Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Williams’

The Harwood Arms part II, London

avril 14, 2010

Sunday roast can be eaten in a fair number of restaurants in London, but few do it better than the Harwood Arms. My previous post described their dinner menu, which changes a lot by the way, so don’t expect to see the same dish again. This time, I’ll write about the Sunday roast. The place was absolutely packed when we got there at 3.25pm (!), and people came until about 4pm, so book very early if you want to eat lunch here. At the moment they’re booked out 6 weeks ahead for lunch, and 4 weeks for the evening.

In terms of wine, we started with a 2005 Puligny Montrachet from the brilliant domaine Leflaive. This was a really stunning wine. It needed a little bit of time to get going, but after a good 15min, it was simply exquisite. Quite concentrated for a village wine (which you could expect at this price!), with well-integrated oak, and beautifully balanced fruit and acidity. Just the kind of stuff I like! After this, we moved to something I found at Berry’s, a 2005 Monthelie 1er cru “Les Duresses” from another legendary domaine: Domaine des Comtes Lafon. This was an easy drinking wine. Just right for a Sunday lunch.

To start off with, I had deep-fried brawn, which I was told was pretty much everything from the pig’s head breaded and depp-fried. I love these slightly more interesting parts of the animals, and this was no deception. On the contrary, it was a stunning little cromesquis, as one would call it in French. Outstanding (not to mention THE ever brilliant egg).

Next up we were brought a pumpkin soup with a cheese stick. The soup was great, and worked beautifully with the Puligny. It was quite thick in terms of consistency, and well-seasoned. A few roasted nuts gave it some crunch, and the cheese stick was not to be left alone neither. Very good.

My starter was a roe deer and walnut terrine with prunes. As one could expect from a pub, sepcialising in game, this was very good. It had loads of flavour, and a beautiful soft texture, which still had some bite to it. Nothing to criticise here…

Up next was an intriguing dish: A braised shoulder of venison was breaded and deep-fried, upon it was sat a grilled chop. This was served with a bit of champ and a jus. The shoulder was simply decadent, unctuous, tasty and crispy on the outside: Great stuff! The chop was cooked perfectly, and was just as tender, as one would have imagined good venison to be! Excellent.

The main course was a roast pork belly with black pudding, some kind of mash, and a little salad. It was quite a substantial portion, but it was great. The belly was wrapped around a piece of black pudding, and cooked long enough to become nicely tender, whilst the outside was just about to be crispy (it could have been a little more crispy). The mash was served in a way too big portion again, but you simply can’t leave an unfinished plate, can you? That’s not what you do. Very good.

A bit of cheese was ordered to finish the red wine. There were a few fine British cheeses, whose purveyor I have omitted to write down.

Dessert today was a bit of poached rhubarb with a pepper sorbet. This was just what one needs after quite a big meal: Light, refreshing, a little tart and reminding us that spring is lurking around the corner.

What can I say about this meal? Food wise, there’s not much to criticise, the pork belly could have been a bit more crispy, the rest was just faultless. This is food, you can’t really criticise, and therefore I love this place. Service isn’t like in most other 1* places, but relaxed, smiling, without any fuss and brings all you need directly. What more can one ask for?

Publicités

The Harwood Arms part I, London

avril 13, 2010

Over the past weeks, I’ve eaten at this pub quite frequently, so I believe that I can give a solid assessment of the food here. This post will focus on two meals, a dinner and a Sunday lunch. This way, one gets both parts of the menu: The classic British tradition that is the Sunday roast, and the normal menu on offer here.

Let’s start off with the dinner. On a Monday night, I met with a friend, who had eaten here once before. We were warmly greeted and had a glass of wine at the warming fireplace. This was most comfortable, and we were given all the time in the world to finish our glass before going to our table. In terms of drinks we had brought two bottles: A 2007 St Joseph, “Lieu dit St. Joseph” from Guigal and a red 2004 Chateauneuf du Pape, “La Crau”, domaine du Vieux Telegraphe. The Guigal was intensively smoky  on the nose at first, but later revealed to be less dominated by smoke on the palate. This was a very well made St. Joseph, that was a huge pleasure to drink. The Chateauneuf was quite powerful, as was to be expected, but again, was an absolutely beautiful wine. You can hardly go wrong with such wines. To finish we each had a glass of Taittinger’s basic NV Champagne. It’s a decent wine, but nothing that will blow your socks off.

