My responsibilities as Wychelm Badminton Club’s captain came in to full force again this month, as I contemplated where to lead the gang for a summer social to try and make the most of the dwindling weather. August is a fabulously chilled out month as the summer gently peters out, so I wanted something just as laid back for our club social. Hitting the nail on the head was the idea of a relaxed pub lunch accompanied by some drinks, and where better to head to than the roomy and refurbished Ember Inn branch The Harrow, based about 10 minutes away from the Hornchurch high street, complete with its own car park and very large beer garden, scattered with dark polished wooden furniture and square sun shade umbrellas.
Attractively welcoming, The Harrow is a very appealing pub, painted a warm shade of sage green complete with golden etched signage. The double door entrance is flung open wide, chalk boards exclaiming greetings, with jars of ketchup sachets and cutlery lining the porch area for those who want to grab condiments before nabbing a table outside. Ducking under thoughtfully composed hanging baskets, I do like the social ambience of The Harrow; casual and cosy I feel I could snuggle down in a quiet corner with a good book just as much as I could meet up with a loud and raucous group of badminton players. Of course, I have only attended The Harrow for lunch, so evenings could pose a very different scene, but I really like the classic British feel of this particular Ember Inn.
The interior is really nicely decorated, understatedly swanky it hits just the right note of being well presented without being overboard and making you feel underdressed. The walls were alternating shades of cream, rusty orange red and a pale green wallpaper, accentuated with copper framed round mirrors of rustic country inspired art – the image nearest us was a white canvas featuring a black ewe’s head. The alcoves again added to the home-like charm, the white shelves holding up classic novels, strategically placed lamps and decorative candles. Since there was about eight of us all together, we found a quiet corner where the waiting staff had pushed together three square wooden tables for us. Slap bang in the middle of each table was a wooden tray, bearing silver jars of cutlery and napkins, ketchup and vinegar bottles snuggled in besides, with menus standing tall at the back. We could simply peruse the menu at our leisure, and then order at the bar, quoting our table number that was dangling off a rustic string tied tag attached to the tray.
Proudly heralding British pub classics and real ales on the menu, I didn’t really know what I fancied for my lunch. In the end I opted for BBQ Smother Chicken, priced at just under £8. The juicy and plump chicken breast was covered with a slice of bacon, curling deliciously round the edges, acting like a small bowl for the melted Montary Jack cheese that pooled on top of the mini meat pile. The bacon and cheese combo sat slippery on a smothering of deep brown BBQ sauce, the ideal tang of flavour to cut through the goo of cheese and the block of chicken. The chicken was served with a tiny handful of peas which suited me fine since they aren’t really my scene and lovely thick cut chips, which were deliciously squadgy to bite in to, with hot fluffy centres. Another thing I like about The Harrow is that they serve one of my favourite rose wines, Barefoot, which is vibrantly fruity and fresh with a pared back explosion of summer berries. Completely refreshing and a good match for the intensity of my laden chicken. The portion size was also smaller than I was expecting which was ideal for lunch. Chips were a nice neat pile while the peas were barely there. The chicken was decent though as the star of the show. Overall, a really lovely meal, although I was tempted by a few other choices on the menu.
As for dessert, I simply couldn’t resist the Cookies and Cream Sundae which was basically lashings of plain vanilla ice cream, topped with a generous splat of cream and speared shards of chocolate chip cookie sticking out of the top, the whole concoction drizzled with a dark chocolate sauce that pooled luxuriously at the bottom of the sundae glass in one deliciously decadent clump. This really hit the spot for me – the cookie pieces were gooey yet crumbly, so perfect for me, the ice cream encased by the perfect amounts of sauce to keep this sauce addict happy, the chocolate hit enough to satisfy me. The cream was a nice added extra to add volume and opulence, and although there weren’t tons of components, it was still a decent sundae. I think I would have liked maybe one more flavour or texture added to ramp it up to the next level, but as a basic sundae, yes it was yummy.
Since we arrived at the pub at 12.30pm ish and didn’t leave until 6.45pm, this meant we were there for a rather long time. Long enough for lunch to go down, and the dessert menu to start whimpering my name in a very appealing and siren like manner. I couldn’t help but have my gaze torn away from my animated friends faces and instead have my vision honed in on the Summer Berry Sundae. When an accomplice mentioned second desserts, I toyed with the idea, but it wasn’t until a full mutiny and peer pressure situation arose, that I succumbed to my greed and headed to the bar to make a second dessert order – that sundae was so mine. Incredibly light and refreshing, this sundae contained icy raspberry sorbet, mixed with large chunks of crunchy meringue nests, topped with a gorgeous pile of summer berries, which are my favourite fruit combinations. After a heavier main course and first dessert, the sorbet was so fresh and zingy with fruit flavours, the meringue absolutely ideal and the perfect partner in crime – I so enjoyed being greedy and talented enough to order seconds!
Another interesting aspect of The Harrow was the fact they offered floater coffees. Rare enough on swish restaurant menus, it was really lovely to spot the dinner party favourite lurking in the hot beverages section. I went for the classic coffee, topped with whipped cream after my meal. The foamy cream topping was light and bubbly, a good mix between cream and milk, although the coffee itself was the colour of a white coffee, although I thought floater coffees used black. Either way, the flavour was punchy yet not too strong and paired with the cream it was delicious. I actually thoroughly enjoyed it and would most definitely order it again as the conclusion of my meal. Especially if I wasn’t driving so I could opt for the boozy version laced with Tia Maria!
On the whole I can’t really fault The Harrow. Yes the food is basic and simple, serving just British pub food, which you would probably find on many a menu across the country, especially since The Harrow is part of a popular pub chain. Despite this, the food was nicely executed and averagely presented, but to be honest, that was all we wanted. We wanted some yummy tucker to chow down on while we had a chinwag and a drink, so in that respect, it fit the bill perfectly, especially because of the relaxed and nicely decorated atmosphere which I actually find really appealing. I think The Harrow is ideal for large groups, as the menu is basic enough for fussy eaters, yet wide enough to cover all basic food groups and fancies, offering burgers, grills, salads, starters, desserts, fish and the main event – pub classics. The location is perfect, near both bus stops and not a million miles away from Hornchurch station. The car park is also roomy enough so no clustering there. The beer garden gives a decent space to sprawl out into for busy periods, although on the blustery Saturday when we went, it was actually surprisingly quiet for a weekend. The pricing is also very reasonable, with each of my sundaes under a fiver and my main course under £8, so even while I am intensely saving for my wedding, I could still afford two desserts! Chilled, tasty and with a touch of class – The Harrow gets the thumbs up from me.