One of the things that excites me the most these days about returning to Kent is that I can dine at one of the many brilliant country pubs that the county has to offer.
I used to work at The Harrow Inn, Ightham as a girl and this is the first time I've returned as a proper patron, it was strange being back, I managed to resist the urge to stack the plates and set the table myself, the waitress in her got the better of the Kid however, she used to work there too, and she assisted the lone waiter of the evening in any way she could!
Knowing the ins and outs of a kitchen is obviously beneficial and I had the inside info on what would be the best dishes to order, i'm a firm believer that it's best to order from the specials. Little in terms of decor and dishes has changed in the 3 or so years since I did my last shift here.
So the 4 of us were in for a 3 courser, this vist had been in the planning stage for sometime, dates finally fixed I was invariably very excited and knew I was in for a feast! The starters we chose were smooth duck liver pâté (Crann and myself), goats cheese tart for Kid and marinated sardines for Thomas.
The pâté (which was not on the menu but we asked Eddie, 1 of the chefs, if they had any and lucky for us they did) was delightful, moreish and delicious, served with a cranberry compote and some homemade melba toasts. I was disappointed to see that they no longer serve the rye loaves from the Plaxtol Bakery that used to accompany this order, instead when I asked for bread we were given a rather miserable looking white baguette, advertised as sourdough. That aside, the pâté itself was great, I let Thomas share this with me because his starter was disappointing. There was a slight mix up in that I recall a special of grilled sardines and said were this on the menu, it's a must have.
These sardines were marinated, not grilled and resembled (and tasted like) anchovies, the waiter even said "here's the tomato and anchovy salad" as he delivered it. Hmmm. What's also a little bizarre is that the same salad is served with everything, mixed leaves with chopped up peppers and tomato, it's nice but no thought goes into throwing a little bunch of the the same thing onto every single plate. Thomas thought this starter was not well balanced, the fish having been marinated in vinegar was extremely tart and not offset by any sweetness other than a few splodges of balsamic reduction dotted here and there. It would benefit from another component. Thomas preferred the pâté and Kid's goats cheese.
This starter of a circular disc of goats cheese placed on top of some caramelized red onions in a pastry tart casing is a winner. A classic combination of flavours and textures, again presented with a salad garnish, this is a fragrant starter, goats cheese is not for everyone and Kid is usually not a fan of such strong flavours but all agreed this was a fine choice.
For main course I had the scallops. This was a special and came on a bed of bubble and squeak with a serving of seasonal vegetables, broad and green beans, courgettes and peas. This was the most expensive main course and I thought that it was slightly overpriced at £17.50 for only 5 scallops. They were cooked well, a little over if anything and were classically paired with some parma ham. The bubble and squeak looks a little shiny in this picture, it did not have a typical crispy exterior and was essentially mash with some greenery.
Thomas ordered the rump steak, medium, which is one of the most perfectly executed dishes here. Head chef Dave certainly knows how to make a good steak. This is served with a peppercorn sauce and fries and salad. John Elton (yes, really) owner of the Harrow Inn informed us that his meat supplier had delivered some fine rump steaks to temporarily replace the usual sirloin on the menu here. Thomas very often orders steak and rarely is this satisfied with the way it is cooked.
Kid went for the salmon and chive fishcakes which are large balls of poached salmon and mashed potato. The best thing about this dish is the accompanying citrus sauce which is surprisingly light for a such a creamy and buttery sauce, largely thanks to the lemony flavour.
Again, this main course comes with fries and salad, as does the Cajun chicken which was Cranns main course. This can be spicy or mild, depending on your preference and is pan fried until cooked, this was succulent and juicy.
Happily, we all still had room for desserts. I usually prefer savoury dishes but the one thing I was most looking forward to trying again at The Harrow Inn was their home made orange and ginger tiramisu. Both us girls opted for this and were not disappointed, it was just how I remember. I think my time working here was when I really developed a love for food and returning and eating these dishes was really special.
This is served in fairly small portions due to the richness of it. The layers of crushed ginger biscuits alternated with cointreau infused marscapone, served with more cream and a slice of fresh orange.
Thomas had the creme brulee with raspberries which is a traditional custard dotted with vanilla seeds with some juicy crushed raspberries at the bottom of the ramekin. The crisp caramelised sugar was thick and crunchy. I dislike the sprinkling of icing sugar that comes with each pudding, it adds little, if anything, in terms of flavour and instead of looking thoughtfully decorative, it looks messy.
Crann was pleased with his melting chocolate pudding, served with a generous 2 scoops of vanilla ice cream and some pouring cream. I didn't try this but it looked like it oozed in the right places.
I think the Harrow Inn is definitely worth seeking out if you're in the area, the food is above average and good value for money if eating in the bar area (there's a more formal dining room towards the rear of the building), where side dishes are included with the cost of the main. The majority of customers are locals and regulars or walkers and visitors from the nearby National Trust property Ightham Mote. The Harrow Inn is a Good Pub Guide approved establishment, so many people visit having read this recommendation. It's also worth telling the chaps that the gents toilet is apparently haunted by the ghost of a baker, the building was a bakery a hundred or so years ago. John has some interesting paintings of the building in its former glory on the walls of the bar. The ghost did not make an appearance whilst we were here!
The Harrow Inn