even in the restaurant half of the building. Such goings-on probably wouldn't be for everyone, but I found it quite charming that despite the top-end food the atmosphere was still unselfconsciously that of a normal neighbourhood boozer. A normal neighbourhood boozer with homemade Scotch Eggs and the best bread in London. Now that's my kind of place.