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Arbutus - opening soon in Soho


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I forgot to write up that arbutus saved a potentially disasterous saturday in london for me recently. For reasons unknown i had agreed with mrs m to accompany her to london to go and see her best friends new house in essex, there was at least the propsect of a few other other husbands there to hang out with.

On arriving at kings cross it became apparent that i would be the only male there and the prospect of trekking out to essex and back to sit in a house with mrs m's old school friends, lovely though they are, didn't vastly appeal.

Sensing my cunningly concealed displeasure (only slight use of the f word, ruined, weekend, wasted etc)it was quickly decided that perhaps it might be best if i went for lunch and we re-grouped later, with that she was off and i was on the dog to mr friar to see what the score was. Unfortunatley he was half full of ham sandwich and not up for selection but agreed that my inital thought of Arbutus or wild honey would be a good call, and furnished with the number i booked a table.

I had bumped into Tony Demetre at hibiscus a few weeks earlier and since i hadn't sampled his cooking since putney bridge days a trip was long overdue, that and matt grant rhapsodising about their excellent pomme puree on a recent thread, well it was a pomme puree sort of day.

A very warm welcome at arbutus awaited and i had a table in the bar, with the instructions to 'find some wine and chill out' seemed like a plan. Tony was in and dining en famille but had a quick chat with him and returned to my table to be furnished with the arbutus cocktail which got things rolling and a decent new world pinot that started the move to the edge. Given the Dos Hermanos are usually up for short notice drop of vino i tried to get hold of them eventually tracking down HP wolfing down oysters at bentleys so he headed over too.

In the meantime i was getting busy with my starter, a braised hare shoulder on creamed polenta. Possibly the best rabbitty/polenta combo since an etheral version at locatelli some years ago dark braised shoulder with silky pomme like polenta, as i said it was pomme sort of day.

Next up was comped plate of smoked salmon which was very good with, from fading memory , a shalloty dressing.

Main course arrived in a procession of cool black staub pots, always a good sign in my book, in one, yes the pomme, and it didn't disappoint, in the other two large balls. Pork Caillettes to be precise bound in caul containing what i know not, perhaps luckily, until i finished when tony said it was 'very traditional just the usual lungs and other offal'. There were also some good carrots and braising liquor in the pots too. A great winter dish.

By this point HP had arrived so time for un autre bouteille and most excellently a partner for the tarte tatin for two i had my eyes on. The tarte came in a copper frying pan and whilst not the very best i've had it certainly did the trick and also got me back into making it at home too.

Coffee and a calva to finish a very enjoyable visit, well worth it, good to see it buzzing at lunchtime and got knows how they were going to get through the 160 -odd descending on them on saturday night, but tony and will seem to have hit on a winning formula.

you don't win friends with salad

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  • 2 weeks later...
  • 1 month later...

Went to Arbutus for lunch yesterday for only the second time and sadly I have to say I have mixed feelings.

The food first - very good to outstanding. To begin with bread was good but nothing special but the butter unfortunately fridge cold. For starters my friend had the cod brandade with Chorizo. All the flavours came through and were very comforting and correct. With this he had partnered a caraffe of very nice Sauvignon blanc at £10 a caraffe which wasn't too badly priced in my opinion. For my starter I chose a blinder in the braised pigs head. Lovely, unctuous, tender meat which just melted in the mouth. Nice and fatty but not overly so. A proper wintry warmer which given the downpour we had to go through to get there was greatly appreciated. Also the pomme puree with it really was quite good but not quite up to Joel Robuchon standard. Overall this starter was one of the best bistro style of starters I have had. The only negatives with the starters were that they both came out a mere luke warm just five minutes after ordering. Now I know that both of these starters could come out on a production line but I don't think it would have been too hard for them to make it them a bit hotter.

For mains my friend had the meatballs which came with the pomme puree again. The balls themselves were well held together with not much filling and were well seasoned full of offally richness and flavour. Luckily for me I chose another blinder in the rabbit. On the website at the moment it advertises rabbit leg and saddle with a macaroni (??) gratin which made me think I'd go for a beef dish. However I was in luck and it was the infamous roast loin/saddle with a shepards pie made from the shoulder. The saddle was well cooked with very tender meat although a tad underseasoned. However the shepards pie really was a knockout again. The meat lovely and tender with a lovely potatoe topping (to be expected by this stage). Again this was a lovely wineter warmer. Both main courses unlike the starters were piping hot and all the better for it. To accompany the pigs head starter and both main courses we had a bottle of Pinot Noir which was a good match but slightly overpriced at £35. No puddings for us as nothing really appealed and we fancied getting a coffee and a cake elsewhere (wish we hadn't as ended up at House of Fraser cafe which served up teh worst cake ever!!!).

