London’s only Michelin-starred pub, the Harwood Arms in Fulham, celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. Chris Gamm spoke to head chef Sally Abé about positive working environments, the importance of flavour and life in a four-Michelin-starred family
How has the Harwood Arms changed over the past 10 years and what makes it so special?
We’ve stayed true to our core ethos, which is being a game-focused British pub. It’s amazing that we’ve become a destination dining spot, but first and foremost we’re a local pub and we’re part of the fabric of the community.
How important to the business is the game supplied by co-owner Mike Robinson from the estates he manages in Berkshire, the Cotswolds and Oxfordshire?
We’re quite game-focused and we source everything from field to fork. It’s an integral part of what we do with wild food and deer especially. It’s the most sustainable meat and it tastes amazing, so we try and use it as much as possible when it’s in season.
We let Mike know how many deer we need, and he and his team source exactly that number. We buy in whole animals and use every part – loins for a wellington, shoulders for sharing boards, haunches for the regular menu, the trim for scotch eggs, and bones for stocks and sauces.
How have you put your stamp on the menu in the two years you’ve been head chef?
I’ve tried to stay true to what guests love about the Harwood Arms. I’ve simplified the number of ingredients on the plate so the menu has become a little more refined. I try and intensify the flavour of every ingredient so there’s not so much noise on the plate. I love classic, British combinations, and I try to put on my own spin, so it’s familiar but still a little surprising.
I’m really focused on staff wellbeing and creating a positive working environment; I’ve got no tolerance for shouting, bullying, sexist remarks or anything like that.
Having worked with Brett Graham (also co-owner of the Harwood Arms) and Phil Howard for the past 10 years, what have you learned from them?
Flavour should come first. Obviously, it’s important to make it look attractive on the plate, but regardless of how a dish looks, it’s ultimately the flavour that someone is going to remember. Even if it looks a bit rough around the edges, if it tastes amazing, that’s what makes it memorable.
Phil cooks from the heart, which is amazing to see, and he’s just a really nice guy. I’ve worked with Brett for a long time, and he’s probably the most passionate person I’ve ever worked with. He taught me a lot about running a kitchen, the good and the bad.
Your husband Matt Abé is chef de cuisine at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay on Royal Hospital Road. Are you able to switch off at home?
We do talk a lot about food, unsurprisingly. We don’t talk about a great deal else – we plan where we’re going to eat or what we want to try.
We bounce ideas off each other because we’ve got completely different repertoires. He’s worked with Gordon for so long and his style is very different to mine, so he looks at my food from a different angle. We’re always making suggestions; it’s nice to have a different perspective.