Arbutus restaurant

by Jeanne on August 22, 2006

in Restaurants - London

Arbutus2 It’s a funny old world, the world of restaurant reviews.  Here in London, if you read a few different publications, you will soon see where the latest “place to go” is, because in the space of two weeks or so, all the London restaurant critics worth their salt will visit it.  I saw it happen with The Salt Yard (where I’ve been but still have to blog about), Glas and Bar Shu (where the specialities are offal and lots of chillis – so I won’t be going there!!).  One of the latest places that caught my eye owing to its ubiquitous presence in the review columns is Arbutus, and seeing as all the reviews were excellent and mentioned reasonable prices for excellent food, how could I resist paying it a visit?

The restaurant occupies premises in Frith street, previously occupied by Bistro Bruno.  The interior Arbutus1 was mercifully was mercifully cool on a very hot, sticky day during the recent heatwave and is decorated in lovely restful neutrals.  I was particularly fond of the textured panels on the walls and the play of the halogen downlighters across their texture.  But wait – we weren’t here for the decor!  So Johanna and I settled in for a chat and perused the menu.  One of the “unique selling points” (much as I dislike the phrase) of Arbutus is the fact that ALL the wines on the winelist are available by the glass.  They have apparently invested in a snazzy industrial-size wine bottle vacuum machine that sucks the air out of half-full bottles and preserves the wine in pristine condition.  This makes a welcome change from most London restaurants where I find the selection of wines sold by the glass to be a) too limited and b) composed of only the most yawn-inducingly nondescript or the most eye-wateringly expensive wines.  And seeing as Johana was driving (and therefore not drinking) and I wanted only a glass of wine, it’s a good thing we chose Arbutus!  After we had dithered over the wine list, I finally chose a Navarro rose as my glass of choice.

Arbutuscarpaccio And so, to the menu.  In the interests of blogging research we decided to have three Arbutusrazorclams   courses each and not order the same thing if possible. (This is tricky as we can almost always be relied upon to make a beeline for the same dish!).  The menu was full of enticing choices and we spent an inordinate time debating our choice – which is always a good sign in my book! In the end, Johanna chose to start with razor clams cooked in garlic & served on their own shell (pictured right).  I have often seen razor clam shells on the beach but have never tried them, despite being a fan of shellfish:  you just never see them on South African menis, so I was quite eager to try a bite of Johanna’s.  It’s quite hard to describe them – somewhere between very tender calamari and the flesh of a scallop, and definitely the most meaty and satisfying shellfish I have tasted.  They were simply cooked which really let you savour the delicious taste and texture of the clams themselves, and for a starter, the portion was ENORMOUS. I, on the other hand, was feeling carnivorous and started with the breast of lamb carpaccio.  This also came in a generous serving and very attractively presented:  delicate pink slices of just-cooked, fatty lamb topped with raw almonds, broad beans and parmiggiano.  This was just fabulous.  It was served lukewarm so that the endearing fattiness of the lamb didn’t congeal into an unappetising blobbiness, and the crunch of the almonds and broad beans provided a nice contrast to the silkiness of the meat.  It was one of the nicest and most satisfying starters I’ve had in a long time.

Arbutuschicken Arbutusseabass For my main course I chose the poached roast chicken – the idea is to poach the chicken first so that it stays succulent and then to finish it by roasting, ensuring a delicious crispy skin.  This came with English peas, potato gnocchi and pea shoots in a rich pea and foie gras sauce.  It was another pretty much perfectly executed dish, light and summery yet deeply satisfying.  The chicken was indeed a perfect combination of juiciness and crispiness and the sauce was intensely flavoured without being too righ.  But oh… the gnocchi.  The gnocchi were as God intended gnocchi to be – delightfully pillowy and not at all like the rubbery stuff often served as gnicchi.  I would happily have eaten a full plate of only the gnocchi and the sauce – they were that good… Johanna chose the sea bass with a rosemary dressing and fennel puree, and a stuffed tomato.  I didn’t taste it so can’t express an opinion, but Johanna seemed happy with it and it was also attractively presented and perfect light fare for a hot summer evening.

