My gentleman companion and I had tickets to see Chorus Line at the Palladium so thought it was a good opportunity to try out the pre-theatre menu at Michelin starred Arbutus. Situated on Frith Street in Soho it has the perfect location for dinner before or after a West End theatre visit. It’s owned by the same people who own Les Deux Salon and Wild Honey so we had high hopes for our dinner.
Nothing went drastically wrong as such but we did find the whole experience (and more importantly the food) rather disappointing. The dining room was a long space with tightly packed in tables of two down the right hand side. It felt cold and uncomfortable, and as it was pretty empty the deathly silence only served to create a total lack of atmosphere. Service wasn’t rude but it was certainly unfriendly. We didn’t feel it was the sort of place we’d like to spend very long in.
To kick things off, some white or brown bread was offered alongside a slab of unsalted butter. Every mouthful was so bland and tasteless we declined a second offering.
For each course there were two options so we opted for one of each. The ravioli of lamb, sheep’s ricotta, mint and cavolo nero (a type of Italian cabbage) was disappointing. I quickly realised that ravioli of lamb was far different from lamb ravioli which is what I was expecting. Instead of pasta parcels, thinly sliced lamb encased the sheep’s ricotta. The dish was colder than luke warm and rather tasteless. Some strips of lamb crackling were delicious and the only saviour as they introduced flavour into an otherwise bland plate of food.
The potato soup, poached organic egg, buckwheat and colza oil was also on the cold side. The egg burst and the gooey yolk helped thicken an otherwise watery potato soup. It lacked an exciting element – it simply tasted of a plain potato soup.
My main of warm salt cod brandade, parsley salad and toasted sourdough would have made for a lovely starter but as a main course? I was starving afterwards. The brandade was like a fishy mashed potato (not a bad thing) and smothered on the crunchy toast it tasted nice. It was pleasant but I couldn’t rave about it – and it was luke warm. If I was being generous I’d say it was a lovely snack.
My gentleman companion’s traditional shin of beef parmentier (posh for cottage pie) had a rather odd presentation. A half empty plate of tasteless greens arrived followed by a mini cauldron of the cottage pie. The mash was faultlessly smooth and the beef was smothered in a rich meaty sauce which was heavenly. But again it was luke warm – see a theme developing here?
For pudding the choice was between cheese of the day or Sicilian Cassata cake with Seville marmalade so we both opted for the latter. The outside of the cake had been drenched in a sweet orangey liquid giving it a moist inviting appearance. The middle of the sponge however was dry and stodgy which was a shame. Some creme fraiche added creaminess and some pine nuts added texture but we could have done with more of both.
Although the pre-theatre menu was cheap, £20.95 for three courses, we didn’t feel it was good value for money as we left feeling really hungry. One of the managers had a nice chat with me at the end as we waited for our coats but I wish we’d had that warm and friendly interaction during our meal. I’ve heard many a good thing about Arbutus and maybe we caught the restaurant on a bad day – and maybe if we’d paid more and ordered from the a la carte we would have loved it – but on this occasion we left with nothing but disappointment in our bellies.