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Friday, 7 January 2011

Arbutus Restaurant

is a modest restaurant with an understated elegance and a relaxed atmosphere. It opened in 2006 to rave reviews, and is the brainchild of Anthony Demetre and Will Smith. Located amongst the grime of Soho’s Frith Street, tucked away towards the Tottenham Court Road end. You eat in a plain oblong room, neatly arranged, painted in muted colours with low-key decor.

Arbutus is a strange name for a restaurant, don’t you think? Rather unappetising, but in fact an ‘arbutus’ is a tree from the Mediterranean. They serve modern European food with a strong French influence, and guarantee an uncompromised high standard at reasonable prices. I have been to my fair share of Michelin starred eateries (Arbutus was awarded its star in January 2007) and can confirm that these prices are impressively low by comparison. As is often the case, Arbutus offers a cheaper lunch menu to lure people in during their less busy times. With three courses priced at just £16.95 and surprisingly available at weekends as well as Monday to Friday, this is a particularly generous option.

We went during the Christmas period, when I had a rare weekday free. After considering all the choices I decided to decline the fixed lunch menu, and instead opted for two courses from the a la carte: main and dessert. Given the choice between starter and pudding, the latter always wins. Here’s what we had:


Saddle of rabbit, caramelised endive, shoulder cottage pie (£17.95)

Grilled Bavette of beef (28 day aged), gratin dauphinois, red wine sauce (£17.95)


Clafoutis of William pears, vanilla ice cream (£6.95)

Cold chocolate fondant, chocolate wafer, salted caramel ice cream (£6.95)

My beef was delicious, and I was relieved to find they weren’t precious about my request to have it medium to well cooked, rather than the usual medium. It came with caramelised vegetables and a separate little steaming pot of gratin – a wonderfully creamy potato dish topped with cheese. The portions are generous; I found it a bit of a challenge to get through all the meat, but felt it was too good to leave any. The rabbit was nice, although aesthetically not as tempting as the beef. The cottage pie was a particular success, made with the lamb shoulder it was tender and full of flavour.

Thanks to the lack of starter I was completely ready for sweet when it came to our table. Very simply displayed, no foam, no spun sugar, no fuss, I was a little disappointed. A clafoutis is a baked french dessert; usually black cherries are arranged in a buttered dish covered with a thick flan-like batter. However mine was made with pears and had a delicate hint of almond, which the waiter later informed me was from almond flowers. It was near perfect, which unfortunately meant I had to share rather a lot of it with my companion. It arrived warm and each mouthful melted with juicy delight. The chocolate fondant was good too; I usually avoid chocolate desserts as they tend to be too heavy and rich for me, but this was definitely an exception. More of a mousse than cake it was light and scrumptious, paired well with the salty ice-cream.

The bill for two came to well under £60 (no alcohol, but including service charge), an amount which one can easily spend in a chain like Pizza Express, and very reasonable for a Michelin awarded restaurant. It was a lovely meal, I am looking forward to returning to Arbutus.

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