I’m never one to be cowardly when facing the foothills of an uncharted menu. I consider myself someone who loves nothing better than to off-road, order the odd sounding, bizarre or just downright silly. A food hero in an Indiana Jones kinda mould, ready to eat any odd dish I happen upon in a clearing. I’ve rarely, if ever been, caught out by this and have found some of my very favourite dishes in this way. If you adopt this attitude then even the average Indian can become a treasure trove of earthly delights as you find the one dish the chef actually really enjoys cooking. The downside is, of course, you can end up ordering the weird crap they’ve had in the reach ins for about a month. So, I always temper the desire to try the truly novel with trying to figure out how many other idiots may have ordered the same dish before me.
I figured in what has been described by many as the best new restaurant in the capital that I’d be on safe ground to go with the truly offaly sounding stuff. Arbutus does French with a great big F and being a well known nation of offal eaters I was hoping to be in for a bit of treat. Looking down the menu, I zero-ed in on Briased Pig’s Head and the novel sounding French classic, Pieds et paquets, basically being lamb's tripe stuffed into a lamb's trotter. The girlfriend kept it all above board with fun sounding haddock and squid burger and then the Bavette of beef "persillade" with dauphinoise potatoes. I was hoping for a revelation here, an introduction to a classic that would have me enthralled and feeling more than just a bit smug. The girlfriend was just looking to get fed. The four glasses of wine she’d had in the Covent Garden Hotel had seen to that.
The pigs face turns up and I’m like, “OK, this is pretty good, strong tasting stuff. A couple of features of the dish I wasn’t mad on, but hey, all good”. I was quietly confident that I was going to be smashed in the gob by a taste sensation when the main arrived. I was. It was fucking horrible.
I’m sorry to the fine chefs at Arbutus, I’m not knocking the cooking of this dish, which I am sure was spot on, it was just that every single flavour in the dish disagreed with me in some way. The texture of the lamb’s trotters, the meat inside all of them just mugged me and made me feel a bit ill. I knew it was me and not the dish. I’m sure the average fan of Pieds et paquets would have loved it, but for me it was truly the first time that I have been to a restaurant and not been able to eat what was offered. Truly the first time that I have been confronted with a new dish that I didn't love. Or at least eat.
The girlfriend’s alcohol induced rush for meat proved to be the safe bet. It was stunning, The bavette was a ruby red colour and like velvet in the mouth, really just an amazing cut of meat and the little copper pan of dauphinoise that accompanied it was cuteness personified. Creamy, unctuous, perfect. It was the single worst case of food envy that I had ever experienced and to give her due the girlfriend came through and let me have a few bites.
My appalling ordering was vindicated at the end of the meal, with a perfect warm pear tart. I fell upon it like a raptor, pissed at myself for being so foolhardy and obviously half crazed with hunger. As for the restaurant. It’s a cool little place that would be great for lunch if you knocking about on Frith Street and want something other than what’s on offer in the every expanding edifice that is Bar Italia, just don’t be a hero.