To start off, one would be a fool if one wouldn’t order the Scotch egg. It’s just immensely satisfying to eat: Crunchy breading, thin layer of venison meat, and a creamy egg. With it came another of my favourite things here: The raw venison with a cream of foie gras on toast. Ohhhh, this is good, believe me, I’d love them to do a starter of venison carpaccio with a thin layer of this cream underneath it, and a few croutons on top. That would be one of the best starters in town. Divine.

Next up was a dish Stephen (Williams, the chef here) wanted us to try: A creamed chicken soup with chicken wings. This was one great bowl of rich, deeply-flavoured chicken broth, to which a bit of cream was added. When one drank it, one had both the cream and clear broth, which made a great, very rewarding sip of soup. The accompanying chicken wings were a little on the sweet side for the both us, but as this was a first try, I’m sure there’ll be some fine tuning done on this. Excellent for the chicken broth, less for the wings.

First starter proper was the confit salmon with broccoli. This was served cold, something I would not have expected, and was simply a plate of perfectly cooked food. You couldn’t argue about this dish: Very good salmon, cooked beautifully, a nice little herb cream to freshen things up a bit, a bit of broccoli salad, simply dressed and well cooked (with some bite to it), and a few slivers of this and that to add colour and texture to the dish. What more can you expect for around £6 or so? Very good.

Another starter was a smoked eel tarte with rhubarb and celeriac. This was simply great. One of the finest starters I’ve eaten here over the last months. The tarte had the perfect balance between the slightly sweet/sour rhubarb, smoky eel and crunchy puff pastry. The accompanying cream added a welcome little acidic kick, and one was very well off eating this. Excellent, and beautiful with the Guigal.

Up next was the first of the meat courses: a cutlet of lamb was grilled and served with a haggis croquette and green sauce. Boy, this croquette was a killer! Lusciously creamy, and intense in terms of flavour, the haggis (my first ever) was great. I don’t know if I will eat a better haggis than this in the future, but if I get more stuff like that, I’m more than a happy punter! The lamb was great too: the charcoal flavours from the grill were present, giving the meat a little smoky component. The accompanying greens (I think it was a bit of cabbage), was simply exquisite. I rarely get excited about this kind of stuff, but here I loved it. Excellent.

The next main course was a braised ox cheek with mashed potatoes and onions. Another winner, with meat that really didn’t neat a knife to be cut, and a great, hearty jus. The mashed potatoes are still used in rather generous portions, which is a little annoying for some, but that’s the concession to pub food they have to make I suppose. The onion rings were great too, with beautiful texture and flavour. Very good. (unfortunately I didn’t get a decent pic of that one)

The last main course was a slow cooked duck leg, with mashed peas or something of the sort and a delicious crunchy potato ring. Nothing wrong here then, great, very tender, braised duck meat, with the crunchy potatoes as counterpart and a beautiful confit of more meat and the peas underneath it all. Very good indeed.

Desserts today were their classic doughnuts, light and airy filled with some kind of slightly bitter citrus fruit marmalade, and dipped into honeyed cream. Great stuff.

Second came a rice pudding with Clementine (?) sorbet and grapefruit jelly. This was great, with the interaction of the creamty rich rice, slightly tart, bitter jelly and the very refhreshing sorbet. Very good.

Last of the bunch was the sticky toffee sandwich, which I love. A parfait is sandwiched between two thin slices of bread and eaten like an ice cream sandwich. Very good.

Now, part two about the Sunday Lunch will follow soon, so stayed tuned. Great wines and food were had there too…

A few comments on dinners in London

février 26, 2010

Here are a few remarks on a couple of meals I’ve had in London over the past month or so. First off, a few places I haven’t talked about in this blog and then one restaurant I particularly enjoy coming back to.

