It’s the holy grail. The quest for a perfect Sunday lunch in London. The shopping list shouldn’t be that hard to conquer. You want a pub with some rustic charm- yet without a sticky residue which make your pint glasses pash the table every time you try and lift one . If it’s nippy out, a real open fire won’t go astray. None of those atmospheric collections of fairy lights in the hearth- I’m talking about real flames. A few locals warming the bar stools won’t hurt. Some interesting ales and whiskeys will never go astray. And then we come to the food. A roast of the day, please. Perhaps some game. Crisp tatties. Fluffy Yorkshire puddings. A salad starter for one of the ladies. And then we need proper puddings.
By George, I think we’ve found it.
There are some good reasons why the food at The Harwood Arms is enough to make you swoon (it’s not surprising that this is the only Michelin starred pub in London). The reputation of one of the men behind it all speaks for itself. Enter stage left Brett Graham (whose other restaurant the Ledbury in Notting Hill is currently ranked 34 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants List). This is an Australian chef who is completely at home in London. It’s also one who has managed to craft an experience that brings to life the fantasy most Antipodeans hold in the back of their head for a ‘proper English pub lunch’ when they first jump the pond.
Here are some things not to miss.
If you’re the sort of person who likes their game meats, then it’s very hard to overlook the care and creativity that goes into the game board for two (£18) – though you could easily fight it out between four. Clear shots of warming broth, hearty slabs of fat-studded terrine, sticky legs of quail and a Scotch Egg that puts all others to shame. Add some warm soda bread, yellow butter and a slosh of wine from the ‘Tri Nations’ section of the comprehensive list and you’ll be a very happy camper.
If you’re saving the lion’s share of your meat consumption up for your main course, then a starter of garnet Cheltenham beetroot, brightened with cow’s curd, hazelnuts, wafts of radish and smoked bone marrow (£8.50) is a cracker. It’s a riot of textures and tempered sweetness. It’s as cheerful as a ‘Sound of Music’ sing a long’ (with not a Nazi in sight).
If a more traditional British experience is what you’re after, then it’s also hard to look past the beef faggots (as long as you can bring yourself to say the words). Rather than a homophobic slur, it’s a plate of minced cow (with a good dash of offal), bound in caul. Essentially it’s dense and intense bundles of sausage. The meat’s inherent sweetness is amplified by prunes and celeriac puree, and a meaty puddle of bone marrow jus.
But in all honesty, these are just here to serve as warm up acts for the main event. The beef roast is listed on the blackboard as for two to share. A family of four would also suffice. It’s the traditional roast you hoped one day you’d find, and dreamed you’d be able to cook. It stares nearly every other ‘roast of the day’ straight in the face, laughs and turns on its heel.
It’s a feast, of buttered spinach, as verdant as Bambi’s forrest. It’s cauliflower cheese, as comforting as your Mum’s hug. It’s distended Yorkshire puddings, taut on the outside and spindle-soft inside, perfect for sopping up a dark pot of gravy. There are proud lumps of potato, nuggets of melting bone marrow, slices of well-seasoned beef, both charred and blushing pink and hearty bones for secretively chewing while others turn their heads.
There’s horseradish cream and pots of mustard on request. It’s served rustically on a wooden board, yet there are elements on the platter so refined, there is no doubt at the kind of skill of the kitchen.
It’s the kind of dish that makes you want to think about relocating the Fulham, just so every Sunday can be like this.
And all of this is before dessert. While comfort puddings are a staple of a sturdy British lunch, so often they fall into a bland crevice of predictability. You can design a menu while still asleep; bread and butter pudding, trifle, treacle tart, crumble and custard and the occasional note of whimsy from a spotted dick. Yet there’s a fine line between comfort and stodge and often what you’ll be eating will fall hard into the latter column- leaving you no option but to heave your way away from a table to the closest couch for an extended kip.
At the Harwood Arms, there’s such a canny use of acidity in the dishes that even the most soothing of the puddings will keep a spring in your step.
Exhibit a) Yoghurt pudding with blood orange and donuts. For one at the table, all he needed to hear was donuts. Adorable spheres of pliant squish, with a bronzed crust and frosting of sugar. They’re the sort of treat you’d drive fifteen minutes out of your way to get to. The sort of sweet that you’d eat while sitting in the car, transfixed, hand to mouth, to bag to mouth until a dozen were gone and all you had left was fullness in your stomach and sugar on your finger tips. Except here they’re a modest portion that’s paired with a mason jar of a sunshine of a pudding, as light as the dough is dense. The combination of citrus and yoghurt in the glass is so clear and honest, it makes you ponder why you haven’t been adding slices of blood orange to your yoghurt and muesli every winter of your life.
Exhibit b) Poached pear with walnuts and roast pear ice cream. It’s all about the textures. It’s the way that despite its gentle poach, there’s still bite in the pear, not just toddler-softness. It’s about how they manage to insert a certain chew into the pear ice cream, which tastes so searingly of roasted pears, that you swear you were standing in front of the oven eating them, except that it’s cold, not blisteringly hot. And it’s the caramel crunch of the walnuts and tumble of crumbs under the ice cream. It’s a dessert that makes you want to be very quiet about its merits, to protect it from wandering forks.
There is so much to like about The Harwood Arms. The staff are knowledgeable, genial and handsome to boot. Despite the serious talent on display on the plates, there’s not a whiff of pretension in the place. There are babies at the table next to us and a boisterous crowd out the back celebrating a birthday that comes with a zero at the end. And as much as I adored our meal at The Ledbury (see here), it’s The Harwood Arms that will pull me back, again and again and again.
Maybe it’s because we’ve spent three years searching for the perfect pub lunch in London, not sure if we ever would find it. Maybe it’s because for all of the fancy restaurant eating that we do, I’ve become more of a wooden boards at the table/small posy of wildflowers/put me by a fireplace sort of patron. And maybe, it’s because it really is this good.
The Harwood Arms
Walham Grove Fulham, London SW6 1QP
Ph: 020 7386 1847