Thursday, 25 February 2010

Arbutus and abstinence

So the BSG-instigated ‘meat-free week’ has started well for me, depending on how you look at it. Whilst not one morsel of beast has passed my chops since Sunday, neither in fact has a great deal else - nothing like an untimely reverse from some dodgy shellfish to put paid to that eating malarkey. My rescuer - apart from the BSG of course - was the trusty, uncontaminated banana; I never cease to wonder at this magic fruit Mother Nature has so kindly packaged for me. In my journey to recovery, rather like Colin Firth’s fridge man, this wonder-food has been instrumental. There are so many wonderful things to say about it that I am going to devote a post to it, and soon. In the meantime, try writing in biro on a banana skin – it is one of life’s pleasures.

So anyway, back to seven days of meals without meat. I think that there is more chance of Sarah Palin winning the Nobel Prize for Geography than me giving up meat altogether; I love it in so many forms – restorative bacon sandwiches, lemony roast chicken, good pork sausages, the ceremony that is steak tartare… I could go on and on - but I suppose of all the things I can do to put less strain on the planet, my wallet and my health, this is quite a realistic measure to take. So the BSG and I thought we’d devote a week to investigate exactly how do-able life with less meat would be, and try out other recipes and combinations – a sort of cold turkey (sans turkey of course). Recipes and results to come next week.

By complete coincidence we’d had a suitable swansong. Last week we took my Dad to one of our tried and tested favourite eateries, Arbutus on Frith Street in Soho. It is just past all of the hubbub and noise; every time you approach it you start to wonder if you’re on the right street, but then there it is, our reliable friend, aglow and convivial, tucked between dark shop-fronts and offices. If ever there was a place to feast the night before giving up carnivorous delights, then this is it. Arbutus does flavoursome, interesting and Michelin starred grub for reasonable prices - their set lunch is probably the best value food of this kind in London. I have yet to try its sister restaurant, Wild Honey, but I have heard wonderful things about it and am excited to go.

rabbit saddle

rabbit shoulder cottage pie

Seduced by snippets of poetry devoted to various animal treats I eventually did what I always do and ordered the squid and mackerel burger which gives such an intense, brazen lick of fishiness that it’s verging on naughty, adorned with a tangy green sauce, pretty sea purslane and macho razor clams. This is perhaps the perfect dish, though the pork belly petit sale with braised lentils that followed was pretty stupendous, as was the saddle of rabbit with shoulder cottage pie we’d cajoled Dad into ordering (not much cajoling required, in truth). The BSG jumped at the prospect of pieds et paquets (lamb’s tripe and trotters to you and me), Marseillaise-style which he hummed his way through, comprising three – yes, three - different elements (I think I like these Marseillaise – one look at the copper pans of bouillabaisse at the next table convinced me that we must get down there soon). He would be the first to admit that he is a bit of an offal strumpet, homing straight in the sections of menus devoted to on appendages and organs, but I tried it and this was pretty wonderful.


The slow-cooked Norfolk hare he had to begin with - an apt cooking method for a creature that spends so much of its life tearing thought the countryside – mentally prepared us for the weekend we were about to spend there with Ma BSG for her birthday. It seems that there is not a furrowed field in that part of the world that doesn’t sport a couple of the jumbo-haunched athletes. They have spectacular hearing too (who wouldn’t with those ears?); on Saturday morning just one rap on the kitchen window from me was enough to send one of these skittish numbers, already half a mile away, into a Usain Bolt for dear life across the snowy field.


The weather was unpredictable to put it mildly; a sunny Saturday spent walking under epic skies gave way to a Sunday muffled by a heavy fall of fluffy white stuff. We had to escape early or risk being snowed-in (I could think of worse ways to spend a Monday). However, in our short sojourn, we did manage to sample some sweet brown Norfolk shrimp, some local, thick-cut bacon and had a very good lunch at the Victoria in Holkham.


Sometimes, a picture can speak a thousand words.

Prune and armagnac souffle Needless to say, the prune and Armagnac soufflé with Lapsang Souchong ice cream I had at Arbutus was not around for long…


  1. What a lovely Blog, I really enjoyed reading, please keep on cooking and writing!

  2. Welcome to the Foodie Blogroll!

    7 days without meat? I don't think I could do least not willingly;)

  3. Country Gourmet Traveler - Thanks so much, I certainly will, if you keep reading! I love your recipes; your life sounds such an adventure, I will be following you on your travels.

    Chris - Thank you. It's been a challenge and we are both craving a steak - but it has been fun and easier than we'd imagined. Two days to go!

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