Now the problem - service. There are just not enough staff. There must have been only 6 waitors on the floor and while our food came out in good time it was just not professional enough. After the first offering of bread we had to ask for it the second time, coats took an age to put away and retrieve, the waitor had to count down the number of tables (in French) to try and work out which table we were sitting on when we first had the order taken, no topping up of wine took place at all in the one and a half hours we were there, no visible sommelier or knowledge from the waitors about the wine whatsoever, although they didn't bat an eyelid when we asked for tap water.

Now the Michelin star. Hmmmm. Why is it there? While the food was good it is only very accomplished Bistro food - this may not be aparticularly big issue as I agree that Michelin should not just focus on high end French. The main problem is the room and the service. Tables are squashed in to get the turnover of the (smaller than normal I'd guess) margins which really isn't the norm for any other michelin restaurant I've been in. Also the whole layout of the restaurant - having to walk/squeeze past waitors carrying food on the narrow stairs as you go to the loos is just not on in a starred place. Again the service as mentioned was substantially substandard and they are clearly not professionals and nor does it appear they are being trained into them! Finally if Arbutus has a star why not Galvin Bistro or Racine which have the same (if not better) style and standard food, a better room layout and infinitely better service.

Anyhow a good meal was head and fair value at £50 a head a piece.

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well, it's no doubt highly contestable whether it happens in practice (one can't imagine a restaurant that's truly unpleasant to be in getting a star), but in principle michelin stars at the * and ** level are only given for what's on the plate, not room, service etc.

as for bistro style food, to michelin 1* isn't even "worth a detour" (let alone a special trip :wink:) so easily justified...

Ian

I go to bakeries, all day long.

There's a lack of sweetness in my life...

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as for bistro style food, to michelin 1* isn't even "worth a detour" (let alone a special trip  :wink:) so easily justified...

more to the point (and in the correct thread!) is the issue of "category" -- http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showto...dpost&p=1527103

Ian

I go to bakeries, all day long.

There's a lack of sweetness in my life...

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  • 2 weeks later...

I know this is a debate thats going nowhere but...

I never see anyone saying they don't like the food here, just a debate as to whether its 1* standard. That criticism often focuses on the lack of fripperies or the decor.

I have eaten here only twice, once in the evening (written up here Arbutus) and once for lunch. On both occasions I had a great meal, the meat cooking is excellent, with great combinations and everything cooked just right. There are enough ideas to keep things interesting, but its classic combinations mainly and nothing to frighten the horses. Good! It seems to me the cooking is definitely 1* standard.

As for the lack of "freebies", they're not really free and thats why the bill here is very low. As for decor, as many have said, a star should be about whats on the plate.

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I went a few weeks back for dinner and I was very impressed.

The sea bass dish I had for main was particularly stunning. Yes the service and decor wasn't jaw dropping but for me it got the most important part of a restaurant spot on - the food. I also thought it was particularly good value.

Does it deserve a star? I don't see why not. The food is delicious, whether its simple bistro food or not, i thought it was very well executed.

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I heard a Food Program about Arbutus, how the stuck to the low food costs.

But how much is a main and a starter?

“Do you not find that bacon, sausage, egg, chips, black pudding, beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, fried bread and a cup of tea; is a meal in itself really?” Hovis Presley.

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I never see anyone saying they don't like the food here

Actually, having been a big fan during pages three through six of this thread, I've had repeated disappointments. Recent visits have featured some worryingly slapdash cooking, mistakes that shouldn't have reached the pass, and cheap ingredients that tasted like substitutes rather than inventions.

You'll still chance on a damn fine dish that justifies the kitchen's reputation, but on average the difference between Arbies and the mid-market competition has narrowed. And, as the cost per head crept from sub-£30 to £40-plus, I'm finding myself a lot less forgiving when it misfires.

I was under the impression that the only fixed criteria for winning a star was consistency. On that basis, perhaps Arbies' award arrived much too soon.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I think consistency is one of Arbies strong points, helped no doubt by having a couple of strong chefs to support Anthony. Colin Kelly is well publicised as being head chef at Wild Honey but a little less known though no less deserving is Alan Christie at Arbutus who holds the fort when Anthony is occupied elsewhere.

