Restaurant Reviews

Review: Everyone Needs a Comforting Hug, and British-Themed Harwood Arms Delivers

The full-circle bar at Harwood Arms sits in the middle of the restaurant.
The full-circle bar at Harwood Arms sits in the middle of the restaurant. Alison McLean
It’s hard to pin down exactly when it happened, but over the past two decades or so, the line between a restaurant and a bar has been significantly blurred. It used to be quite easy to tell the difference; if you sat at a table and looked at a menu with appetizers, entrées and desserts, you were in a restaurant. If you were ordering a drink from someone behind a bar, well, you were in a bar. Any eating you did in a bar was ancillary to the drinking and mainly consisted of one-handed snacks to stave off the effects of the alcohol.

By the time the word “gastropub” landed in Merriam-Webster in 2012, restaurants without a craft cocktail menu or bars without expanded food options seemed to be the exceptions rather than the rule. We can thank the Brits for introducing us to the gastropub concept in the early 1990s, where a renaissance in pub culture merged with casual British dining and brought bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie and Sunday roasts into our lexicon.

Inspired by the pubs of the British Isles, Harwood Arms opened late in 2020 in the Uptown-adjacent Harwood District. While certainly not the first attempt at bringing a bit of English sensibility to a Dallas bar — and don’t get us wrong, the Old Monk is a Dallas institution for a reason — Harwood Arms may be doing it better than any other spot in the city.

On a street lined with shimmering glass and concrete skyscrapers in the most modern of styles, the scarlet-hued paneled and leaded glass windows of Harwood Arms is an eye-catching throwback to Victorian design. Step inside, and the welcoming feel of an English public house reaches out as if to hug you. Rich wood millwork is everywhere, starting with the bar that’s front and center and the most illuminated part of the interior — like the hearth of a Welsh country house.
click to enlarge Lamplit nooks and a fireplace along with booths, there are plenty of cozy dining spaces. - ALISON MCLEAN
Lamplit nooks and a fireplace along with booths, there are plenty of cozy dining spaces.
Alison McLean
Around the bar are an array of small tables and semi-private booths encased by small partitions that add to the cozy feel. A dartboard occupies one of the back corners, while the opposite corner hosts a small railed-off area that serves as a musical stage on the weekends. Save for a dartboard and a few shelves above the bar, nothing is lit with more than a 30-watt bulb, mimicking the feel of candles and gaslights. It’s dim, but at the same time well-lit enough that you won’t trip over a chair or struggle to read the menu.  There are no shamrocks, no Celtic typefaces, or other ubiquitous British fads. Instead, the feel is welcoming and authentic, almost like the place you’d watch a couple meet their local real estate agent on an episode of House Hunters International.

The warm and cozy vibes extend to the menu as well, where British-inspired comfort food is executed with aplomb. On our first visit, we started with a baked Camembert cheese ($16), served with medallions of toasted bread and a warm blueberry compote. The intense flavors of Camembert may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the earthy notes of the gooey cheese pair nicely with the sweetness of the blueberries while tempering some of the cheese’s more pungent tendencies.
click to enlarge The Rueben fries are made with A Bar N Ranch beer, which is in Celina. - ALISON MCLEAN
The Rueben fries are made with A Bar N Ranch beer, which is in Celina.
Alison McLean
On a second visit, we made it in time for Harwood’s happy hour (4 p.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Thursday, and 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday). Happy hour specials occupy an entire section of the menu, with a quintet of small plates between five and six dollars. We opted for the mini Reuben fries, with A Bar N corned beef scattered within a pile of delicate shoestring fries. The potatoes and protein are held together with melted Swiss cheese, a creamy Mornay sauce and a Thousand Island dressing to create the perfect bar fare. It's salty and savory. Grabbing a forkful of fries and corned beef between sips of your beer quickly becomes second nature.

