Saturday, August 4th 2018 – The Harrow at Little Bedwyn, Wiltshire
Little Bedwyn is a very tiny village (also spelled Little Bedwin, and also known as Bedwyn Parva), with a population of 250 at the last count. It also has an Iron Age hill fort (Chisbury Camp), a decorated Gothic former chapel (St Martin’s) and Bedwyn Dyke, an early medieval fortification which is similar to the Wansdyke. In addition, it contains a former pub that is now a one-Michelin starred restaurant. We did attempt to eat there back in January, but due to a failure to get past Open Table’s annoying software we failed. So, with Lynne holding a voucher for the place that was her birthday present from a group of our friends, we made a fresh booking, booked ourselves in at the same B&B we’d stayed at then, and were looking forward to it with some enthusiasm by the time our taxi dropped us at the door of The Harrow. The Harrow has been run by the same couple for 20 years now, with Sue and Roger Jones receiving their first Michelin Star in 2006 and retaining it ever since. It’s also got one hell of a wine list so this was going to be a good one!
We were very quickly supplied with a glass of Collet Brut Rosé Champagne, some bread, and a spread made of butter beans. The bread was excellent, as was the spread, and the Champagne, which is 40% Chardonnay, 50% Pinot Noir (of which 15% is vinified in red wine), and 10% Pinot Meunier was delightful and did the trick of making us feel very welcome, very quickly. As did the fact that Lynne’s place setting also included a birthday card signed by all the staff!
A study of the menu was fun, though I don’t think we were ever in much doubt that we would end up opting for the tasting menu and the matching wines.
An amuse bouche of tiny little rolls of Kelmscott cured ham, smoked cod’s roe and Rosary goat’s cheese appeared while we finished off our aperitifs, and very fine they were. The smoked cod’s roe in particular packed a punch, and the whole resulting umami wave was the perfect start. The first wine was produced and poured, an excellent Von Buhl Jesuitengarten Riesling 2012, from the Pfalz in Germany. This was an old-fashioned off dry Riesling complete with the faintest hint of petrol that the old-style Rieslings tend to have. We were impressed so far. It was meant to accompany the fabulous Venison Rossini, a tiny medallion of rare venison, tender and gamey and delicious, with a sliver of Perigord truffle on top, in a tiny savoury/sweet meringue “bun”, on a round of foie gras. It was tiny but wonderful and I ended up eating it in tiny bites to try and make it last as long as possible.
Next up was a single perfect scallop, served with that classic accompaniment of chorizo and peas, the peas a summery hit of sweetness and crunch. Lynne enjoyed them and she will only tolerate peas if they are of the freshest quality possible. It was served with a Ktima Biblia Chora Ovilos 2016 white, a mixture of Assyrtiko and Semillon from Kavala in Greece. It delivers aromas of apricot and honey, tropical fruit and citrus, the latter in particular coming through in conjunction with the seafood.
So far, so good. And it only improved as we went on. The next dish was a Pembroke lobster tail, still sweet and soft and perfectly cooked, that had been deep-fried in the lightest of tempura-style batters, with a Thai spice mix that gave the flesh a pleasing level of heat.
The accompanying “noodles” were made out of courgettes, spiralised, and topped with a petal from a daylily (apparently humans can eat these; cats mustn’t).
This time the accompanying wine was South African, a Jordan Nine Yards Chardonnay 2015 from Stellenbosch. It’s made in a reserve style, from barrel selections from their best vineyard site, hence their claim that they have gone “the whole nine yards”, producing a wine packed with citrus flavours (lime) and oak. Next up was another fish dish, a Cornish sea bass, line caught, and served with minuscule, woody, earthy girolles and crunchy lemony fresh sea asparagus. The fish was beautifully cooked, flaking away as the fork was stuck into it, with a crisp skin that contrasted nicely with the soft flesh. It came with a glass of Bannockburn Pinot Noir 2016, from Central Otago in New Zealand, a light, dry red that went well with the fish.
We were now done with things that swim! Instead we had lamb, a perfect piece of Cardigan Bay lamb, which I assume is reared on the salt marshes, and tastes fabulous as a result. This is lamb as you always hope it will be and it so often isn’t! Ur-lamb if you will, served with some brilliant Provencal-inflected accompaniments, including some couscous, some tapenade, heritage tomatoes, and a glorious croquette of slow cooked lamb meat. It was as near perfect a lamb dish as I’ve encountered anywhere. It also went superbly with the Grosset Gaia Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc 2011 from Australia’s Clare Valley. It’s grown at high altitude, and the resulting wine is plummy, jammy, densely rich with black fruits.
We now had the choice to opt out of the cheese course. We didn’t. Well, we wouldn’t, would we? We were provided with a selection of five very well-kept cheeses, served at just the right temperature and consistency, and thoroughly enjoyable. We paired them with a wine flight specifically chosen to go with the cheeses in question, which the staff kindly divided into half glasses of each, and a dessert wine for which they did the same. The wines were an Alvear Pedro Ximenez, Montilla 1927 which lived up to my claims that Pedro Ximenez really does taste like Christmas Pudding in a glass, an interesting and surprising Akashi-Tai Plum Infused Sake that was much sweeter than I’d expected and smooth as silk on the tastebuds, a Ramos Pinto Adriano Reserva port, and last but by no means least an Chilean Echeverria Late Harvest Noble Botrytis Sauvignon Blanc. I was quite happy at this end of the wine list, even if it meant that we were nearing the end of the meal.
“Eggs” have been a thing this Summer it seems to me given what happened at Skosh too. Here we had another one, this time a shortbread “soldier” and a mock egg of meringue for the white with a passion fruit and mango yolk. The passion fruit made it sharply sticky rather than too sweet, and the soldier was soft and crumbly and lovely.
The last dessert plate hit, an airily soft raspberry souffle, with a raspberry ice in a small glass, and some fresh strawberries and raspberries. It was delicious, the raspberries tart and sweet at the same time, and it was a refreshing end to a meal. The final wine was a lovely, sticky Heggies Botrytis Riesling 2015, from Eden Valley, Australia, just the right note to finish on.
We handed over the voucher, paid the remainder of the bill, and went outside to wait in the cool air for our ride back. Our lovely B&B landlady regularly acts as a taxi service for guests dining at the Harrow, so we were soon back at hers for a good night’s sleep before a trip to Stonehenge in the morning.