Zuma

This is a bizarre place. Located just behind Harrods and a stone’s throw away from the Mandarin Oriental in Knightsbridge, the crowd here is obviously quite fancy. The design is not bad, and the service is about alright. You won’t feel special here, nor will you find much to fault neither. It’s the kind of service that is smooth, professional, but that isn’t really noteworthy or worth remembering. What I absolutely hated about this was the speed with which one was discarded. A meal that costs a good £80 a head (it was a very light meal with one glass of Billecart for me, and 300ml of the cheapest Sake on the list split for two, no desserts, no real mains) shouldn’t be over in 45min. If I order 5 dishes in other restaurants, I can be sure to have a nice evening there, and enjoy my food as long as I want to. Not here: All dishes come more or less together, making it not easy to see where one should start. Some stuff will be cold when one reaches it, and sushi, following a number of masters’ arguments, shouldn’t be left standing around for too long neither.

The second point of critique I have to this place is the way in which they wanted to sell me a pretty normal piece of tuna for o-toro (£10 for two pieces!). When I told them that this wasn’t what they sold it to be, I got the answer: It is! The second time I complained, they remarked that it was not in season. I know that the best season to eat this kind of stuff (in Europe at least) is in summer, but a restaurant that puts it on its menu should better have good tuna, if it charges such prices. Taking aside the fact that the customer is always right, I was quite shocked at how much time it took them to realise that there might be some kind of problem. After asking three servers, I finally got an answer, and exchanged the pieces.

The third problem was that the rest (which means most of the food) was actually pretty good. We had some beautiful spinach with sesame sauce, which was a truly great piece of cooking. Also nice were some tempura-fried prawns, and a few scallops. All of this was perfectly pleasant food. Too expensive for what it is, but well-made and not bad at all.

I don’t know what to make of a place such as this. With such food, one could easily get a star in London, if one would care a little more about the customers at least. But well, for some it’s all about the ruble, so let it roll!

Hereford Road

Well, this is a bit of a contrast. Small, cosy and trendy enough, this place is one that makes you feel well. Even if the wine list is rubbish, as it is mostly overpriced and not very well chosen, the service is charming, and the food good. Plus, its one of the cheapest restaurants in London I like. A starter can be had for a fiver, a main for around £12, desserts are around the £5 mark too. We had some very enjoyable duck livers (not fattened) with green beans and chervil, a lemon sole with cauliflower and a pork belly with red cabbage and lentils. To finish things off, a little treacle tart was just fine. Everything was well cooked, served without any false pretensions and good. What more can you ask for that money, especially in Notting Hill? All I can critisise is that the cauliflower rosettes with the sole spent too much time in the pan, and were therefore a little dried out. The meal cost no more than £33 a head including a drinkable Riesling from some Alsatian maker, whose name I didn’t know and didn’t write down.

Terroirs

This one is a weird one too. The wine list is great, with really interesting wines: Valette, to Sebastien Riffaut, Vouette & Sorbee, Cedric Bouchard, and many are present on their list, and reasonably well priced. Most wines are about twice retail price. The problem here, as with many « casual » places in London is that the bill quickly adds up. The dishes (miniscule portions) are priced at around £10 each, and with four or five one is just about sated. The vibe in here is great though, and the wines not to be found many other places in London. Therefore, they can afford to price the food, which is decent, in such a way. The place is packed

Harwood Arms


This is a favourite of mine, and for good reason, as I was shown twice during the last month. A longer review will come soon, after my next visit, but a few notes can’t hurt. First of all, Stephen’s cooking is absolutely brilliant. For no more than £30, one can have 3 courses, which are much better than a number of set menus in London’s starred-restaurants (at twice the price). The classics (Scotch Egg, Doughnuts) are always brilliant, and hard to beat, and the rest is very good too. Amongst the absolutely best things I ate during this term was a slice of raw venison meat, on toast with a cream of some kind of liver. That was an outstanding bite, which I would love to see turned into a starter at some point. Who knows? Maybe for my next visit, they’ll agree to do that?

