The Harwood Arms is not really a pub. Nestled in a cozy little street in Fulham, it has found a niche market. It specialises on one thing in particular: game. In terms of deer and wood pigeon, you are likely to get some very good products here. After all, the birds and animals are shipped from an estate straight to the restaurant. Another factor, which surely does help is that the chef, Stephen Williams, used to run the Ledbury’s kitchen.
In terms of design, wood is the main theme. It comes pretty much everywhere in the room and even serves as plate from time to time. Somehow, it is pretty similar to the Sportsman. The room we sat in was surprisingly light, making for a very welcome change to the usual darkness that reigns in almost any London restaurant. All in all, it is a very comfortable, warm setting in which one feels more than well.
The bread was pretty good as we came. White bread came with lovely crust, warm and with great flavour. Some kind of rye bread was very nice too and had a moisture, that often doesn’t appear on this kind of bread. After we emptied our first bag, the quality of the white bread dropped considerably. It suddenly lost all crust, and with it, all interest. Butter was fantastic.
One dish here, is an absolute must order. It’s not a real dish, as it only figures on the bar food menu, but it certainly was the best bite I have had during the entire meal. The venison scotch egg was as good as everyone says, if not better. This is a prime example to show, how Williams makes his food stand out from the usual gastro-pub food. The egg is boiled, peeled, “wrapped” in venison meat and then fried to order. The result is simply breathtaking. A perfectly crunchy coating envelops creamy egg white and slightly runny yolk. The whole thing is somewhat seasoned by the minced venison, which takes it to another level. The execution and coating were as good as any restaurant could ever hope to produce. Apart from the fantastic crispiness, the extremely thin coating was equally impressive. This was a truly outstanding appetizer (£2.50).
To start the meal, we shared the Plate of wild rabbit(£12.50, for 2). On it came pretty much the whole rabbit, albeit in various forms: A “tea” made from the bones with great, deep, highly concentrated flavour for instance was very good. Another part was a Schnitzel, a typically Viennese dish. Normally it is done with veal, but here it was made with the rabbit’s loin. The result was very tasty, and featured the fantastic deep-frying technique of the egg. The third part was a rissole. This was equally well made and very tasty. A terrine was a little bit on the dry side, but nowhere near being inedible. Also present, was one (why, if it is for 2?) piece of glazed shoulder. This was also a little dry at the edges. The salad containing cornichons, radishes, dandelion, apple and chives was refreshing but certainly a little light in terms of seasoning. Overall, it was a nice starter, where the concept of serving different parts of the rabbit really gave you quite some pleasure eating it. Excellent for the tea and Schnitzel, but the rest was no more than good.
A first meat course was back on the level of the egg: Whole Berkshire wood pigeon with Staffordshire oatcakes, smoked bacon, broad beans and soft lettuce (£14). This was a dish that could have stood up against the meat dishes of many 2* in this country and showed how much one can do for such a laughable price. The pigeon, as one can see, was beautifully cooked, extremely tender and with pretty impressive flavour. The two halves of the bird rested on, what effectively were blini and were accompanied by a fantastic broad bean, bacon and mushroom fricassee. I certainly could not find anything to criticise in this dish. Every element was prepared with great care, played a distinct role in the dishes’ composition and left you with a memorable taste experience. Excellent.
To follow this, I tried the other house speciality: Linkelnholt Estate Roe deer grilled on bay, with a salad of baked beetroots, grated horseradish and crispy garlic potatoes. (£15.50). What struck me again here, was the meat’s quality. The deer was cooked very carefully and had great flavour, coming both from the fire and the meat itself. It was simply seasoned with bay and came in its natural state. The dish as a whole however, was less cohesive for me. The salad was certainly not too bad, but it didn’t feel like the perfect partner for the meat. The potatoes were fantastic: Crunchy on the outside, liberally seasoned and creamy in the inside. One might take this for a very acceptable version of a steak frites with a little salad for the conscious eaters. Excellent quality and cooking of the meat, good dish overall.
The dessert was highly praised by a friend who goes here regularly. The Bowl of warm lemon doughnuts with whipped cream and heather honey (£6) was pleasing to eat, but nowhere near what I had been served at the Square for instance, where the doughnuts are wonderfully light, airy, creamy, crunchy and not too sugary. The problem with these was the overly sweet combination of things: As they came coated in sugar, stuffed with pretty sweet lemon sherbet and was supposed to dip them into sweetened cream with honey one was left quite a sweet mouthful indeed. Also, the dough was pretty firm. There was none of the airiness I had hoped to have. Decent as a dish.
So, what can one say? These slightly more elaborate gastropubs are pretty much similar in terms of concept. Whilst St John and Hereford Road will offer very simple stuff, this is a little more elaborate and carefully prepared. Overall, it isn’t any more expensive than the earlier mentioned, but certainly more refined and better. I would say that these dishes are on solid 1* level, with the egg and pigeon looking into 2*. I can only criticise the doughnuts, which in the course of a five course meal is a pretty good record. Service was absolutely lovely and deserves to be mentioned. The only real issue I have with it is the location. Being that far west, isn’t ideal for someone who lives on the other end of the city. However, as the food is as good and fairly priced, I’d certainly come back.