If exotic décor, secret passwords and the thought of dining on pythons and insects piques your interest, you’ll want to stick around for our first ever London restaurant review…
You’ll find Archipelago in London’s upmarket Fitzrovia – just a stone’s throw from Great Portland Street Station. The restaurant often tops lists of ‘London’s Most Unusual Foodie Destinations’ and has been known to host its fair share of celebrities and discerning clientele. But if you’re hoping to walk in off the street you’re out of luck, as the restaurant operates a bit like a secret clubhouse and accepts sittings on a strictly password-only basis. If you don’t know the password, you won’t be getting in.
Luckily for us, we’d booked ahead of time and received a phone call on the day telling us what our unique password was. Since everyone who books gets a password it all seems a touch redundant. However, that being said the secrecy of it all was surprisingly good fun, so I see why they keep up this novel tradition.
The interior of Archipelago is quite something and I was immediately made aware that this was not going to be a run of the mill restaurant experience. Every inch of its exuberant red walls is adorned with exotic artefacts from far and wide – including an intricate bird cage and a taxidermy peacock. Likewise, each of its table is surrounded by luxurious throne-like chairs and the ample candlelight throughout the restaurant makes for a relaxing and moody atmosphere.
The next tell-tale sign that Archipelago would be unlike anywhere I’d eaten before was its menus. These were presented as antique scrolls in glass bottles and wooden boxes, and later the dessert menus came to the table incased in little vintage books. I’ve never seen Zebra Jerky advertised as a starter before and judging by the sheer variety of exotic meats on the menu, I quickly deducted that Archipelago is the last place you’d want to bring your vegan friends when visiting London.
Archipelago specialises in providing a ‘taste of the exotic’ and that means offering its diners everything from crocodile to kangaroo and zebra to bison. I was a little dubious about eating ‘exotic’ meats and I wanted to be 100% sure that these products were sustainable and ethically farmed. Thankfully, the manager is very clued up on where each of the meats come from and assured us that they go to great lengths to ensure they are each sourced from humane, high quality suppliers.
Dinner is Served
My dining partner opted to start with the aptly named Burmese Embrace: Sweet-chili smoked python carpaccio, green tea & wasabi crackers with an olive puree. As expected this was very unusual. I wasn’t at all sold by the presentation, which was extremely basic and when it arrived at the table I was already beginning to suspect that the restaurant’s hefty price tags were a result of the unusual imported ingredients rather than its fine dining presentation. However, the python carpaccio was flavoursome and the texture was nice, the wasabi cracker was a fun addition to the plate and the salad tasted fresh. All in all, this is one of those dishes that I wouldn’t necessarily order again but I’m very glad I tried.
Because python just wasn’t quite adventurous enough for me, I chose Summer Nights as my starter: Pan fried chermoula crickets, quinoa, spinach and dried fruit. I really do wish I could say that I enjoyed dish but sadly I just didn’t rate it. For starters, the presentation was very odd – almost like a GCSE art piece rather than a plate of food. Secondly, something about the salad had a taste that was not dissimilar to that musty aroma one often associates with flea markets. Don’t get me wrong, the crickets weren’t half bad! Though, it’s a shame that the taste was largely disguised by the accompanying spicy sauce. I just wish they hadn’t been overshadowed by that bizarre side salad. Then again, I suppose it’s not every day that you I can say ‘I left my salad but I ate all my crickets’…
Against my wishes, my partner went for the Hot Marsupial main course: Zhug marinated kangaroo skewers, candied beetroot & guindilla salad with a red onion farofa. I absolutely love kangaroos but I will begrudgingly admit that they taste phenomenally good. The meat on the skewers was tender, succulent and perfectly chargrilled. It was not dissimilar to lamb in flavour or texture and the candied beetroot was a great accompaniment. This dish was a real winner, but I’m not imploring you to go out and eat any joeys anytime soon..
For my main course I went for the Baltic Catch: Hot-smoked escolar fish steak with a tofu-chorizo & potato muddle
Again, this was delicious. Slightly smokey on the outside but cooked to perfection. It was meaty and fell apart as I plunged my knife into it. Oddly, the other elements of the dish did not appear to be what it said on the menu and I received some kind of pickled mushrooms as well as what appeared to be a wonderfully cooked slice of nappa cabbage. I would definitely recommend this dish if you pay Archipelago a visit and wouldn’t hesitate to order it again.
We also chose to share a Love Bug Salad and some wasabi infused silk worms. The former consisted of a green salad with ‘added wildlife’ (a.k.a. meal worms, locust and crickets) and it was surprisingly good! While I wasn’t a big fan of the silk worms, the salad dressing was lovely and the ‘wildlife’ was a fun and dare I say ‘interactive’ addition to our meal.
Full from our starters and mains, we opted against having dessert and instead enjoyed a glass of Jasmine Tea each. However, should you have more of a sweet tooth than us, Archipelago offers everything from Brown Butter Ice Cream to Caramel Mealworms or Chocolate Covered Scorpions. Check out the full menu here.
Our meal came to the grand total of £97, without dessert and only opting to have one glass of wine each (not to mention the compulsory service charge of £10). This was a touch pricey but exactly what I’ve come to expect from the capital. It’s far from the most outrageous pricing in town and all things considered, I suppose it isn’t too bad.
Archipelago’s menu is both enticing and unique but not without its faults. The chef is clearly very competent at cooking a range of unusual meats and produced two outstanding main dishes that I would happily recommend. That being said, they definitely need to work on their presentation and I would personally take the Summer Nights off the menu..
The place itself is very exuberant and I loved the unusual decoration. The staff were knowledgable & attentive and the atmosphere was warm and inviting. So, for these reasons I would recommend visiting Archipelago for a totally unique experience next time you’re in London.