Arbutuscremebrulee By the time we had worked through the very generous starter portions plus the main course, we found that our good intentions regarding two desserts had somewhat diminished.  As a compromise we shared a vanilla crème brule with langues de chat. I had not come across the term before but even my rudimentary knowledge of French could tell me that it literally means “cat’s tongue”!  So I was understandably a little apprehensive abotu what might be served with the creme brulee ;-)  But it turned out to be nothing more outlandish than a thin, flat cookie with rounded ends (rather like a flatter boudoir buscuit).  The creme brulee was perfect – slightly warm, dotted with specks of vanilla pod and perfectly caramelised.  And you’d be surprised at how good a cat’s tongue can taste ;-)

But the most pleasant surprise was yet to come:  the bill.  For all this beautifully presented and flawlessly executed food, we each paid just over £30, including service and water!  So if you are in the mood for a classy meal that won’t break the bank, or even if you just feel like having a few different glasses of unusual wines, I can highly recommend Arbutus.  For once, I agree with the critics – this place really is a find.

Arbutus
63-64 Frith Street
London
W1D 3JW


Tel.  020 7734 4545
E-mail info@arbutusrestaurant.co.uk
 

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Silverbrow August 22, 2006 at 2:37 pm

You’ve picked one of my favourite restaurants in London. There’s something very easy about the place, it’s relaxed, the cooking is not overly showy, but everything tastes and looks astounding.
It’s more than a bistro de luxe (a la Galvin) but less than a Michelin or the full on fur-coat, no knickers, experience you might expect from its decor.
The USP of the wine makes it even more attractive – and good value for money.
btw I don’t suppose you took a peak at where the crockery was from? I did, I have a habit of flicking plates over to see what make they are, and was surprised to see ‘Putney Bridge’ branded on the bottom. PB being Anthony Demetre’s old place, before he moved to Soho and setup Arbutus.

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Glen Greenway August 22, 2006 at 3:58 pm

Fantastic recipes – well done!!!!!!
Interesting to hear from you which of my wines would go with your dishes?

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Pamela August 23, 2006 at 7:59 am

Sounds amazing!! I have always wanted to try razor clams, do they taste like mussels?

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Jeanne August 23, 2006 at 11:36 am

Hi Silverbrow
Glad you agree – I was really impressed to find a place that looked so cool and classy and served such tremendous food without the usual raft of pretensions and at terrific prices. Last weekend we went to Moro from which I expected a lot more – and was sadly disappointed. Anthony Demetre should give lessons…
And no, I didn’t look at the crockery (how thrifty of Mr Demetre to bring it along!!) but I am often tempted to… Usually I feel too conspicuous though! My speciality is silverware – I always peek at what a restaurant is using as it’s less obtrusive than checking the crockery. I rememebr being impressed with the charmingly unmatched collection of Christofle stuff at Aux Lyonnais in Paris. I’ll tell you whose crockery I covet – Gordon Ramsay’s. I have often wondered whether a charger plate would fit in my handbag… ;-)
Hi Pamela
The have a very different texture to mussels – the closest comparison really is scallops I think, both in terms of texture and taste. Hope you find them on a menu near you soon!

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jenni August 23, 2006 at 1:31 pm

Really, was Moro not good? It’s a while since I’ve been, but I used to love it. I cook from their books all the time…

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Jeanne August 23, 2006 at 2:12 pm

Hi Jenni
Well, parts of it were good – the bread is delicious and my starter of cured tuna and beans was delicious, but then it kind of went downhill in terms of presentation and taste – Johanna’s portion of chickin was GIGANTIC and my lamb was considerably smaller – and the plating of my food was a disgrace. It wasn’t that anything was spectacularly bad, it was just a lot of money for not particularly exciting food. Full post to follow shortly!

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Christina August 23, 2006 at 2:49 pm

Ooh, this place sounds like a winner! As a fellow gnocchi-addict, I shall definitely have to try it out.

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keiko August 23, 2006 at 3:56 pm

Hi Jeanne – this place looks/sounds lovely, I must try it out some time. I missed your post about Glas, which I’ve been meaning to visit for a while – I might try her another restaurant in Aldeburgh first though. I still like eating at moro, but I know what you mean… The Salt Yard looks good too, I look forward to reading your fabulous write up :)

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Simonetta Taccuso September 19, 2006 at 7:06 pm

Nice restaurant Arbutus. And believe me, from inside sources, they price their wines very reasonably, which a big plus these days.
Said this, congratulations for the great blog.
I’ve been following you for some time now and if you agree, I’d love to link you to the San Lorenzo website, which I’m humbly trying to help take off.
I do hope you agree.
I have an idea for a secret santa for the food bloggers, courtesy of my site. Can we talk?

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wan August 16, 2007 at 1:40 pm

Dear Jeanne, I enjoy reading your reviews on restaurants, not to forget the photos and the recipes. As I have not been to either, I am undecided which to take a friend out on her birthday for a nice dinner, Tom’s Kitchen or Arbutus, what’s your take?

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