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Serving wild game shot by an owner
So how, exactly, does a London pub — the type of establishment not exactly known for its haute cuisine, in a country that’s famously (if erroneously) known for a miserable foodie culture — get awarded a Michelin star, the height of European foodie awards?
I went to The Harwood Arms, a quaint and beautiful pub in the middle of a residential neighborhood in southwest London, to investigate this burning question.
Yes, they call it an English pub, and I suppose it is, with warm beer and a local clientele and a Tuesday quiz night and a gorgeous fireplace in the corner. But I don’t know many pubs that grow vegetables on their roof. I don’t know many pubs that Prince Harry uses as one of his favorite places to take a date, according to a regular. And I don’t know many pubs known for serving succulent wild game from Berkshire, shot by one of the three owners.
The three owners are, of course, key to this operation, the first and only London pub to be awarded a Michelin star. One is Brett Graham of the critically acclaimed Ledbury restaurant. Another is Edwin Vaux from the famed Vaux brewery. And the third is Mike Robinson, owner of the famed Pot Kiln pub in rural Berkshire and the hunter of all their excellent venison.
I chose the venison, per the bartender’s recommendation. Check that — don’t call this simply venison. I ordered the grilled haunch of Berkshire roe deer with crispy garlic potatoes and tarragon mustard. It was served on a piece of wood, with the mouthwatering venison literally dripping off the side. And I got a couple of the locally brewed bitter ales to go with it, plus their homemade soda bread and Northern Irish wheaten bread.
Yes, it was a pub. Yes, it was British cuisine. And yes, it was a top-10-lifetime sort of meal, at a pub-like price.
I had been sitting in a couch in the corner by myself, glad to have found a spot, soaking in the atmosphere of the packed but leisurely house. Then a couple of ladies from the neighborhood asked if I minded if they sit near me. Of course not; I was just leaving. Then the ladies — Northern Ireland transplants to London, one a barrister and the other an out-of-work actress who had a bit role in “Game of Thrones” — offered me a glass of their champagne, and then another. An Irish journalist joined us.
Soon enough, I found myself in the midst of the experience of a true London pub, where I was debating whether Guantanamo Bay was a concentration camp (the barrister was convinced of it) and what is the best American television series (the actress picked “Big Bang Theory,” though I convinced her “The Wire” is the Shakespeare of American television).
It was lovely.
I heard the food at The Harwood Arms is even better in winter. But I won’t wait that long. I’ll head there again before the end of the Olympics. I’m kind of digging the authentic cuisine of the English countryside. I might order the rabbit shoulders cooked in cider with spelt dumplings, girolles and mustard butter. Or I might order rump and breast of lamb with crushed beans, sea cabbage and Gentleman’s relish. Or maybe cheek and jowl of Middlewhite pork with celeriac, white cabbage and crackling.
Only thing I’ll do differently: Next time, I’ll call for reservations.