The Harwood Arms – a bit of local history
Since I moved to Fulham about 6 years ago this place has gone through several different iterations, with varying degrees of success. The Harwood Arms, when I first visited in 2006, was a better than average local serving decent and very reasonably priced English pub-grub that verged on ‘gastro-pub’ but didn’t quite make it and didn’t actually need to. Then it was sold and the new owner tried to be different, introduced a fiddly and rather unappetising menu and alienated most of the regulars. The next (and final) change of ownership saw the place taken over by the Brett Graham of the Ledbury restaurant, Mike Robinson of the Pot Kiln pub in Berkshire and Edwin Vaux from the Vaux brewery. We didn’t know, but dropped in there when our planned lunch venue was packed out with exhibition visitors (the perils of living near Earls Court).
Wow, what a surprise! I seem to remember feasting on razor fish, venison and foraged wild sorrel. And the place was all poshed up with linen napkins and little hessian sacks of foodie bread. If I remember the bill was ridiculously cheap, less than we would have paid at the Atlas, and the place was half empty. What we didn’t know was the heritage of the new owners.
I took a foodie friend there, who interrogated front of house staff as we ate our way through yet another fabulous meal. And we promised ourselves more visits! But, here’s the rub. The Harwood Arms got rave reviews and was awarded a Michelin star, I think within a year or so of its reincarnation. And, when we went back, it was full to bursting, even on a weekday lunchtime and front of house staff were simply ungracious. The prices went up and the service went down. We sat through one lunch of ‘foodie’ but greasy bar snacks because ‘the kitchen was catering for a large party’ and the subsequent two visits we walked out before being served.
So, a year on, I decided to try once more.
The Harwood Arms format is pretty much unchanged. The flowers on the table are cultivated, not wild but the ‘country comes to the city’ look and feel is still there. The menu is still very much in the same style. The little hessian sacks of foodie bread are still there. But, on Tuesday lunchtime the place was very, very quiet.
My friend is something of a wine buff and ordered a bottle of 2010 Isabel Estate Sauvignon Blanc. Yum! He happily told me that the vineyard was next door to Cloudy Bay and that for a while, they had sold their surplus grapes next door, until someone realised the quality of the stuff they were producing themselves. It was fabulous and a great match for my starter of crab, apple and peas with raw fennel. As you can see from the picture, it was a truly pretty dish, with a light apple mousse, pea shoots, crab roe on toast and a perfectly dressed crab salad.
My companion chose the faggots of wild rabbit with prunes. Now, that sounds like a hard number to make look nice! But it arrived in a pretty white bowl looking almost like something you might get from an upmarket Chinese. We swapped tastes – and it turned out to be a very light rabbit mixture with just a hint of prunes.
More wine, Luigi Bosca, a full bodied 2008 Argentinian Malbec to go with our main courses. The special of the day was a roe deer platter and, I was keen to see if it was as fine as it had been when we first went to the Harwood Arms . I wasn’t at all disappointed with the plate of sausage, chops and rissoles accompanied by roasted new potatoes. There were no complaints from the other side of the table either, my friend was very happy with an elegant but generous plate of lamb with roasted fennel.
It’s tribute to the food that we went on to eat puddings, something I try to avoid at lunchtimes. But they were pretty fabulous too. My photo does very little justice to the lovely ice cream with nutty praline thins that I chose – it was really light and a perfect end to the meal for me. The cherry fool was richer, but there were absolutely no complaints!
I’m VERY pleased to say our service was impeccable and the French lady who looked after us was both charming and knowledgeable, helping with the extensive wine list and explaining that the original Harwood Arms chef, Stephen Williams had left, but his replacement, Barry Fitzgerald, had been the sous chef working under him. That explains the heritage and style, there are changes (at least this time, less foraged and wild food) but they are subtle and I am guessing will provide a more consistent experience. Hopefully the Harwood Arms has cut its teeth now and we can look forward to more superb meals in this ‘country brought to town’ pub.
You can find the Harwood Arms on the corner of Walham Grove and Farm Lane, Fulham, London SW6 1QP
tel: 0207 386 1847 for tables or check out the Harwood Arms website