We weren't that adventurous. I started with the smoked eel, a very haute presentation of a humble ingredient served with perfect small dice of potatoes and Spanish chorizo, as well as a touch of rhubarb to offset all that umami. The soup (lamb, barley and veg in mutton broth) was also a winner, but definitely only for those with hearty appetites
For the mains, we went with the braised saddle of rabbit accompanied by luscious, cheese-rich cottage pie of rabbit shoulder and, for me, the pork belly with lentils. The beautiful Spanish chorizo showed up in this dish again, enriching the lentils and making them the best I've ever had. I actually could have happily reversed the proportions of the dish, doubling the lentils and halving the pork belly. To wash it down, we went with the waiter's recommendation of Mas de Daumas Gassac 2006, a biggish red with a food-friendly structure and a long finish that paired very well.
The Arbutus vibe is high energy and casual. The service was excellent (the waiter) if sometimes too energetic (the floor manager). One slightly off-putting note is the practice of limiting your stay to a two-hour window when you book earlier than 9 PM. The reservation confirmation indicated this, as did the reminder notice, and as we were seated we were given our 120-minute limit. But all that went by the boards, and it appeared we could have stayed as late as wanted. We were well over the limit when we finished coffee.
The next day we were off to the Borough Market to try more British fare. The planned schedule badly mangled by hotel problems, we still managed to make it there in time to try both the Wine Wharf and Roast.
Wine Wharf was a blast. Order at the counter from a huge list of wines from all over the world, Uruguay to Kent. That's right, thanks to global warming there is now wine being grown in Kent. We started with a yummy cava, which went a long way to helping me forget the blisters on my feet from our rapid city walk. We didn't try the Kentish wine, but went with a Chardonnay from Uruguay. Not really a winner unless you like banana drinks, but you never know until you try, right? Excellent nosh too (cheeses, charcuterie, hummus).
Surrounded by all sorts, from young couples to groups of mates tying one on à la Bridget Jones, the atmosphere in the converted Victorian warehouse was totally relaxed. If we weren't in such a press-on-ahead mood, we might have skipped the reservation at Roast and stayed put.
But we pressed on. Not very far, since the restaurant was just a couple of steps away. Once again, an early reservation meant we were cautioned that we could only keep the table for two hours. Okay. Whatever.
Roast is dedicated to fresh foods from the market in trad Brit dishes like Faggots (pork liver and offal meatballs) and Yorkshire pudding. I'm sorry to say that the food was not great. The steak was tough and the roast chicken was dry. The 2005 Nuits St Georges was lovely, so big points to the (French) waitress for suggesting it. The cheddars in the cheese course were gorgeous. The room was dramatic too, and a seat by the the giant floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the market stalls would make this a wonderful place to start your market day with a fry-up.
Next time.... We'll book St John and boldly try the odd parts of the pig. We'll taste the Phô at Song Que. We'll head to Neil's Yard Dairy for a tasting. We'll don our finery for a night at Gordon Ramsay. Next time.
Story by Kathy
Photos by tylon