Dispirited as a turkey in December that gets the whole Christmas thing, I call Arbutus and whoa, they have a free table. Now I'm torn. As Groucho famously didn't want to belong to any club that would have him as a member, so should I refuse to dine at any restaurant that still had an available table? What's wrong I ask? But of course I'm going to take the table, I have a friend to meet and am in mortal danger if my blood-alcohol level drops too low.
Tucked away at the top end of Frith Street in Soho, as I enter I remember that I've been there before but that's all I remember and it was a few years ago after all. Difficult to comment on the usual ambience as there's an office Xmas party or two taking place though they're pretty well behaved. But the place is comfortable, well spaced tables and it's a good place to meet a friend to catch up in a relaxed surrounding.
Our waiter too is excellent. He's knowledgeable about the food but even better, he's enthusiastic, he clearly believes in it and is happy to promote it; we feel encouraged. While there was a pause in service after the main course when we struggled to get anyone's attention to order dessert, that small hiccup aside, the service was exemplary.
The menu is a mix of old English, French and other European. On the starters, there's pig's head, country style terrine and smoked eel, quite St John like, as well as pork porchetta, ox tripe 'Spanish style' as well as an intriguing squid and mackerel burger. Equally, the mains entice with traditional bouillabaisse, cooked shoulder of venison and several more offerings embracing both fish and meat.
Now, to be fair, what the restaurant says on its website is that 'what we want to achieve is value for money and quality' and they do. But what they don't deliver in our view is a meal that transcends merely a good restaurant experience. One doesn't feel affronted that they have a Michelin star but if they didn't have one, nor would I be taking to the street to lobby for them. We've seen substantial quality amongst the one star brigade from the excellent (Martin Wishart) to the surprising (no names). Arbutus in our opinion sits fairly placed round about the middle, nothing overly fancy but quality with value as already noted.
Overall then, for a location in or around Soho where you want to meet a friend to catch up over food without risk that the meal will let you down, this is a good place to go, good choice, good value and reliable. If you want a full on experience and food that will make you pause for thought and food that dominates the conversation, there's probably better alternatives.
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