3 days ago
Saturday, 24 April 2010
Harrison’s in Balham, a sibling of Sam’s Brasserie in Chiswick, aims to be an all day, all things to everyone kind of place: as good for Sunday brunch with the kids as a place to stop off for after-work cocktails. Though obviously, when I say everyone, I mean Balhamites who are happy to pay £12.50 for a plate of fish and chips.
Housed in what used to be the Balham Kitchen and Bar, Harrison’s serves an array of the usual suspects: burgers, steaks, pork belly, pints of prawns. They also serve breakfast on weekends. Though rather unassuming from the outside, the restaurant is surprisingly large inside with a central open kitchen breaking up the space.
I was having dinner once again with my mother. It had been a rather tough day for various reasons and we watched in pleasure as two long stemmed glasses wound their way towards our table. Prosecco. There are very few things that can’t make better. This was soon followed by bread, still warm.
We were eating early so took advantage of their early bird deal: two courses for £15, three for £18. To begin with I went – with a certain amount of trepidation – for the onion soup with gruyere croutons. I’ve eaten a lot of mediocre onion soups, even in Paris, pots of scalding hot soup scowling from under a soggy, stodgy bread lid, but this was a pretty decent take on it. I liked the fact that the croutons were served on the side, though being a glutton, would have liked more than two. The soup itself was full of flavour, a slight sweetness from the onions coupled with an earthy, herby quality. I was forced to ask for more bread so I could mop it all up.
Un-vegetarian mother went, somewhat predictably, for the chicken liver parfait with pear chutney. This made her very happy indeed; she said the parfait was wonderfully rich and smooth and paired well with the, er, pear. She did say that the bread, supposedly toasted brioche, was very distinctly un-brioche like, but she liked it anyway. It was, however, a sizeable portion and she couldn’t quite manage it all.
Next up. Guess what? Risotto. It’s not that I don’t like them, I do, when done well; it’s just so often risotto is the default vegetarian option. To be fair the full menu also includes pumpkin tortellini and an asparagus and Jersey Royal salad, so I could have had something else. The risotto was described as containing fennel and courgette – at least it wasn’t mushroom – and admittedly it was well cooked with a nice consistency. I couldn’t really detect much fennel in there though and was rather grateful for that slightly uninspired rocket and balsamic garnish because it helped counter the starchy richness of the dish.
As there were no glistening chunks of cow meat on the set menu, my mum went for the seafood linguine, which was generously scattered with plump mussels and prawns. She enjoyed this but found it a little too salty for her tastes.
For dessert things picked up considerably with a cardamom crème brulee. This was very nice indeed, with a gorgeous crackable, snappable top and a zesty orange tulle biscuit for scooping up the innards. But the cardamom flavour was barely noticeable. Do you see a theme here? There seems to be a degree of timidity when it comes to flavours; several dishes, while pleasant enough, didn’t quite deliver the goods.
We liked that the wine list includes a number of options available by carafe and we followed our prosecco with a carafe of Malbec. We thought, all things considered, the set menu was a reasonably good deal, though the main menu is priced rather steeply. The service, however, was friendly throughout and despite the slightly variable quality of the food, we left feeling elevated, the rough edges of our day having been smoothed and soothed away.
Harrison's, 15-19 Bedford Hill, SW12 9EX 020 8675 6900