Happy hour usually means cocktails, and Harwood Arms delivers with a selection of cocktails for just $6, including a tasty Maker’s Mark old-fashion. Wines by the glass are just $6 during happy hour as well, and draft beers are a dollar cheaper. Naturally, an English pub should have an impressive selection of beer and whiskey, and Harwood doesn’t disappoint. Nine beers are on draft, and another three dozen or so choices are available in bottles. If whiskey is your pleasure, we counted 79 varieties of Scotch, bourbon, rye, Japanese and Irish whiskeys, ranging from an $8 pour of Buffalo Trace or Jim Beam to Whistlepig’s Boss Hog Samurai, which will lighten your wallet by $225.
click to enlarge Chicken tikka masala at Harwood Arms - ALISON MCLEAN
Chicken tikka masala at Harwood Arms
Alison McLean
The wonderment keeps growing as we moved into entrees. Britain’s colonial past has influenced much of the country’s cuisine, and Indian flavors are popular in the British Isles. Harwood Arms pays homage with a trio of kebabs with Indian touches or a plate of chicken tikka masala ($18) that would be just at home in your favorite Indian restaurant.

Naturally, there’s a beer-battered fish and chips, bangers and mash, or a Guinness-braised short rib. We went a little more traditional with shepherd's pie. The minced beef, peas and carrots were nestled under a bed of delightfully light whipped mashed potatoes, and the dish came in an adorable cast iron mini pot. It’s the kind of stick-to-the-ribs comfort food that pubs across the Isles are known for.
click to enlarge Shepherd's pie is British comfort food at its finest. - ALISON MCLEAN
Shepherd's pie is British comfort food at its finest.
Alison McLean
Harwood also hits on more traditional bar favorites from the U.S. and does so with care. Since we already had ordered Reuben fries, we passed on the full Reuben sandwich and instead settled on the massive patty melt. Two thick slices of sourdough struggle to contain the beef and bacon patty, and there’s enough cheese, mushrooms, onions and aioli to make a mess of your hands.

On the side is another heaping portion of the fantastic shoestring potatoes that we can’t seem to get enough of. An order of herb-crusted salmon came on a bed of glazed Brussels sprouts. The salmon was cooked to order at a near-perfect medium, and the Brussels sprouts were tender and firm without devolving into a mushy mess under the fish. If you’ve ever wondered what kind of bar asks how you’d like your fish cooked, then Harwood Arms is the answer.

Difficult as it seems to picture, the service at Harwood Arms seems may actually outshine the food. You’d expect good service on a weeknight when the bar isn’t busy, but even with that expectation, the staff at Harwood Arms treats you like a family member. Our server never seemed far off from checking on our table without feeling oppressive. When we were ready for dessert, she warned us that the chocolate cake was a massive serving, and instead guided us to the English toffee cake ($8) that was a delightful end to our meal.

Even on a busy Saturday night with a hefty crowd on hand, the service improbably gets better. On our weekend visits, our server was attentive and helpful, quick to make a menu recommendation or check if our cocktails needed refreshment. And after we had settled up our tab and posted up across the bar to catch a little of the band, our server appeared once more to thank us for coming in.

And that ability to make you feel at home no matter when you come in is what makes Harwood Arms so appealing. Pubs across Britain and Europe are known as  a place to grab a pint or a cocktail as much as they are a place to get a home-cooked meal. Sure, there are bars across Dallas where you can feel like a regular, but Harwood Arms takes that welcoming feel a step further with comfort food classics both imported and domestic that feed the body and the soul. Everyone needs a hug now and again, and that warm embrace at Harwood Arms never failed to make us feel at home.

Harwood Arms, 2850 Harwood St. #100. 4 p.m. - 2 a.m., Monday - Thursday; 11 a.m. - 2 a.m. Friday - Sunday
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Chris Wolfgang has been a contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2015. Originally from Florida, Chris moved to Dallas in 1997 and has carried on a secret affair with the Oxford comma for over 20 years.
Contact: Chris Wolfgang