I’ve also been drinking a number of very quaffable wines here, including 1998 Grange des Peres, 2004 Jaboulet Hermitage Chevalier de Sterimbourg, which only add to the pleasure. In short if you are in London for a day: Lunch here, dinner at the Ledbury, and you’ll be a happy man, or woman for that matter!

(with a little more time, add a pizza at Franco Manca, a meal at the Square and Greenhouse and you’ll be good)

To wind things up, lets have a quick look at what happens at Hakkasan and Yauatcha. In both, I had some good meals, in terms of the food. Hakkasan was as good as ever, and Yauatcha was better than I had remembered it to be too. The service in Hakkasan was much better than in Yauatcha, where the only European (!?) lady was more than rude, which did spoil the pleasure of eating there a little. The latter represents better value for money, as it is slightly cheaper than Hakkasan. However, in central London, both must count among the cheapest places with a star to have a meal in. Only point of critique is that both of their wine lists are too expensive. At Hakkasan, one has a great mix of wines though, something of a mix of Terroirs’ best natural wines, and the great names one can find at the multi-starred houses.

The Harwood Arms, London, II

novembre 28, 2009

The Harwood Arms is one of the two gastro-pubs, which I actually enjoy. It is, like the Sportsman too, not the usual “gastro-pub”, where one pays way too much for forgettable, unpleasant food. Here, the chef Stephen Williams has worked at the Ledbury amongst other places. The room was as full as ever. Booking should be done a few days in advance, as it gets pretty busy for the weekends, a good week in advance should suffice.

La cheminee

La cheminee

The décor is very warm and cosy, making it a perfect restaurant for a cold winter evening, or lunch. Service is lovely, and happily accommodates pretty much any wish.

La Table

La Table

To start the meal, we had the obligatory Venison Scotch Egg. A perfectly creamy egg, is surrounded by a layer of venison meat and then thinly breaded. Topped with a healthy pinch of Maldon sea salt, this is pure pleasure. The combination of creamy yolk, crunchy coating, and hearty venison is just as precisely balanced as it can get. To make this classically British dish this well certainly demands a certain level of technical dexterity and a good amount of research. This is without doubt one of the better, or more enjoyable bites in London. Excellent.

Scotch Egg

Scotch Egg

Bread was very good today. The sour dough was crunchy, with good taste,as was the rye bread. Butter was also very good, and most certainly not from Bordier, but from Britain (if I’m not mistaken).

Pain et beurre (sorry for the poor pic

Pain et beurre (sorry for the poor pic

One of the starters was a Sweetcorn and thyme soup with Scottish Hedgehog mushrooms and cheddar cheese straws. This was a very thick soup, almost like a fluid puree. The combination with the mushrooms and cheddar sticks was very pleasant. This was precise, and clean flavour-wise, with just the right amount of sweetness, to counterbalance the richness. The soup was a good heart-warmer after a pretty cold autumn day. Good.

Soupe

Soupe

The most interesting starter on the menu was the Salad of Berkshire wood pigeon with pickled girolles, toasted hazelnuts and game tea. A small wood pigeon breast came nearly cold, dressed with a few radishes and green beans. Paired with one or two small, pickled girolles and hazelnuts, the dish was on the light side, less robust than the previous one. The dressing for the salad was very good,with a well-balanced taste, but to serve the whole thing lukewarm instead of cold would have been perfect. Cold meat is just a little less tasty and tender than warm or lukewarm meat. The game tea here is always great. A warm rush of pure gamey punch, which certainly doesn’t leave you cold. Perfectly clean, this is a textbook perfect consommé, which is better than a number of clear broths served in a few starred restaurants. Very good.

