Funny things, arms. They're comforting and useful. But, when it comes to food, they suggest one thing: pub. So The Harwood Arms is curious. If it were called The Harwood, you'd know exactly where you stood, rather like The Ledbury. But the Arms makes you think beer and Scotch eggs.
Both beer and Scotch eggs are on offer at this Fulham restaurant, as it happens, but they're a sideshow to an altogether more elegant offering. The place is not new – it's been in its current incarnation since 2008, and has a Michelin star – but with so much of the London scene in thrall to the latest openings, I'm intrigued to see whether there's a virtue in consistency and trendless food.
The Harwood Arms looks like a pub both inside and out, complete with bare wooden tables and chalked-up specials. It calls itself a pub on Twitter, and has a pub quiz, for goodness' sake. But with his first glance at the menu, Mr M's eyes widen. "Crisp pressed rabbit shoulder with pickled carrot, dandelion and lovage?" he murmurs. "I'm changing my order from beer to wine."
This is wise: not only does the restaurant have a thoughtful, promising menu, but a serious and substantial wine list (as befits a Michelin gaff). There's plenty here at high prices – but can our waiter recommend a light red to go with our (admittedly eclectic) choices for around £40? He does better: we have a 2008 Rully burgundy from Vincent Dureuil-Janthial that comes in under budget and well above expectation.
To the food: on one side of us is a couple who have ordered almost the complete menu – there are five starters, five mains, plus specials – and intend to photograph the life out of every one of them. This affords us the opportunity of seeing before we buy, if you like.
I love the look of treacle-cured smoked salmon with whisky jelly, pickled apple and spelt (£10.50), and the taste is just as lovely: gloriously rich fish with a firm texture, quivering, potent jelly and tart curls of Granny Smith. Mr M toyed with the idea of Hereford snails with oxtail, stout and parsley but we notice (despite a pretty presentation) that only one of our neighbours' order of six is eaten. He diverts to the special: game faggots with cherry and girolles (£10.50); autumn on a plate.
This sensational dish makes sense of an initially lipcurlingly twee slogan on the website: "Where the country comes to town". Chef/patron Mike Robinson (along with investor Brett Graham of, uh, The Ledbury) is a man who likes hunting. He also has a rural Berkshire pub and is passionate about using Britain's wild and wonderful produce.
Since Fulham's red-trouser-wearing folk stalk more trading floors than grouse moors, this is a good thing. I want the roast loin of Berkshire fallow deer with all the trimmings, but it's on sale for two at £46 and Mr M wants fish, so I settle (not entirely accurate given how good it is) for shoulder of Tamworth pork with girolles, sweetcorn and Wiltshire truffles, at £23.Barley and cobnuts and onions and crackling all fight for prominence in this highly textured dish, the English truffle a grace note beneath the generous cut of well (by which I mean still tender) cooked meat.
The roast Cornish sea bream with violet artichokes, almonds, parsley and lemon (£23.50) is, says Mr M, the best fish he's ever eaten. He's not given to hyperbole, so I have a go myself. Blimey, it's good, great even. None of this will come as a surprise to you if you're a Michelin camp-follower but for me it's a most blissful harmony of relaxed setting and stellar food. Generous, too. Three big pieces of fish, lots of verdant, herby sauce and hefty, tender artichokes.
The amateur snappers next door are long gone, and the Rully is nearly gone too. Just one slice of the blackcurrant leaf tart with frozen ewe's milk yoghurt, then. "Some people are disappointed when they see this," admits the young lady who brings pudding. It's certainly not a vivid purple, but if you're here and have reached the end without realising the kitchen will tease the very best out of every bit of nature's bounty, you're daft. The taste is intensely fruity with a murmur of grassiness, and a powered streak of dried leaf adds to it. The ice is very nice.
So, no headline-grabbing shocks – it hasn't plunged from greatness, and still packs them in, six years on. This is a pleasure to report.
The Harwood Arms, Walham Grove, London SW6, tel: 020 7386 1847. £130 for two, with wine
Four more foodie notes from the past week
Late to the party on this gadget; now it's love. We've had "courgetti Bolognese" three times in a week. A brilliant carb alternative.
Le Pain Quotidien
Avocado toast is on the lunch menu – which suits me very well as I almost set the sprinklers off when I tried to use a toaster in the office.
These guys – now on their second branch in London – had a stall at the Meatopia festival and a whole ox on a spit. Utterly stunning.
After copious amounts of grilled meat, the perfect sugar hit of a pillowy cube of blackcurrant and mint from this ace indie brand.Reuse content