Why English Food Doesn’t Suck, part 2: The Harwood Arms

6 05 2009

The boss had been in a really bad mood this week.  And if that isn’t annoying enough, it’s one of those contagious bad moods that makes everyone else irritable.  Not a pleasant work environment.  So today I’m going the blogging-as-diversional-tactic route – I’m just going to pretend I’m still in London, enjoying a fantastic gastropub meal.

Warm onion tart - like quiche, but English

Nick and I arrived at The Harwood Arms a little stressed.  Let’s just say that the scale of the London Underground map is VERY different from that of the Paris Métro.  (A short love note to the Métro, if you’ll indulge me.  Métro, I love you.  You get me anywhere I might want to go in 45 minutes or less.  Your spacious platforms and large-windowed cars almost let me forget that I’m deep in the bowels of the city.  Your lines are well organized and beautifully color-coded.  You are never more than a 5 minute walk away.  I only wish you would run all night so I’d never have to take the Noctilien again.  Love, Camille)

A hearty appetizer salad

Anywho, we showed up rather late for our reservation, but our anxiety was instantly assuaged by the cheerful host.  He showed us to our rustic-yet-elegant wooden table and quickly brought two pints of local beer and a muslin sack filled with bread.  A square of slate supported the butter, and a small bowl of Maldon sea salt accompanied.  We perused the menu and made our selections.  I started with the warm onion tart with Monty’s cheddar (I can call it that, because I bought some earlier that day at Neal’s Yard Dairy), and Nick had a salad bursting with flavorful garnishes including roast pumpkin and some mushrooms we imagined had been foraged that morning.

When in England, you must eat game.

As we let the refined country cottage atmosphere soothe our jangled nerves, the main courses arrived.  Both Nick’s gin-braised venison (pictured above) and my crispy rainbow trout (pictured below) looked and smelled heavenly.

Rainbow trout, smoked bacon, polenta dumplings

The venison was tender and infused with woodsy flavors from the gin, and the trout was moist and served with creamed spinach and smoky bacon.  How can you go wrong with fish and bacon?

My new favorite dessert

We didn’t really have room for dessert, but we ordered it anyway.  I couldn’t resist the chance to try Harry Potter’s favorite dessert, treacle tart.  Since I’ve never had one before, I don’t know if this is a traditional version or done with a twist, but either way, I loved it.  It was a very dense and sweet paste of dried fruits, not unlike mincemeat, but the kicker was the quenelle of clotted cream.  It perfectly balanced the heady, sweet-spiced tart with its cool, creamy tang.

Who says English food sucks?  Not me!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

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7 responses

6 05 2009
gastroanthropologist

English food doesn’t suck? Actually, I too have found some gems in London. I haven’t been to Harwood Arms but looks like I need to check it out. Is Neal’s Yard great?

London Tube – I avoid it at all costs.

6 05 2009
gastroanthropologist

I meant isn’t neals yard great!

6 05 2009
Melissa

Funny that the tube is so different from the Metro. Hooray for good planning/engineering.

This most definitely looks like it did not suck. I’m partial to your dinner for the fish. Yum.

7 05 2009
Ann @ Cooking the Books

I heart the Paris metro, too — especially after my adventures in New York last week, where trains were continuously late, crowded and DIRTY.

The onion tart above looks scrumptious, especially the small heap of grated cheddar, which I bet just melted on the tongue. Mmm.

8 05 2009
James

I too don’t like taking the Tube if I can help it; I sometimes feel I spend more time walking underground than overground. But in its defence, it’s not fair to compare it to the Métro – it’s older, double the size and infinitely more complex. The Tube map is a piece of design genius in making it vaguely intelligible, whereas the Métro map looks like a big load of spaghetti. But in general, French transport is a thing of beauty (when they’re not on strike), and I’d rather be on a French train than a British one any day of the week. The Métro is much cheaper too!

Thanks for the defence of British food though, my view (as a Brit) is that is has undergone a bit of a renaissance in the last twenty years or so; some really world class cooking is happening, and most of the truly appalling stuff has gone. However most restaurants are just a bit mediocre, and it’s often difficult (as a prospective punter) to differentiate between those kind of restaurants with above average presentation, and genuine skilled cookery using fresh locally-sourced ingredients.

Domestically, we’re generally a very food-articulate people, obsessed by food on television and the latest food trends, but at the same time, many of us don’t bother to cook properly on a regular basis. It’s not a culture where “mama’s cooking” is the best food in the world, for example.

8 05 2009
croquecamille

Gastroanthropologist – Yes, it is! So great, in fact, that it’s getting its very own post soon.

Melissa – Funny, because to look at a street map of Paris, I would never give them any kind of props for city planning! :)

Ann – Amazing how travel can sometimes open your eyes to how great it is at home. The cheese is a delight, and so different from any in France.

James – I think it’s true of anywhere that “most restaurants are just a bit mediocre,” Paris included! I believe that places like the UK and USA, where the “food culture” is growing and thriving after many decades of non-achievemant have an advantage over countries like France where the culture of gastronomy has pretty much been a constant. I get the feeling that English and American restaurants try harder to prove themselves, often with exciting and delicious results. Whereas in France, it is very easy for places to rest on their country’s collective laurels. Which is not to say you can’t eat well. Ironically, as the US and UK are taking a greater interest in artisanally produced foodstuffs, the French seem to be moving further away from their roots – and beginning to have the same obesity and heart disease problems. I could go on and on, but I’ll stop now.

8 05 2009
Sam

You seem to have a knack for finding goo places to eat, the gin braised venison sounds particularly good.




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