Jake Leach, head chef at The Harwood Arms: 'I enjoy sitting in gastropubs, but they have been, over the years, a bit of a dying breed'

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

Jake Leach was thrown in at the deep end when he succeeded Sally Abé as the head chef of The Harwood Arms, Fulham's Michelin-starred Gastropub

"I was meant to have a transition period," he said, "but the week I started, we were closed for three months. Then it was like, 'right, you need to open, but the people that used to work here no longer work here' - so that was tough."

A year into his tenure, the chef is starting to feel settled. He and his sous-chef, Josh Cutress, who moved with him from The Ledbury, have put their mark on the menu, drawing on lessons learned from Brett.

Their focus has been on training up the team in meat preparation techniques, which Jake said has "really ramped up what we can do here." 

Raising the bar

There is a sense of homecoming to Jake's appointment at The Harwood: his first job was at a pub in his home city of Guilford, and though he has since worked for Tristan Mason at his restaurant in Horsham, at Simon Rogan's restaurant Fera at Claridge's, and spent five years at The Ledbury before moving here, he has embraced the restaurant's ethos of celebrating the best the country has to offer.

"We're about British, we try to keep everything as local as possible, and celebrate that we are a British pub," he said.

The chef is eager to remain at the forefront of the gastropub scene, which he sees as the only route to success for a public house. "I enjoy sitting in gastropubs, but they have been, over the years, a bit of a dying breed," he said.

"Now, especially in this current climate, you have to do something that separates you from the rest - like what we try and do here, and some of the best pubs in the country are ones that are very food-focused and put all their effort into that."

"It's quite hard for people to just get by on just being a pub that serves food," he continued. "You have to be doing something different than the pub down the road, because everything costs more."

Beak to tail 

One dish on the menu that exemplifies the chef's point, taking quality ingredients, refining them with classical, skillful technique and wasting nothing, is the retired laying duck salad.

The egg-laying cohort of one of Brett Graham's darling suppliers, Sladesdown farm ducks - whose younger counterparts are on the menu at The Harwood and The Ledbury - are spared their usual fate of going into stocks, sauces, or even animal feed, and turned into an eye-catching starter. To soften any toughness, the legs are confit at a high temperature, the breast is cured and turned into smoked ham, then both are layered into the salad, served with bitter leaves, endives and beetroot.

In continuing with the low-waste approach, they use the duck carcasses to make stock  - instead of buying chicken wings and drumsticks - which is "far cheaper and far more sustainable as well," Jake said.

Warm retired laying duck salad, beetroot, bitter leaves

Full steam ahead

Even in making judicious choices like this, The Harwood Arms is not impervious to the challenges ahead for the hospitality industry. It has had to raise its prices in line with inflation, and may have to increase them still. The chef hopes that guests won't balk too hard given the quality of what is on offer here.

"We still want people to feel like they're having a good value for money meal," he said, and at £61 for three courses, "it's pretty reasonable - and it's in line with restaurants of this calibre." 

The chef has plenty to be optimistic about, too - he helped retain the pub's Michelin star in a post-pandemic climate, and his team is as close to full as one might hope under the current circumstances, which stands it in good stead for the future.

"This past year has been a massive challenge for everyone," he said. "Now we're a bit more settled than what we were a year ago, far more organised than what we were, so now we're just trying to improve on that and raise the level of the food as much as we can." 

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 30th May 2022

Jake Leach, head chef at The Harwood Arms: 'I enjoy sitting in gastropubs, but they have been, over the years, a bit of a dying breed'