London has a bewildering amount of restaurant openings (and closings) every month. With no room for sentimentality, it’s only the best that stand the test of time. It’s heartening then to see a restaurant that has changed little in style can flourish in fickle Soho. Arbutus, the starred sibling of the classic Les Deux Salons and Wild Honey, still serves signature dishes from 2007 menu. It’s modern, clean dining room continues to be a lively enclave for those who appreciate its rustic, British bistro menu.
Among Arbutus’ well known dishes is the mackerel ‘burger’ and Cornish razor clam starter. Perhaps strange bedfellows, but this unusual combination works remarkably well. Finely diced mackerel fillets form a delicate patty, with the oiliness of the fish ensuring that it doesn’t dry-out on the grill. The razor clams provide a rich, textural accompaniment, gently blanched and sliced into slithers, covered with a creamy sauce that marries with the burger’s fishy notes. A herb purée then provides a refreshing finish.
The pig’s head is a noteworthy starter too. As bistro as you like, rich and moist assorted braised meats and offal are pressed together into a satisfying, dense porcine slice. An irony potato purée and zingy fresh slices of pickled turnip provide respective earthy and acidic notes to balance the dish perfectly.
And for dessert, while the baba au rhum may suffer from the common UK problem of being under soaked, the chocolate fondant is a velvety triumph. It’s important to remember here that Arbutus isn’t trying to create complicated, high-end patisserie. Its goal is to create fantastic flavours with high-quality products through well-executed cooking. The fondant, accompanied by its salted caramel ice cream is certainly a great example of this. We’ve all had plenty of salted caramel ice creams in our time, but this one has got to be the best I’ve ever had. Full-stop.
On top of all of this lovely food and the great atmosphere is a front of house service. Welcoming, professional, entertaining and unobtrusive. It seems that it’s bringing these elements together that creates a winning formula to crack Soho dining.