Restaurant Review

Lunch @ Arbutus*

Reviewed by The Wild Boar

Yet another Michelin starred restaurant offering a good set lunch, this has been on my radar for a while since it has fairly positive reviews on the blogosphere. To lay the context for the rest of this review, let me quote from the Arbutus website regarding their statement of intent:

Our aim is to offer a great quality dining experience in relaxed and informal surroundings. At the heart of what we want to achieve is value for money and quality”.

So on a Sunday afternoon, we found ourselves making our way to Frith Street (again!), Soho and were soon showed to our little table by the window, much to the PigPig’s delight since bountiful sunlight meant great pictures. Even before I had time to eyeball the interior of the restaurant, the bouncy waitress had already given us our menus, winelist as well as offering us bread.

The choices were either brown or white sourdough and they were both really good. Even though it wasn’t made in-house, the bread was warm and tasted really fresh. When I asked where the bread was sourced from, the waitress kindly provided the name, address, telephone number and website.

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We were drawn to Arbutus mainly because the set lunch seemed like really good value for money – £16.95 for 3 courses. However, we (ok, mainly me) wanted to sample more of the cooking on offer so the wife took the set lunch whilst I chose 2 courses of the ala carte menu.

“‘Traditional style’ country terrine, fruit chutney”. Even before eating it, we took a second to savour the appearance of this terrine with the sinful blobs of fat littered throughout. Tastewise it was as good as it looked being sufficiently rich and smooth and seasoned well although I felt the chutney was a bit too sweet and overpowering.

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Braised pig’s head, potato puree, ravioli of caramelised onions”. Ok this does look like it had been whacked with the ugly stick a fair bit, but appearances can be deceiving. Slivers of meat (and various other bits I didn’t make out nor did I really want to identify) were stacked together to make a delicious little tower of gamey goodness. At first I thought it was a little under-seasoned, but when paired with the onions and little netting of ham over it, there was more than enough flavour to go around. Enjoyed every bit of it, especially the layer of soft bubbly fat.

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Slow roast rabbit, potato gnocchi, courgettes”.

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Plat du Jour: Roast rack of pork, St. George mushrooms, potato gnocchi, broad beans

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I’m going to talk about both the main courses collectively as I think they are broadly similar – meat, cooked adequately and not overdone, slightly underseasoned but made up for it with the drizzling of gravy around it, served with a variety of vegetables; I though the rabbit had the more Mediterranean vegetables while the roast pork had the more traditional British ones.

A quick leaf through chef Anthony Demetre’s book (Today’s Special) in reception revealed that he was aiming for more traditional comfort bistro dishes. In that sense, I’m more understanding of the main dishes as although expertly cooked, I felt they lacked a certain spark of imagination and creativity.

Vanilla panna cotta, rhubarb”. We both felt the panna cotta was very rich and somewhat lacking in taste, although there was plenty of rhubarb compote to go around as well as the biscuit to help make up for it.

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Altogether, the total cost was £48 for two which was incredibly good value for money for a one starred restaurant. Service was prompt and efficient throughout, although the restaurant was barely half full during our sitting so the staff was hardly stretched. There was a great boisterous feel during lunch too as the various diners were all chatting away merrily which made for a pleasant relaxed atmosphere.

Food – 7.8
Service – 6.0
Atmosphere – 7.0
Value – 7.0

Best bit: watching some people practicing tai chi across the street.
Worst bit: finding parking nearby.

63-64 Frith Street
Tel: +44(020) 7734 4545
Official website