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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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Until today, I hadn’t eaten at Arbutus in at least 18 months. I feel like a total chump. What a gem it is; streets ahead of every other central London place in the same category. Prices are on par with bistros and gastropubs yet the menu is a blast of mind-bending originality. Amongst the starters: crab with lychee; squid & mackerel ‘burger’ with razor clams; warm crisp pig’s head. Amongst the mains: cod fillet with chicken wings; lamb’s tripe, shoulder and trotters. For those of a nervous disposition – in particular, my fellow diner – there were plenty more conventional choices, such as scallops with vegetable tartare as a starter and sea bass with mussels and cauliflower as a main.
At the recommendation of the well-informed waitress, it was pig’s head followed by lamb offal for me. The pig’s head came as a terrine that had been pan-fried. The flavour was (strangely) just like the loveliest bit of crunchy, fatty, salty roast chicken you’ve ever tasted. Brilliantly it was accompanied by mandolined slices of sweet pickled turnip to offset the fatty taste of the terrine – such a smart bit of cheffing. Terrific.
The lamb came in three ways: minced shoulder, a white bean stew baked with slivers of tripe, and some chopped trotter on toast with salad leaves to give some respite from the meat. The stew was staggeringly tasty, with unexpected flavours of coriander and lemongrass, plus crunchy, garlicky breadcrumbs. Shoulder and trotter were both much more enjoyable than I ever expect from offal, although the former dish had some strips of tripe on top that gave off a bit of an odd smell. The waiter explained that the chef insists on using unbleached tripe, which I’m definitely filing under “too much information”.
My fellow diner started with sprouting broccoli cooked two ways: grilled and tempura deep fried, and very effective they were too. They came with a lurid orangey Caesar mayonnaise that added a lovely texture but whose flavour didn’t quite punch through. She was happy with her main of 24-hour slow-roasted pork, although it wasn’t going to win any prizes for its appearance: long, pale, slightly fatty strips of meat.
We had little hesitation in sharing desserts. Chocolate aero bar was a clever confection that I’m guessing required the use of some molecular cooking device: the chocolate was melted, aerated and then set, filling it with bubbles. It came with a witty ‘canoli’ made of thinly sliced pear and filled with salted caramel mousse. Two apparently miserly slivers of vanilla and rosewater cheesecake actually turned out to be just the right portion size, given the richness.
The room is noisy, given all the hard surfaces, but that’s what I expect – even demand – in Soho. There were a fair few suits in; I can’t think why, as Arbutus is low on formality, despite the fact that they’re running a very professional operation.
The total bill for three courses, a 500ml carafe of wine, water, coffees and service clocked in at under £100 which for cooking this surprising, fun and tasty is superb. The only disappointing element to the meal was that my guest, a high powered young agent, embarked on a long anecdote about a client of hers, only to hit the punchline by revealing he was a former soap star; I shooed her out of the place with an order for A-list gossip. Nonetheless, on the basis of today’s lunch, I feel frankly ashamed I’ve been dining elsewhere in Soho the past two years.