Monday, 7 December 2009

Restaurant Review: Arbutus

We had a pre-theatre dinner booked, though I had no idea where it was, having failed to spoil the surprise (something that is a real hobby, I hate surprises). It turned out we were going to Arbutus in Soho, a modern, brightly lit restaurant that's won lots of awards. Excellent!

The idea was to have the pre/post-theatre menu at £18.50, except my greed got the better of me. Although for the purposes of this I will say that I thought it would be more interesting to compare the a la carte to the set menu.

So I started with the Squid and Mackerel 'Burger' with Razor Clams (pictured above) whilst my girlfriend had the Porcetta with Apple Sauce. Mine was pretty as a picture and excellently cooked, the 'burger' was a fish cake, with no binding, stuck together by the mackerel, which had been minced rather than left as chunks. It had a nice caramelised outside with a meltingly soft interior, with the fish not quite set. The squid lent this a wonderful sweetness, as did the phenomenal razor clam that surrounded it. Sadly, the 'burger' was over-seasoned and this really overshadowed a great deal of the subtlety the dish otherwise contained. The Porcetta was far simpler. Paper thin slices of pork, served cold with apple sauce and salad, was delicious. This incredibly simple dish really showed the undoubted quality of the meat, which tasted just like a piece of pork should.

My main, Wild Duck with Slow Cooked Quince and Cabbage with Bacon, was again wonderfully presented (so good that I started eating before I remembered that I was a responsible food blogger as you can see). This was contending with Breast of Lamb with Potato Puree. The duck itself was wonderful and gamey, the cabbage, studded with bacon and bits of duck meat was the star. The quince gave some sweetness but hadn't really been allowed to develop quite enough of that. This time I would also have liked a little more seasoning to really bring the whole dish alive. The lamb was again a very tasty piece of meat. The flavour of it was like the lamb you get in Spain, which is killed a lot younger and has a more mellow, sweeter flavour than we're used to here. It also has a far mellower flavour. I found out from reading Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, that breast is a cheap oft used cut (which made me feel better for not recognising it) that normally requires slow cooking. This being younger meant it could be roast simply with mint. The result of this dish like the first, was less subtle than mine, but one that allowed a couple of big, well developed flavours to really do their work.

Where I definitely won was with the pudding. Of course dinner shouldn't be a competition, but seeing as I felt I had been losing up to this point I though I should point out that here I did well. I plumped (definitely the word) for the Quince Clafouti whilst my girlfriend had a Panna Cotta with Apple Sauce. This was fine, but plain. Mine was a beautiful pudding, gooey and stodgy and soft on the inside, with some slightly sour fruit, just caramelised on the edges to give an extra note with a crisp exterior was fantastic. The almond sorbet that came with it dissapeared in the mouth leaving a clean almond flavour that accentuated the taste of the Clafouti itself.

In short though I didn't win. My menu was definitely more complex in terms of flavours and combinations and definitely relied on more prime central ingredients. But, it lacked the perfectly turned out simplicity of the set menu. Mine came in at around £15 more and although very good, I can't say it was better than the set menus combination of simple cuts and bold flavours.

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