Sunday, October 29, 2006

A Celebration of Truffles

When you get lost on the way to a restaurant, you know you are in the countryside. We didn't go far wrong, but in the dark the directions never seem to quite match up to reality. We were visiting The Harrow at Little Bedwyn to celebrate a recent birthday, mine not theirs, and we had been wanting to try out this up and coming place for some time.

When we finally arrived, the welcome we received was attentive, but not overly warm and we were quickly shown to our table. The restaurant appeared to be a large converted house with the two rooms now given over to seating diners at simple unfussy tables. The decor seemed a little dated, Sue and Roger Jones, the owners opting for bright wall colouring rather than the more modern muted palette. Still this place was more about the palate and this is where the Harrow was definitely headed in the right direction.

Once we had ploughed (pun intended) our way through the menu and extensive wine list and chosen our courses, we were brought a taster of butternut squash and truffle. This had a creamy consistency and was our first encounter with the ingredient that permeates most of the dishes on the menu, the humble English Truffle. They seem very proud of the fact that they forage for their own truffles at some secret location, and in enough quantity to use both in the restaurant and sell on. At the prices this ingredient can fetch, they must be making a fortune.

Another unique touch was the marrying of each dish on the menu with a recommended glass of wine, which made choosing easy for wine novices like ourselves. So we knew that our Meursault premier Cru and Chardonnay would go with with our mains at least.

My starter of Duck Terrine looked and tasted superb, with the pickled Chinese cabbage a useful foil to the robust flavour of the duck. My wife's Carpaccio of Venison, an unusual choice for her, had a strength of flavour that was complemented by fungi that would also be found in the deer's native woodland.

Moving on to the mains, we both opted for fish, as this was well represented on the menu. I chose the Dover Sole, a subtly flavoured fish that was lifted by the perfectly cooked scallops, the mash and the spinach that were layered beneath it. Across the table, my wife's truffle adorned Sea Bass was well cooked and balanced by the pak choi, potato rosti and chilli jam. Now at this point in the meal there is normally a dilemma about whether to carry on to the dessert, but thankfully due to the neatly judged portion sizes, there was never any doubt that we would. Before we received the menu though, another taster of fruit jelly and cream arrived which prepared us for the course to come.

My bread and butter pudding arrived with its components arranged in a row. On the left the small roundel of layered bread; in the centre the marinated prunes and on the right the coconut ice cream. The flavour of the main constituent was out of this world, and was like eating a mince pie, with the cinnamon and fruit very much to the fore, but tempered by the other parts of the dish. The chocolate terrine chosen by my wife was dark and rich and was accompanied by a chocolate and coffee shot with Baileys cream on top, with cappuccino ice cream to the side. The shot had almost too strong a coffee flavour, which overpowered the terrine, but this was only a mild criticism of what had been a very good meal.

We rounded off with coffee and chocolate truffles before we wended our way home, having had another great food experience in West Berkshire's (and eastern Wiltshire's as we were slightly over the border) impressive restaurant line up. Was it expensive? Well at just over £100 for the two of us, I think it was definitely worth it, as our combined rating was 9/10. It was only really let down by the lack of really local ingredients, save the ubiquitous truffle.

If you want a slice of modern British cooking at a reasonable price, you would do well to follow us there. We know the way now after all.

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