Wednesday, 3 November 2010

First Star of the Year

Michelin star bashing has become rather prevalent in some quarters. It seems that there are certain chefs, critics, food bloggers have fallen out of love with the system that has been pre-eminent in judging the quality of restaurants for 100 years. And yes, it may be that there can be a bit of a bias towards French cuisine – I haven’t read a single review of Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester which justifies a three star rating (although desserts are supposed to be very good – maybe there were lots of sweet toothed inspectors that year).

Anyhoo, you’ve got to have some sort of quality measuring system, and whichever one you use is going to be subjective to a greater or lesser degree. I personally like the fact that Michelin inspectors remain completely anonymous – to the extent that apparently they’re not even allowed to tell their parents about their line of work! And also, I quite like French food, so any bias in that direction is no great hardship for me. D and I made the decision that the Michelin Guide was going to be our go-to and we’ve seldom been let down.

2010 has not been a good year on the star front – in fact, the lowest since records began (or since we first started going out). You can blame a combination of the forthcoming nuptials, or the downturn in  the economy, or the fact that, as civil servants, we’ve both been slapped around the face with the wet kipper of a two year pay freeze. We finally broke our duck last Saturday with a very pleasant lunch at The Harwood Arms in Fulham.

The Harwood Arms is a gastropub, although in our view, the pub part of the proceedings seemed to be restricted to a few people eating bar snacks at the...well, bar. There didn’t appear to be a lot of punters in for a quiet Saturday afternoon pint. That said, it had a good relaxed atmosphere, and it did a first class Scotch Egg.

Scotch egg take one.

Scotch egg take two - check out that yolk!

It was a wee bit disappointing that there we no intercourse frills and furbelows. Some people find them annoying, but I absolutely love the pre-starter amuses, or the palate cleanser before dessert, or the petits fours. These are often where you see the chef at his most frivolous, with the result that you often get the tastiest little morsels of the meal. But lunch itself went a fair way to making up for that disappointment – it was exceptionally tasty.

For starters, we shared snails and smoked bone marrow on toast, and a home made pork pie with fried crispy pigs’ ears. It was my first time eating both marrow and ear, and I enjoyed both very much, although it was hard to distinguish the taste of the ear-meat (hmmm, that phrase does sound slightly odd read out loud) underneath all the deep fried crispiness. The snails were absolutely fantastic – when I’ve had them previously they have always been drenched in some sort of sauce; left to themselves they were lovely and meaty and a real pleasure to eat.

Pork pie with crispy pigs' ears

Snails and smoked bone marrow on toast

We decided to share two main courses as well, as we were having a hard time deciding. I must admit, when it came to the halfway point I was extremely loath to surrender up the fallow deer chop with the little deer pasty on the side – this was the standout dish of the day. D said he would just have eaten the pasty alone, but I also enjoyed the tender, slightly-pink-in-the-middle chop. The fact that the cod was served with a cauliflower cheese croquette did make the swap slightly less traumatic – everything tastes better with cauliflower cheese on the side.

Fallow deer chop, with deer pasty

I was slightly concerned when I accidentally smashed a glass prior to dessert, that I'd be getting a chef's surprise in my poached quince.  But whether he took his revenge or not, pudding tasted fabulous.  I thought the parkin was a touch dry - I've made it myself and I'm sure my homemade efforts were a bit more luscious and sticky, but I'm probably being pernickety.  Or else extremely biased.
Poached quince with mead ice cream and parkin
So, final verdict on the first star in our collection this year?  Well, a couple of new foods ticked off the "I really should try that" list, a superlative Scotch egg, some gorgeous game and very cheery staff made this a lovely place to visit for lunch.  It certainly didn't have the wow factor, or the glamour of some restaurants we have visited but anyone who thinks that Michelin isn't interested in anything except starched tablecloths and French poncery should go pay this place a visit.

Oh, and how many points?  Probably about 500.  Worth every one.

The Harwood Arms
Walham Grove
0207 386 1847


  1. Sounds amazing - I'm dribbling slightly! The pudding sounds heavenly, but that Scotch egg .... mmmmmmmm :o)

  2. Ooooh yum. Sounds fantastic! Scotch eggs rock and that one looks amazing!


  3. Yum! And on a more prosaic note, seen this?


  4. Ooooh Peridot - interesting stuff. Am looking forward to spending Sunday morning reading through all the online material. I do love the idea of a point slush fund.