Saturday highlights were a rich ragout of game with Macaroni which had great depth of flavour. Bavette of beef exhibited none if the toughness that plagued this dish a while ago due to supply problems, if I had any criticism this time it would be that it was too tender! A freebie course of Seabass with Octopus was excellent, crisp skinned seabass and tender octopus (apparently cooked for days), a couple of tough skins on the accompanying beans were a minor flaw. The rabbit dish was as good as ever, the cottage pie immaculate and for me once again the star of the dish rather than the side dish it appears as.

Good Cheesecake with rhubarb and champagne finished off the meal. I think the other thing that has got better over time is service, friendly, casual and efficient, just as it should be in a restaurant like this. You can take your amuse bouche, pre desserts, fancy cutlery and table cloths, I'd rather have good food at a decent price any day.

"Why would we want Children? What do they know about food?"

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  • 3 months later...

Dinner at Arby on Thursday night, good Asparagus with Joselito and Parmesan, I was force fed a soft boiled egg (I hate eggs but have recently been trying to get to grips with them) served with a mushroom veloute and smoked duck breast and once I'd got my head around eating the white (I love the yolks) I found it surprisingly enjoyable :rolleyes:

The restaurant is taking part in the Kerasma promotion at the moment so there are a few greek influenced dishes and wines. The Chicken was rolled and stuffed with Greek herbs, lemon and the chicken offal. However a dessert of Loukamades took me back instantly to backpacking around Turkey where I would gleefully eat as many Lokma as I could afford. The Loukamades reminded me of that completely, served warm with Aiegina pistachios, wild honey and Lemon Thyme ice cream. Fantastic.

A couple of interesting Greek wines as well though unfortuantely I forget the names, The White from Santorini was very good and the sweet red smelt so much of raisins and reminded me of Christmas pudding.

"Why would we want Children? What do they know about food?"

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have been to arbutus just about everytime i have been to london for the last 8 months, i think it is the best resturant a showcasing lesser used ingredients but the only way this is possiable is the skill in which antony and his brigade work, the squid and mackerel is one of the best starters i hace ever had clean precise and above all tasty.

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  • 2 months later...

Great meal at Arbutus last night the highlight of which was a freebie from the kitchen of smoked duck white beans and girolles - beautiful.

I also had a very good meal at Wild Honey recently on a busy Saturday Lunchtime, the Limousin veal dish is very good and has been on the menu the last couple of times I've been, I'm not sure if it is a permanant feature now

Anthony has a book coming out soon called Today's Special - details HERE

Edited by Matthew Grant (log)

"Why would we want Children? What do they know about food?"

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Since this is now also the Wild Honey thread...

Had an average pre-theatre set dinner at WH today. The food was equivalent to well-prepared canteen food (not my word, just that of my dining partner) although the summer fruits sorbet was absolutely gorgeous (why with melon... why?), and I loved the fennouil bits (whatever that is in English) in the tomato/gnocchi/anchovy starter. First time I see somebody English pairing it with fish - thought it was only to be found in Southern France (used to go chew on the wild ones next to the football field). Spent £50 for two including a carafe. The wine list is lovely for us cheaper diners!

Perhaps it is worth spending more and getting from the card.

We were not impressed by the fact diners who were eating alc were offered bread as soon as they finished theirs, whilst us cheapos had to do with one slice each. Should probably have asked the waiter for more. Other than that, the service was professional and enjoyable.

We had:

Tomato/G something (ended up being gnocchis)/anchovy (fresh, unsalted)

Runny yolk egg/salad/sauce/green sauce

Pollock/potatoes/cabbage (?)/some kind of potato mash with fish

Moussaka (what it says on the tin, was served with more of above salad)

Summer berries sorbet with melon. I.e. a scoop of excellent sorbet on 6 mini melon balls, nothing else.

Well, I was going to go to Arbutus but now will give it a miss until I have an excuse for alc.

(interestingly, our very local Alimentum trumps all the 1*s I've dined in so far in London, with very high consistency, with modern Mediterranean (Spanish/French) cooking similar to Arbutus/WH, and yet no star. Well, not complaining, keeps prices down.)

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(interestingly, our very local Alimentum trumps all the 1*s I've dined in so far in London, with very high consistency, with modern Mediterranean (Spanish/French) cooking similar to Arbutus/WH, and yet no star. Well, not complaining, keeps prices down.)

