If you haven’t heard of Henry Harris, then you are clearly not an aficionado of your Anglo-French cooking. Which, frankly, you should be. But here’s a brief primer (and if you know all this, skip a few lines); Harris rose to prominence as chef-patron of Racine in Knightsbridge, which attracted plaudits from diners and food critics alike as a sophisticated take on the sort of gutsy French cooking (think brains and rillettes) that few smart London restaurants usually bother with. Harris closed Racine in 2015, citing the lack of local diners in Knightsbridge, and has been keeping himself busy with residencies and guest appearances. And now 2018 has seen a spectacular new arrival.
Harris has opened not one, not two, but three pub-restaurants, in association with Harcourt Inns. Referring to himself, sardonically, as ‘admiral of the fleet, but in a sort of Carry On Admiral way’, he is operating as chef-patron of the Hero in Maida Vale, the Coach in Clerkenwell and the Three Cranes in the City. All are subtly different; the Hero, a revamping of the much-missed Truscott Arms, promises fish and salads, the Coach is a new take on Harris’ Racine staples and the Three Cranes, which is the one concerning us today, is a City pub reinvented.
There is a downstairs bar, but when we visited, it was simply too boisterous and noisy even to attempt to see what was going on, so we fled upstairs to the peace and quiet of the dining room. It’s a relatively small space – only 30 covers or so – and the small kitchen sends up dishes via the contemporary equivalent of a dumb waiter. As the space is limited, the menu is quite a concise one, with plenty of cold starters; after one tries an eye-openingly strong cask strength white Armagnac martini (the stuff of legends) the charcuterie with celeriac is a suitably well-chosen selection of cold meats, and the prawn cocktail, thank God, rescues this oft-ridiculed appetiser from Abigail’s Party land, thanks to the gutsy sauce and plump, juicy prawns.
There are some reasonably innovative mains – the ‘tomatoes on toast’, baked tomatoes with crème fraiche on focaccia sounds delicious, if pricy at £14 – but Harris was open about wanting this establishment to be a straightforward grill. Choose your meat – rib-eye, rump, onglet, lamb chops – and then your sauce – bone marrow butter, aioli or Roquefort butter. A side of chips is a must – Harris does sensational chips – and then serve with a fine Bordeaux (a 2008 Chateau La Gasparde on our visit). And there you have the recipe for one of the best, and simplest, dinners in the City at the moment.
As with the starters, desserts are somewhat limited by the lack of kitchen space. It doesn’t stop them being damn good though, especially a rich and creamy chocolate mousse; if you fancied cheese instead, their supplier is La Fromagerie. Because we can’t face braving the throng downstairs, we end the meal by trying a couple of beers, including Beavertown’s excellent Gamma Ray, which is especially well kept here. And then it’s out into the evening, happy, replete and keen to see what else the talented Mr Harris has in store in his other establishments.
Clerkenwell and Maida Vale, here we come…
The Three Cranes, 28 Garlick Hill, London EC4v 2BA. For more information, visit www.threecranescity.co.uk.