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|Address:||63-64 Frith Street, London W1D 3JW|
|Tel:||020 3551 9855|
|Price: £46.00||Wine: £19.50||Champagne: £60.00|
|Opening Hours:||Mon-Sun 12N-2.30pm (Sun -3pm) Mon-Sat 5-10.45pm (Fri-Sat -11.15pm) Sun 5.30-10.30pm|
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If a food-loving Martian with the habit of eating mid-evening landed in London today, he’d be hard-pressed to realise that we are supposedly in the midst of a period of economic austerity: trying to book a table in a reasonably high-end restaurant for 8.30pm is virtually impossible (no problem if you fancy dining at 6pm or 9.30pm…). Hence the fall back on Arbutus after a failure to secure a table at its newly opened sister restaurant, Les Deux Salons. It was by no means a consolation prize – this was the Real Thing. Apart from an annoying wait during which the barman seemed incapable of whipping up a Negroni and a Martini in less than a quarter of an hour, this was close to perfection. The room’s minimal but warm with some good modern art on the walls. The atmosphere’s buzzy and the staff attentive – if in that slightly cool/friendly way that Harry Enfield nailed so perfectly.
The food, though, was faultless. A starter of a ‘squid and mackerel “burger”’ – a fishcake to you and me – ‘parsley, razor clams and sea purslane’ was fabulous, even if no one had owned up to the lemon grass and its, therefore, Thai progeny. Spongy and flavoursome it was heaven, and the razor clams – diced with the leaves – providing an ideal bass-note (£9.95). A salad of smoked eel (deliciously oily in a good way!) with a warm potato salad and merguez sausage was a gorgeously comforting creation (£9.95).
The mains were all deeply alluring but we both plumped for the “Saddle of rabbit, caramelized endive and shoulder cottage pie” – and so, it appeared, did most tables. It was a divine ensemble: little cylinders of succulent rabbit saddle, wrapped in parma ham and sealed with a wonderfully rich paté with a sweet little pot of rabbit shoulder cottage pie – comforting, unctuous and delicious (£17.95). I could have eaten it all again had I not stuffed myself on the fabulous bread to start.
The puddings were also terrific: one a cold chocolate fondant with salted caramel ice cream – OK, it ticks a few contemporary boxes, but it was very good. I had the clafoutis of William pears and vanilla ice-cream. Strictly speaking the clafoutis probably departed from tradition as the fruit was not encased in a batter, but the pastry was so light (almost like the top of a Bakewell tart) that only a harridan judge from the WI would have dared mark it down. It was exquisite. Washed down with an NZ Malborough Pinot and a carafe of Sauternes, the bill came to something in the region of £165 – every penny was worth it! I shall be going back very soon.