Thankfully you don't have to try and corral your less cool friends into the latest reservation free pop up as the plethora of these has thankfully given you an excuse to revisit slightly quieter options that don't feature on the Twits radar.
Arbutus is one of these. Just off Soho Square, it's a clean contemporary dining room serving clean and contemporary seasonal Modern European food. They specialise in some of the biggest of flavours, put together with the lightest of touches. I start with a contender for best starter of the last few years; squid and mackrel 'burger'. Infinitely better than it sounds, it's an absolutely joyous hockey puck of freshest seafood that absolutely hits the back of the net for me and my Cordon Bleu trained dining guest.
If you prefer dining out to involve a bit more effort on the part of the chef than just piling good ingredients on a plate then you'll be pleased. There's a real sense of craft demonstrated here that stops short of showing off.
Chef Demetre delights in multiple incarnations of ingredients in each dish, in this case rabbit for Cordon Bleu and tripe for me. To be honest, the portion sizes got a bit messy. I know offal is cheap but I literally have four large plates to plough through. Slow cooked as an enormous cassoulet on the side is marvellous melting and soft. Topped with crisp parsley crumb, a distinctive uric tang rises with the steam. It's not that, but the portion size that defeats me in the end.
Less successful is the small plate of slightly soft chewy crackling served alongside. It's a fatty afterthought that doesn't add much to the meal and is mostly ignored. The main dish was a Marsailles style rustic dish known as Pieds-Paquets, tripe stuffed with chopped ham, garlic and herbs, rolled into little parcels and simmered for 6-7 hours. Just when I thought I was done, a final meaty flourish gave me a toast topper of fine chopped garlicky tripe. Superb, but I had meat coming out of my ears.
By contrast Cordon Bleu's shoulder pie and saddle of rabbit were positively Lilliputian. They seemed to go down well, he was scraping the tiny Staubb receptacle clean while I was still ploughing gamely on. It's a good thing he talks more than I do...
Their set lunch is one of the best business dining options in Soho and at £50 a head including a decent bottle of something ertzatz and Italian, dinner doesn't need to break the bank. In a pleasantly surprising touch, a cheaper bottle is recommended when our first choice isn't available, I only wish more restaurants would dare to do this. Another nice touch at the three restaurants in the group is the vast number of wines available by the carafe.
Arbutus may not have the blistering white hot buzz of nearby transient neighbours, but it sure as hell competes on quality. Take advantage of the fact that everyone is currently queuing outside somewhere else.
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