Eating out in London: it can get bloody expensive. To the savvy glutton, though, there are some tricks for wheedling out the maximum bang for one’s buck. I’ve written before about Bookatable, whose £25 surf ‘n turf deal at the Hippodrome Casino is probably the best in town. (Especially if you accidentally boss the Black Jack table with your tenner-worth of free gaming chips and leave £40 up, ha!) They’ve really upped their game recently though, adding new deals at Michelin star restaurants that make fine dining more accessible. The website is not the easiest to navigate, but if you stick with it you can unearth some rather special set menus covering everywhere from star-spangled stalwarts, like Sketch, to newly-minted members of the Michelin Guide, like Fera and Gymkhana. Most of these deals operate on a special set menu basis, so the trade-off for reasonable prices is significantly less choice. That’s okay though, because everything is published online so you can have a proper perv before you choose which deal to plump for. (I used to think I was the only one who studied menus in advance…apparently not.) My boyfriend and I chose Arbutus for its central location near Soho Square and seasonal ingredients. (Well, I liked that they were seasonal. He just liked the amount of pig on offer.) Speaking of which, here’s the first bit: a block of pig’s head. I cannot for the life of me work out exactly which bit of the departed this came from, but it was good. On the inside, it had an almost creamy texture that was at once gummy and gooey, but on the outside it was crisp, as though covered by a wafer-thin piece of crackling. Like a giant meaty home fry. The piccalilli was salty and sour – like piccalilli should be – but overpowered the meat if you weren’t careful with it. Potent stuff! I followed up my pork noggin with the halibut, as recommended by our well-meaning but slightly bumbling waiter (very sweet but placed my knife and fork the wrong way round and had to be gently prompted for menus; not a problem but definitely not Michelin star service). The fish came with morels, asparagus, quinoa and wild shrimp, ‘wild’ presumably being code for ‘very, very small’. The halibut though was generously proportioned, light but filling, and worked well with the asparagus and morels (diddy mushrooms to you and me). Also, it was beautifully presented, and I like eating beautiful things. (“It does look a bit like someone’s gobbed on your plated though,” said Mike, food critic extraordinaire.) The slow roasted pork belly with roasted onion was ‘very good but not life-changing’, and could have done with some extra carbs. (i.e.: we should have ordered extra chips.) Pudding was a mixed bag: I chose the the early season raspberries, vanilla ice cream and meringue, which was tasty and light. Mike chose the honey ice cream with honeycomb – a regular on the a la carte at a totally unjustifiable £7.50 – which just tasted of…ice cream with bits of Crunchie sprinkled on top.
In addition to the three courses, the deal came with a truly delicious prosecco cocktail with elderflower and mint, which I could have easily sunk ten of. We also had a fantastic bottle of Reisling at around £38. (The cheapest bottle on offer was around £28, which wasn’t too unreasonable, but worth taking into consideration if you like a drink with dinner.) The meal was a pleasant one with some stand-out mouthfuls that really showcased its Michelin star status, but a recommendation from the Guide comes with high expectations, and the overall experience was about average for its pedigree. Bookatable’s deal is good value though; I’m looking forward to booking more for special occasions. (You can find their full list of Michelin menus here.)
Arbutus, 63-64 Frith Street, London, W1D 3JW
Author: Emily Gibson
Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and
glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in Islington and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.