Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Arbutus, Soho

There have been mixed reviews of Arbutus over the past few years, so on a cold mid December afternoon my wife and I went for lunch to make our own minds up. We arrived prompt for two o'clock only to wait nearly ten minutes nestled next to the display cabinet of cheeses. We were brought menus and a carafe of water which was perched precariously in the small space at the end of the bar. Being handed my menu before I've sat down is something I would associate more with a chinese takeaway than an acclaimed restaurant with a michelin star. Once we were seated we were brought the trademark chunk of butter on a slate tile and a selection of fresh bread. From here on in the service was astounding.
The wife ordered the slow cooked rib of beef, potato gnocchi and greens whilst I wanted to taste the dishes I'd read so much about. I ordered the squid and mackerel 'burger' with parsley and razorclams to start and the braised pig's head, potato puree with ravioli of caramelised onions for my main. My starter arrived and lacked a little in presentation seeming rather sloppily plated. The marriage of the squid and mackerel was beautiful, a great combination accentuated by the more robust texture of razor clams. The parsley juice was a little underwhelming and went almost unnoticed, just seemed rather pointless alongside the rest of the dish.

The mains arrived and the first one I tried was the wife's. The beef was tremendously tender and just fell apart when tackled with the side of a fork, leaving pinkish strands of meat collapsing across the plate. Gorgeous. The greens perked up with a healthy hit of parmessan was a lovely contrast alongside the gnocchi and what I think was a salsa verde smeared across the top of the beef. I only tasted a few bites but the wife did say that all together as a dish she felt that the flavours were competing against one another.

The pig's head was plated much more carefully than the squid and mackerel burger and the combination of flavours was pleasant. In particular the french andouille sausage which was used as the package to contain the caramelised onions. The sausage adds those extra offally tastes that run alongside the pork so well and make this dish shine. If you posses a weak constitution, or have not yet discovered a penchant for offal then you may not appreciate the power of the french andouille sausage, for those of you, be warned. A very lovely dish.

The service, after the initial wait by the cheese, was flawless. The timing of the arrival of dishes, the clearing of the table and the pouring of wine were what you would expect from a restaurant with a michelin star and rightly so. I was told, upon checking by telephone, that the dress code was, "whatever you feel most comfortable in." Exactly what I want to hear in this day and age. I remember having to suit up to eat at Le Bernardin and, whilst I don't mind being respectful and certainly not so when eating at such establishments, I find it much more convenient to be made welcome and relaxed in my usual jeans and t-shirt attire. Not all of us work in the city, donning collar and tie everyday. Arbutus covered this admirably which made for a very relaxed lunch.

It does seem a little cramped inside by loosing just one table and sharing the gained room would do wonders to the place. We both really enjoyed Arbutus and our lunch including a carafe of malbec and 12.5% service charge was just £49.50.
I will go again and I would recommend it to anyone. Not the atmosphere some might have preconceptions of when thinking of michelin starred restaurants. Arbutus has a very relaxed and comfortable air about the place and the menu is reasonably priced too.
The squid and mackerel burger and the braised pig's head are probably considered Anthony Demetre's signature dishes. Could either of them become as revered as Pierre Koffman's pig trotters, Marco Pierre White's taglietelle of oysters or Fergus Henderson's bone marrow and parsley salad? I'm not sure. What do you think?


  1. I've read a few reports where people find Arbutus 'boring' or 'safe' but I've always enjoyed it. The food is always good, as is the service and although there probably aren't any dishes which no one has seen before I've always found everything very well executed.

    P.S I had the bavette last time I was there and it came with something green on the top which I'm guessing is the same as your wife's beef. I forgot to ask at the time so emailed the restaurant later on it to ask what it was. Got a nice email back from Anthony Demetre who said it was chopped shallots sweated with a little garlic in butter, parsley and tarragon, salt and pepper, and then all blended together with bread crumbs.

  2. I loved Arbutus when it first opened, and it's still good of course but the menu never changes significantly so does start to get a little boring. Although, I love that they do wines by the carafe, and I love slurping on a big bowl of the bouillabaisse up at the bar.