Walk past the Harcourt Arms, with its weathered wood facade and leaded windows, and you might imagine it to be like any other typical English boozer. However, look a bit closer and you may notice a few things that don’t quite add up; the Swedish flag hanging proudly across the main windows being just one of them.
Harcourt Arms sits on a quiet Marylebone side street in the middle of a district known locally as Little Sweden. Catering to what is officially the largest community of ex-pat Swedes anywhere in the world, the existence of this friendly little pub remains one of London’s best kept secrets.
The first thing that strikes you about the place is that it’s not very Swedish; from the dark wooden furniture scattered around to the flock wallpaper on the walls, you get the feeling that, somewhere, Mr Ikea is turning in his ergonomic grave. Perhaps this is why so many of the pub’s regulars choose to spend their time in the large beer garden out back – it’s a real beauty as beer gardens go, particularly when they fire up the barbecue during the summer.
Swedish hospitality is famed throughout the world, and the Harcourt Arms certainly doesn’t disappoint on that front. Its good looking staff of native Swedes go out of their way to provide a convivial welcome irrespective of whether you’re a fellow countryman or not, and even the regulars are more than happy to enjoy a drink with friendly outsiders.
One thing they are serious about here is football, with Swedish league matches shown regularly on the big screen and even an in-house fantasy football league for anyone who fancies it (if you’re not into Swedish football, it’s probably not for you).
The kitchen provides a basic offering of traditional pub grub, including bangers and mash and Irish stew, although fans of traditional Scandinavian cuisine will be glad to hear that meatballs do make a star appearance among the main courses. If anything, it would be good to see a few more Swedish dishes on the menu, but prices are reasonable and what they do serve, although basic, makes for a filling meal.
As well as a fair selection of draught beers, there is a good wine list and all the usual bottled beers and spirits. Prices are very reasonable for this part of town, and it’s certainly a novel experience to enjoy a Kopparberg cider or Absolut Vodka surrounded by natives of the country that produces them. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself here in the winter months, you really should try a mug of Swedish glogg, a closely guarded recipe that will not only put hair on your chest but probably your tongue to boot.
The Last Word
The Harcourt Arms serves a great role as a home away from home for London’s flourishing Swedish population. It’s an unusual little place, but a friendly one, and if tall, blonde, attractive people are your thing, it’s definitely for you.