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Arbutus - tell me it was just a bad day [London]

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Having heard many good things about Arbutus, I decided to go for lunch on Friday last week. What came to follow was a thorough disappointment, to say the least.

Sourdough bread - Good, brown & white available - both with good thick crusts.
Steak tartare - Flavour was there, but sinew hadn't been removed from the beef before it was chopped, much of it clung together in strands.
Bouillabaisse - Presented in a rather quirky way that I have never seen before, with the fish, broth, vegetables, croutons and rouille all served seperately in a 'make it how you like it' style. I didn't attempt the croutons, as the same bread had been served at the start of the meal and with the steak tartare. The broth was delicious combined with the rouille, potato & leeks were cooked through, though the fennel still had the tough stalk attached. Moving on to the fish; I can't help but feel the fillets were all cooked for the same length of time. The chunky cod was *just* about edible as the thickest piece there, while the thinner fillets were completely overdone and, hence, dried out. Just to top things off, I found 5 pin bones in what fish I did eat, and left them clearly visible on the rim of the bowl. Nothing mentioned by the waiting staff regarding the bones; I also had to ask for a soup spoon when I managed to get the attention of one of the waitresses.

I didn't stay for dessert, opting for a nice pastry in Soho instead.

I work in the restaurant trade, and if a customer says their meal was 'fine' would be cause for concern. Acceptable in a bistro (Perhaps?) but not a 1-Star where the staff make claims along the lines of "It must be good if it takes three of us to serve it" (bouillabaisse). On reflection, the initial claims as I sat at the table also ring thoroughly untrue; the usual banter of 'have you been here before' and 'I recommend...' was followed by "You know we have a Michelin Star? Do you know why?", to which I suggested that an inspector had deemed it worthy. "It is because all the food on our menu is excellent."

I hope it was an off day for this restaurant, but I shall never be returning to it or either sister establishments and I can't say it will come recommended to anybody I know.

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  1. Don't get hasty not recommending sister restaurants -- Les Deux Salons is AWESOME, and I really love Wild Honey.

    I sort of agree about Arbutus -- I've been twice and once it was good, and the other it was mediocre (shared a large rib steak and frites w/a buddy -- it wasn't amazing). I find the tables a bit close together to really enjoy myself at dinnertime, and its a bit too heavy for lunch so I don't see when I would really love it.

    They do have great prices on champagne though!

    1. Bouillabaisse is usually served like that in France - the soup being the first course, and you help yourself to croutons, rouille etc, then the fish is served as a separate course. Not heard about the veg being served separately though. Either way, the fish should not have been overcooked - particularly at a one star place.

      7 Replies
      1. re: Theresa

        I've been to Arbutus twice and had excellent food both times. I know a lot of people who have been there and have had bad experiences. I think it's a mixture of people's heightened expectations coupled with some consistency issues at the restaurant.

        1. re: Patricko

          I've never had a bad meal there, so perhaps it was an off day. But saying that, a restaurant of that standard, with a star should never have an 'off' day. I will keep going back though and can't wait to try Deux Salons

          1. re: pj26

            I'm going to Deux Salons but not till 18 December after a play. I am really excited to try the food!

            I agree that a starred restaurant should never have a day when the consistency isn't up to the highest level. I once did have a bad meal somewhere that had always been wonderful, and I know the chef just wasn't there that evening (nor his wife front of house). It really showed, and was very disappointing.

            1. re: zuriga1

              Zuriga1 -- I think i will be there as well on the 18th ! Insanity! A friend of mine has a strange dinner club which recently lost their 4th which I'll be replacing. It's my first foray into the world of gentleman dining so if you see a group of Brits being offended by North American lack of polish that will be me....!

              1. re: brokentelephone

                Our dinner reservation is very early since the play ends at 5:15. I will wear an American flag so you know who I am. Do you say 'aboot,' instead of 'about?' I will listen and try to hear someone saying that. :-)

                Why is it a strange dinner club.. sounds like they have good taste!

                1. re: zuriga1

                  No but I wear lumberjack gear everywhere I go so it shouldn't be a problem!

                  1. re: brokentelephone

                    One of those crazy winter hats, too, I bet! I'll be the one in mink. :-)