Looking for restaurants in Fulham? Read our review of Harlequin and check out more suggestions for eating in London here.
Harlequin in a nutshell
Relaxed British fine dining with a South African twang in west London.
From the same, hands-on trio behind Hackney’s Nest – which serves one of London’s best-value tasting menus – Harlequin is the latest venture with chef James Erasmus behind the pass. He’s worked in the kitchens of The Ledbury and The Harwood Arms, previously, and continues to champion British produce and seasons at Harlequin, along with some interesting inspirations via his South African roots.
What’s the vibe?
A long, gnarly sliced oak table and bar (sourced from co-owner Toby’s family garden, sanded with his bare hands), provide the focal points to this modestly decorated space. The music can feel a bit loud and muffled, if the restaurant’s not too busy, but otherwise there’s considerably more room to breathe than its cosy sister restaurant. Crockery is supplied by North Street Potters in Clapham and art fans might spot the bespoke artwork by Jack Fetherstonhaugh.
The oak table and bar with cosy tables for two in the dining room
What’s the food like?
There’s no à la carte here, instead a monthly changing set menu of five courses for £40, with an optional added British cheese course with homemade oatcakes and a seasonal accompaniment, such as poached quince on our visit.
Pickled, rollmop-like rounds of aubergine arrive first to wake up the taste buds, along with a freshly baked bun – a crusty, crumbly hybrid of sourdough and focaccia with bags of flavour. There’s homemade butter, too, whipped walnut and cumin-spiked hummus, and supple slices of fuschia biltong carpaccio, nudged into pretty folds, kissed with spice, sitting with pickled shallots and a rich, sharp dressing.
A salad of winter leaves was far more exciting than the menu led us to believe. Crisp and bitter leaves crowned a cream of salty pecorino, and were punctuated with crunchy shards of mellow, caramelised garlic and slivers of mushrooms, lightly pickled, and dressed with a final shower of grated cheese. A masterful handle of simple ingredients.
Fish is treated with equal respect – deceptively translucent cod collapses into firm, well-seasoned flakes onto a bed of ham hock and soft white beans that act like sponges for the meaty jus that surrounds them. It’s served at just the right eat-me-now temperature, too – a feat not many kitchens manage successfully during a busy service.
Flaky cod fillet sits on a bed of ham hock and white beans
Another plate arrived as a smart threeway between duck, dates and pumpkin. The bird, roasted and ruddy, worked well with the sticky dates, and tender, sweet squash with its spiced, seeded and salted dukkah crumb.
Dessert was straight out of South Africa: a malva (sponge) pudding – buttery and, in this instance, bittersweet thanks to the addition of Seville oranges, cooled with a comforting ball of custard ice cream.
Malva sponge pudding topped with custard ice cream
And the drinks?
These guys are just as good at cocktails as they are food, but don’t miss out on the wine here. Fort Simon 2014 pinotage from Stellenbosch is seriously smooth and rounded, with a hint of chocolate.
A veggie set menu is available with no bother and confidently stands up alongside its carnivorous counterpoint – expect the likes of plump white beans, still with bite, delicate pickled shallots, lively chervil and parsley leaves, vibrant green and purple-flecked kalettes, and a harmonising, creamy lemon dressing.
Harlequin, 194 Wandsworth Bridge Road, Fulham SW6 2UF
Words by Laura Rowe