Amongst the bright lights of London’s Soho there is good and bad in equal measure. Nestled amongst the townhouses and bars, lies an establishment capturing the buzz of the neighbourhood without any of the unscrupulous aspects that Soho entertains. This is Arbutus, the contemporary bistro awarded a Michelin star in January 2007. Elysium Magazine takes a closer look at the restaurant for the discerning gent looking to escape the neon lights and bar flyers in favour of good food.
The Look, The Feel
Entering Arbutus, it does feel like a haven amongst the madness outside. That said, it’s still a buzzing venue that provides refuge for a mixed clientele – office types, theatre goers and the odd tourist or two. It’s safe to say this is a place for one and all and the venue does its best to not exclude anyone from that list.
It has that contemporary vibe about it. Seating is a mixture of modern tables for couples mainly, with bigger groups accommodated easily too. For those looking for a quick bite there’s a stylish bar area serving such dishes and a healthy list of cocktails too. It’s the kind of place the discerning gent would immediately feel at home in – be it a working lunch, dinner with friends or a romantic meal for two.
The restaurant is led by the culinary expertise of Anthony Demetre and business skill of Will Smith who together have created an atmosphere within Arbutus that is in tune with its surroundings. The menu focuses on seasonal ingredients, with a leaning towards those not often used elsewhere, and menus are rotated on a daily basis so what you have one day won’t necessarily be there the next.
After getting settled into seating overlooking the front window (the best seat in the house for people watching) it was time to get acquainted with the starters. To get the evening going it we opted for the Dorset crab with avocado guacamole, peanut and mango (£10.50) along with the squid and mackerel ‘burger’ with razor clams (£11.50). The starter was paired with a carafe (250ml) of fruity white wine on the waiter’s recommendation. Unlike other restaurants, the entire wine list is available by the bottle or carafe – a great way to discover a favourite new white or red.
Both dishes came beautifully presented to the table but the proof is always in the first bite as the aromas of the food float in the air. We have to say they both passed the taste test with flying colours. The squid and mackerel ‘burger’ being a highlight with its light texture and delicate taste – a clever idea executed brilliantly on the plate. The bar was set and anticipation building for the mains.
Following on from the starters was a big deal so we just couldn’t wait for the grilled piece of beef with vegetables and dauphinois potatoes (£21.00 along with the slow cooked Tamworth pork belly with heritage snails, carrot and cumin puree (£18.00). The pork belly was outstanding – crispy crackling and flavoursome meat and a creative play on the circle of life: vegetables that were eaten by the snails which in turn would have been dinner for the pig.
The beef was sizeable – a healthy portion complimented well by the dauphinois. For this course the waiter recommended a carafe of stunning Hungarian wine that went down extremely well with the pork and beef. These dishes are a great reminder of Michelin star calibre of the restaurant. The venue seemed to grow in buzz and energy during dinner, perhaps a trait taken from the Soho location but more likely from the people passing through its doors.
Having taken a breather after the mains it was time to sample the delicacies of the desert menu – the apple tarte tatin to share with vanilla ice cream (£7.00 per person) had caught the eye at the start of the night but by this time they had all gone. That’s not an issue for the staff at Arbutus though who quickly had discussions with the kitchen and presented an even better option: sticky pear clafoutis – a baked desert that smelt divine and tasted heavenly. A great way to round off the night.
The ethos of Arbutus has to be commended – the bistro experience with the skill and quality of a Michelin-stared fine dining restaurant is spot on. The plentiful daily covers of the restaurant are testament to this. The vibrant atmosphere and attentive staff add to the qualities that will continue to lure the discerning gent time after time. It’s a London favourite.
Style: British classic
Contact: Arbutus, 63-64 Frith Street, London, W1D 3JW – Tel: 020 7734 4545