Salade de pigeon

Salade de pigeon

To have a taster of fish, I tried some Roast Cornish cod with a wild mushroom and Jerusalem artichoke tart and English truffle butter. The cod was certainly very fine, but not of exceptional quality. It was cooked well, seasoned correctly and nicely paired with the tarte. The latter was very good, with a potent mushroom flavour and crispy, airy dough. To say the least, it was a most successful fish dish, all the more, if one considers that this is a pub. One that focuses on game. Very good.

Cabillaud

Cabillaud

I had hoped to find something like grouse, pigeon or some other gibier a plumes, but it wasn’t to be for today. The grouse has to be pre-ordered, and is served for parties of 6 or more (at a very favourable price, if one considers how much these birds set you back in a shop). Thus, I had to make due with something else. The most interesting thing on the menu was the Whole rabbit leg stewed in cider and mustard with smoked bacon, prunes and Swiss chard. A nicely braised rabbit leg came in a creamy cider/mustard jus, served with steamted swiss chard, prunes and a few pieces of bacon. The only annoying thing on the plate was the very generous serving of mashed potatoes, which was good, but not really needed, at least not in such quantities. That probably is a concession one has to make, when cooking in a pub. After all, (some) people will come here to get fed. This dish really was the standout for me tonight. It was hearty, well cooked and perfectly seasoned. The combination was certainly not inventive, but if it is well done, one can’t ask for much more, and eats it with a little smile. Very good.

Lapin

Lapin

As I saw one garnish for another dish, which interested me, I asked if it was possible to have a serving of it. The cheese and cauliflower croquettes were most enjoyable. If a little more greasy than the stunning Scotch egg, they had a perfectly crunchy (if nearly too thin) crust, and a centre that was most creamy and pungent. The cauliflower was nicely tamed by the cheese, and thus did not dominate the whole thing. Served with their own home-made ketchup (which was very tasty), this was great comfort food.

Croquettes

Croquettes

Desserts were not on the bad side neither. The first was Caledonian ice with English quince, whiskey and toasted oats. Two nice chunks of whisky parfait were simply served with poached quince and crunchy oats. This was very well made and served without any unnecessary complications. The parfait had a slight taste of whisky, which wasn’t overpowering, and was perfectly creamy. With the slightly acidic quince and crunchy oats, one had everything that makes a good dessert: rich creamy parfait, crunchy oats, slightly acidic, fruity quince and the happy taste of whisky, which rounded things off. Very good.

Parfait

Parfait

The second one was the house classic: Bowl of warm Bramley apple doughnuts with spiced sugar and whipped cream. As Andy Hayler wrote, Homer Simpson would have been very happy with these doughtnuts. They are indeed not bad at all. Today they were much better than on the previous visit, where they lacked a little fluffiness and were too compact. The bramley apple wasn’t that present, and could have been a little more powerful, but if dipped in the slightly sweetend cream, this is again, great comfort food. Very good.

Doughnuts

Doughnuts

The last dessert was a Buttermilk pudding with blackberries and Harwood Arms ginger nuts. Not too different from a panna cotta, this set buttermilk mix was served with some biscuits and a little blackberry jam. Clean, refreshing flavours, very good execution made this a very good dessert. Very good.

Buttermilk

Buttermilk

The food today was very reasonable in terms of price starters and desserts all are priced around £6, and the mains are more or less in the £15 area. The wine list is fairly priced. However, a meal here will not be a steal neither,  as the products used here are of very high quality, and will never be.

La salle

La salle

 

Food was great for a pub. I would say that if the cooking here is as constant as I have experienced it on my two visits, it should get a Michelin star pretty soon, as it can really challenge a few of the 1* restaurants in this country. Together with the lovely service, this restaurant is a very enjoyable place to spend an evening, without breaking the bank.

The Harwood Arms, London

juin 20, 2009

 

la maison

la maison

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.

 

la table

la table

 

 
 

 

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.

 

la salle

la salle

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.

 

les pains

les pains

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).

 

l'oeuf

l'oeuf

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.

 

le lapin

le lapin

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.

 

pigeon

pigeon

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.

 

venison

venison

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.

 

doughnuts

doughnuts

 

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.

 

la deco

la deco