I'm a big fan of Alimentum, though I wouldn't say it comes close to more 'high end' 1*s like Ledbury, Greenhouse etc.

I've noticed that Alimentum seems to have a similar model to Wild Honey/Arbutus in some ways -- no extended seasonal/tasting menus, no amuses or other free courses, all main list wines by the 250ml carafe pro-rata'd, reasonable prices etc. -- very welcome in Cambridge of course. This said, the food is less basic in presentation etc. than WH.

I like WH a lot too, but only really for lunch or a quick dinner -- tables are very close packed, rather noisy/echoey, and food not particularly playful or arresting, but to a good standard none-the-less...

Edited by adt (log)

Ian

I go to bakeries, all day long.

There's a lack of sweetness in my life...

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Great meal at Arbutus last night

Must agree with Mathew we had a really good meal at Arbutus on Saturday night. Really, really good food especially at this price in central London.

But I don't like the room that much - too bright, and needs softening with tablecloths - I feel it doesn't really frame the food well, and food like this deserves better. Is it designed to make diners uncomfortable and thus turn tables? However, it won't stop me returning.

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Unfortunately I think that Laundry bills in London add up to huge sums of money and you would find the food going up in price to compensate if you want tablecloths :hmmm: I think the lack of them lends a nice casual feel to the room personally and that is what is so appealing about the place.

"Why would we want Children? What do they know about food?"

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Matthew - I was just wondering are you connected to Arbutus in some way or merely mildly obsessed  :smile: ? Like me with El Bulli!

That is a joke question right?!!! :blink:

If a man makes a statement and a woman is not around to witness it, is he still wrong?

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Unfortunately I think that Laundry bills in London add up to huge sums of money and you would find the food going up in price to compensate if you want tablecloths :hmmm: I think the lack of them lends a nice casual feel to the room personally and that is what is so appealing about the place.

There is a great restaurant in Sydney (Bistro Moncur) that solves this problem by using linen clothes and then covering them with a paper clot. Keeps the laundry bill down, maintains the casual atmosphere, but importantly deadens the sound.

It has been going for years with this approach and still sits at a similar (relative) price point to Arbutus - no booking, simply turn up, wait at the bar and eat. They turn the tables without compromising the ambiance. A lesson for London's low cost/high quality dining places?

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Just got back from a short London visit, which included a few meals at Arbutus. I actually don't mind the room, though it's usually been relatively quiet when I've gone. (My first meal there was during the 2006 World Cup Final, and I had a 10:45 pm dinner after a Proms concert.)

Among other dishes, I had a lovely saddle of rabbit (lunch), the pig's head terrine (a bit different from what I remember from 2006; did they change the recipe?), an incredible lamb's breast (just the right crunch on the outside, fall-apart tender on the inside) with sweetbreads, Welsh lamb tripe (had reservations about the tripe-y smell, but was scrumptious once I dug in), and the tasty treacle tart with just the right sour edge to it.

Bill

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Visited the place for a quick 10pm meal.

Pig's head was great, squid was... squid, salmon was raw (but cooked enough not to be sashimi) and the accompaniments tasteless, rabbit was tasty, chocolate soup was fantastic (first choc dessert I've actually enjoyed and been excited by, ever!) and the summer trifle summery. £40 a head inc. a carafe of wine and service.

Nice place. I'd go back.

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  • 1 month later...

Been for a couple of meals in last few weeks. One with the old man and one in a group of 5. Both times the majority had the set lunch/pre-theatre deal. Stand outs were a smoked eal and mullet risotto (lovely and unctuous and served in the copper pan it was cooked in), a leg of rabbit with potatoe puree, and the standard pigs head starter and saddle of rabbit with shoulder confit cottage pie main. These two last dishes were as normal the stars of the show although the pigs head did seem a bit more fatty than usual. Only quible I would have on the food is still the desserts. On the set menu they are normally sub standard with a sorbet or floating island or cheese (always not at its best) on offer and the a la carte desserts still fail to inspire (eg I had an ok cheesecake with roasted figs on my last visit). Just needs a bit more imagination and effort IMO.

However the wine list is still excellent and last time I really tested it for the first time. One of us in the group is training to be a master of wine and knows his stuff. I think we managed to get through about 12 caraffes between the five of us and all that I tasted were good to very good especially the dessert wines (which in general are becoming my favourite party of any meal). As I say all still on form although I think it should carry on striving to improve instead of resting on its laurels.

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