Choosing a restaurant in Soho after a couple of gin martinis is like a one-sided game of Battleships. You take aim at the heart-of-London’s gridded streets and often miss, leaving your peg sitting in a tasteless hole. Another evening, another game you fire and it’s bull’s-eye. A peg in a ship suggests a revisit. But what if you’ve hit a piddly patrol boat? Your second hit will sink that tiny ship. It was the competent chef’s shift on your first encounter.
But every now and then you strike an aircraft carrier that can withstand numerous blows and stay afloat.
The vessel HRH Lady H and I targeted one finger-numbingly cold January night was christened Arbutus. An aircraft carrier that sails Frith Street. This was my third meal there and she’s still holding her head above water.
We hiccuped our way through the doors of the one-Michelin-starred gaff, and were greeted by a foxy Marilyn Monroe look-a-like. Marilyn playfully ummed and ahhed, then dangled the eatery’s last table in the air as if it was a toy mouse and we were a pair of mischievous Persian cats. Once she’d made us purr we were led to the table.
The restaurant is intimate and narrow. The white walls are mostly lined with old black and white photos of city life. One could be sitting in the National Portrait Gallery during a Robert Frank exhibition.
Lady H’s attention was drawn to the other bums on the banquettes rather than the menu at first. HRH has a penchant for young chaps sporting a crisp white shirt with a subtle hint of Dries Van Noten on their person.
The frolics didn’t end at reception. Lady H ordered two glasses of Davenport East Sussex bubbly. Our pretty waitress smiled and teased us with the idea of a whole bottle. I dug my Paul Smith calf leather Wallace’s heels in. Deux glasses it was.
Davenport Limney Estate is as French as us Brits get when it comes to fizz. Much like south-Londoner John Galliano’s final spring/summer collection for Dior.
Lady began with the Scottish white crab, confit egg yolk, avocado guacamole and brown crabmeat crackers. The ocean fresh crabmeat was mild and sweet. The combination of textures from the runny yolk, crunchy cracker and distinctively strandy crab worked.
For my entrée shoulder of Elwy Valley lamb and Herefordshire snails ‘lasagne’. The scallop like texture of the snail was slightly overpowered by the lamb. I needed to season this dish. The pea green sauce was about as memorable as the Liberal Democrat’s latest policies.
To wash down the mains a bottle of The Flower and the Bee (La Folora y la Abeja). Ribena-like with a spicy bite. Utterly drinkable.
I followed with young Scottish pheasant cooked in hay, with quince jam and cauliflower, with a sausage roll on the side. If the West Cornwall Pasty Company churned out meaty tubes of perfection like this every day I’d be using a different belt loop. The sagey bird came alive with the tart undertones from the jam.
HRH chose the grilled piece of beef with charred calcot onion, toasted buckwheat and Pomme Anne spuds. I had food-envy slapped across my face like Jordan wears make-up. Your neighbour’s Ford Mondeo is aways shinier. The potato was buttery and rich. A treacly saltiness seeped from this addictive beef.
To end we shared a selection of cheeses that Borough Market would have been proud of. To accouplement Graham’s 10-year-old port – vibrant, oaky with a nutty bouquet.
Not as cost effective as eating on the Ark. You’ll need a squadron of Navy officers wages to dine for two on Arbutus’s decks. But she’s worth a hit.