Anthony Demetre and Will Smith have worked together since 1998, at L’Odeon in Piccadilly and then at the Putney Bridge Restaurant, where Anthony gained a Michelin star. They opened Arbutus in 2006 with the idea of providing up-market dining in relaxed surroundings, and they’ve certainly succeeded.
The spaces at Arbutus aren’t large – the entrance is particularly tiny, the left side of the restaurant consisting of a long bar area (at which one can eat) and just one row of small tables, with an aisle leading through to the main dining area that probably seats no more than 50 or so. The decor is restful cream, dark wood and snowy linen, and there’s a definite air of class.
That’s borne out in the menu, which changes frequently to reflect seasonal produce, and is stuffed full of interesting combinations and surprising ideas. If I hadn’t been there for a reasonably quick dinner with an early morning to follow, I couldn’t have resisted one of the aperitifs of the day – Prosecco with fresh clementine juice and Campari (£8.95).
The starters (£6.95 – £9.95) were similarly tempting, though those of a timid disposition might steer clear of gratin of ox-tripe and thinly sliced tête de veau. There are weird and wonderful fishy options such as squid and mackerel burger with parsley and razor clams, or smoked eel with crisp chicken wings (OK, that’s not very fishy I agree), sweetcorn and sweet and sour turnips. I chose a salad of autumn beetroot (lovely, both red and orange) with fresh goats curd cheese and pomegranate and revelled in the fresh flavours. My companion tried a soup of autumn vegetables, white beans and roquefort and was equally happy.
Main courses (£14.50 – £19.95) include similarly eclectic choices of fish and meat, with imaginative and rarely seen vegetables – I’ve never knowingly eaten sea purslane, despite living by the sea and eating some unusual things in my time. I didn’t want fish otherwise I would have seen what it was like as an accompaniment to Icelandic cod with root vegetables and chorizo. Instead I had wild duck, potted cabbage and slow roasted quince, and it was delicious – tender pink duck breast with perfect vegetables to offset the fattiness of the meat. Offal lovers were again well catered for with Pieds et Paquets - lamb’s tripe parcels and trotters, Marseille style. My companion played safe however with grilled bavette of 28-day aged grass-fed beef (don’t all cows eat grass?) and gratin dauphinoise – a simple classic that could have been disappointing but very definitely wasn’t.
Alas, we had no time to ponder the cheeses from La Fromagerie or the pudding menu, which contained delights such as a classic egg custard tart with persimmon and some very chocolatey things involving salted caramel ice cream, which sounds highly intriguing in itself (£6.95).
The wine list is as interesting as you would imagine, having just read about the cooking, and reasonably priced. In addition all wines are available as 250ml carafes, allowing diners to choose different wines for each dish.
This is some of the most interesting and innovative cooking I’ve had in a long while and Arbutus goes firmly on my list of favourite restaurants, especially as service is friendly and unobtrusive and a meal there won’t break the bank.