Crocodile, Python, Kangaroo, Alpaca and Mealworms - an average night at Archipelago
Archipelago, London Review
My brother and I arranged to take each other out for dinner for our birthdays. I’d pay for his half, he’d pay for mine. He text saying he’d booked somewhere but wouldn’t tell me where…
Archipelago was his choice, and for good reason. We’ve got history of making each other eat weird things – scorpions, tarantulas, ants, chicken buttocks, the World’s hottest chilli… even a still-beating snake heart. So, while that tradition has now ended (I won), a visit to Archipelago made perfect sense.
Archipelago markets itself as a “sensory dining journey amid the glow of golden Buddhas, dwarf palm trees and giant peacock feathers. The exotic tease of an undiscovered fragrance and the sensuous indulgence of tantalising global cuisine awaits you” and when booking, my brother was given a password to get us in.
Because of this, I was expecting an unmarked door and a secret knock leading to a small hatch sliding open to reveal a mysterious set of eyes and a request for “password”… but it’s just there, on the street like any other restaurant. Bit of a let down really.
Once we settled in at our table and unravelled our menu scrolls (which snap back as soon as you let go of them), we ordered a couple of cocktails and looked through the dishes for animals we hadn’t eaten before.
We settled on the Cayman Islands (£12) – crocodile wrapped in vine leaves, honey poached plums and pickled samphire, which was really nice. The chunks of crocodile had a nice texture and the whole thing was well balanced. Our other starter was the Burmese Embrace (£12.50) – sweet-chilli smoked python carpaccio, green tea & wasabi crackers and olive puree. Yeah, that’s right – PYTHON CARPACCIO. I don’t even know if you can have python raw but that’s what I expecting, but this was a warm dish that didn’t really do much for me and the python itself was quite dry and chewy.
Our main course choices were the Hot Marsupial (£21.00) – zhug marinated kangaroo skewers, candy beetroot & guindilla salad and red onion farofa. Zhug is a middle-eastern hot sauce and gave a really nice depth of flavour to the kangaroo as well as tenderising the meat.
I had the Peruvian Jumper (£20.00) – jerked alpaca, cornmeal slice, buttermilk jelly and patecones. The alpaca was very heavily spiced but with a bit of the patecones (fried plantain slices) and buttermilk jelly there was a nice balance. I preferred my brother’s kangaroo though as there were nice chunks to tuck in to rather than the slow cooked, pulled alpaca meat in my dish.
We had a couple of sides, some Thai Coconut Rice and a bowl of Baked Cauliflower and Broccoli (both £3.50), both of which were alright but nothing special.
We were pretty full by this point but decided to share a dessert and the Bushman’s Cavi-Err (£7.50) – caramel mealworms, blinis, coconut cream and vodka jelly was the inevitable but regrettable choice… The presentation was nice, with the mealworms served in a caviar tin but the caramel, coconut cream and even the vodka jelly weren’t enough to cover the mealworm texture and flavour, which just brought back horrible memories of scorpion legs getting stuck in my teeth.
I think Archipelago has it’s place – I can’t think of anywhere else that’s serving up this kind of food but the quality of some of he dishes wasn’t up to the level I was expecting and the decor and ambience were good but not as special as their blurb would have you believe.
We picked some of the weirder dishes but there are plenty of others on the menu that are more mainstream and probably tastier – there’s a reason that London isn’t full of restaurants specialising in Python.
Mind you, seeing as we’ll apparently all be living off insects in the not too distant future, it’s probably worth testing the water sooner rather than later and Archipelago is a good place to do that.