My best friend (who has known me for over 30 years) calls me wilfully independent - which is a concept that I embrace. I'm the one in the corner of the bar talking to someone interesting, who gets up early to try the "best coffee in London" and thinks hell is the well trampled streets of Benidorm. Different? Difficult? Individual? - Hell, yes!
And, I take this approach to eating out. So, if everyone has already visited a restaurant, loved it and it has been written up in the Evening Standard, I am sceptical - if not occasionally hostile. I want something undiscovered, ethnic or a hidden secret that London only reveals to those who take a chance.
So, when my boss announced that our teams Christmas lunch was going to be at Arbutus - a Michelin starred contemporary bistro in the heart of Soho - my heart sank. Would it be overpriced and pretentious? Would they make you feel as though they were doing you a favour by letting you in? Would this be a missed opportunity for a culinary adventure?
With these questions buzzing around in my head, I handed over my coat to the elegant but surprisingly friendly hostess and we were shown to our table. The dining room is full of elegant lines, glorious wood, comfortable chairs and an airy light atmosphere.
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No pretension in sight - although it did have the feel of a 'nice establishment'. One of the features of Arbutus is that you can order NICE wine by the carafe so we carefully considered the menu as we sipped a crispy New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc to start.
The menu is small and perfectly formed with enough variety to cater to a coeliac and a vegetarian. I chose Squid and mackerel ‘burger’ with Cornish razor clams. As a South African, I am picky about seafood but I didn't have anything to complain about when this delicious work of art arrived - well cooked, perfectly seasoned with a hint of the sea.
My colleagues ordered the country terrine and purple sprouting broccoli which vanished in record time with very little discussion. A sure sign of a tasty meal. I then opted for the Braised ox cheek, cauliflower and smoked bacon purée with winter greens which my boss insisted I try with Hungarian Bull's Blood.
The wine and the beef worked perfectly together as the alcohol deepened the unctuous, sticky heartiness of the beautifully braised meat. My colleagues tried the cod and the lamb - I aggressively resisted any suggestions about sharing.
Now I am not a dessert person but it is Christmas so I opted for the Cold chocolate fondant, salted caramel ice cream which is better than sex (at least with a couple of my ex boyfriends). Chocolatey goodness with a kick of caramel and salt.
And as we tumbled out into chilly pre-Christmas afternoon Soho, I was sorry to leave and annoyed with myself because in my wilful independence, I had almost missed a Soho gem. So Arbutus, I salute you for creating glorious food in a great atmosphere that even I am not stubborn enough to decline in the future
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