Cafe 209

Saturday, August 08th , 2009

harwood-arms 1824 Scotch egg November 2011-crop-v2.JPG

The Harwood Arms is the younger sister of the Pot Kiln in Berkshire. It is part owned by Mike Robinson of the Pot Kiln, and partly by Brett Graham, Michelin-starred chef of the Ledbury. The same obsession with ingredients that is the key to the Pot Kiln’s success is adopted at the Harwood Arms, so the game in particular is superb, much of it shot personally by Mike Robinson and sent regularly to the Harwood Arms; the same goes for the crayfish, caught in traps in the river near the Pot Kiln.  The various types of deer that regularly appear on the menu here, plus wild rabbit and pigeon, are of terrific quality.  Chef Stevie Williams was a cook at the Ledbury, and the cooking at the Harwood Arms is of a high standard (having a bit of an edge over the Pot Kiln in terms of pure culinary skill). 

Stevie has also managed to develop a true signature dish which has real character, the venison Scotch egg (pictured).   Made to order, served warm with a soft cooked egg centre, and well seasoned, this is incomparably better than the Scotch eggs that we are familiar with in supermarkets.  I have always felt that it takes more skill for a chef to take something simple and familiar and make it taste special, than to produce something nice out of luxury ingredients, which should after all not be too difficult.  Despite its location in a quiet residential street in Fulham, the Harwood Arms has already established a fine culinary reputation, and deservedly so. 

This week a rissole and schnitzel of rabbit was served with coleslaw of carrot, radishes and tarragon mustard.  The wild rabbit (£6) was well-seasoned and had a depth of flavour that you just do not encounter with run-of-the-mill bunny.  The rissole in particular was slightly spicy and delicious (5/10).  Unusually there was no deer on the menu tonight, so I had chicken.  The leg of chicken (£14) was stuffed and glazed in mead, served with tender broad beans, buttered leeks and a little jar of bread sauce.  The chicken was tender, moist and had a richness of taste from the mead glaze: an excellent dish (6/10).  Strawberry jam doughnuts (£6) were as good as the doughnuts here always are, served with vanilla sugar and whipped cream (5/10).  The Scotch egg was as divine as ever.

In the 1990s in London a flood of Thai restaurants opened, with places such as the late lamented Bahn Thai in Soho and Thailand in New Cross. For some reason that flood dried up, and Thai food seems mostly to have migrated to quiz nights in pubs and the like.  Hence I was interested to try Café 209 in Fulham, which a foodie friend recommended, admittedly partly as he is a wine buff and he can bring his own wine here without paying corkage. Although there were a couple of capable dishes (a prawn green curry and pleasant noodles) some of the cooking was below par, and overall it was merely pleasant rather than somewhere I will be making a special journey to.  Given that spicy food is popular in England, I would have thought that somewhere doing some superior Thai food in London could prosper.  Instead we have places trading on the décor (Blue Elephant) or pleasant, simple local places, rather than anywhere really trying to deliver at a higher level.  Patara is the best I am aware of, while the less said of Nahm the better.   An opportunity for someone?

It has been a fairly quiet week on the restaurant front for me, having had some social events that (shock horror) involved something other than food, plus a little cooking at home.  August is generally a quiet time for restaurants in London, with some closing down, at least for a time, though on nothing remotely like the scale of Paris, where the city practically empties for a month.

Next week I will try the new Conran place Boundary, amongst others.