I once interviewed the journalist Kate Spicer who quite rightly told me ‘There is nothing more heartbreaking than being presented with a massive bill for a shit meal.’ This was proved painfully true in a Goodge Street restaurant called Archipelago.
My editor heard about its unusual menu (which includes crocodile, kangaroo and scorpions) and thought it would make an interesting feature. I decided not to tell her that I hate gimmicky restaurants and think that good food doesn’t need one. I chose to silence my opinion that, with simple, small plate restaurants like Copita currently setting the London restaurant scene alight, this kind of cuisine seems dated (neither did I mention my reaction to the terrible, 90s-looking website). Instead, I went along to Archipelago with as open a mind as I could muster.
Head Chef and Restaurant Manager, Daniel Creedon, agreed to a quick chat before service began, and a very nice chat it was too. We talked the history of the restaurant (the travel mad owner opened Archipelago 12 years ago, feeling that London was lacking in the culinary exotic), the recently received interest on the back of the UN Food and Agriculture’s comments on entomology and the reactions to some of the more unusual dishes from diners (apparently it is a mental association thing). We also discussed his first job in London as an apprentice for Albert Roux and the trials of cooking wild animals (‘flash fried or slow cooked for hours’).
In an attempt to keep this review as balanced as possible, I’m going to say they’ve done well with the interior. Carting all that crap back from the markets of India and Thailand and filling a restaurant with it, must have taken some serious effort. I imagine it had been decorated by someone who loves evil eye pendants, incense burners and world peace.
Our meal kicked off with an unordered appetizer of chicken and mango and a selection of breads and dips which was weird but fairly inoffensive (although the bread was stone cold and stale). The crocodile starter, minced and wrapped in ‘blackened’ vine leaves, tasted of dry chicken and charcoal. ‘Hot Marsupial’ (zhug marinated kangaroo fillet) was burnt, chewy and so depressingly inedible that gave up after the first bite. My companion fared slightly better with his slow cooked wilderbeast stew, which at least had been left in the oven for the right amount of time. Sadly it had been left to rest as long, so its vile-tasting sauce was cold. The real low point was a side of sweet potato and chilli which in a baffling twist tasted sour (and had a lovely microwave crust).
Admittedly I had expected to dislike Archipelago, but ended up genuinely disappointed that it had disappointed me (particularly when the bill came). So I did the non-British thing and said something. First in a reasonable manner to the waitress, then a touch heatedly to the floor manager and finally rather furiously to Mr ‘Roux-trained’, ‘kangaroo should only be served rare’ head-chef Daniel. Excuses were offered, words were flung and an agreement was made (I would settle the drinks, but not the food).
I probably should have paid. The prices are stupid but reflect the air miles on every plate and the assumption that people will pay for the exotic novelty of it all. To be fair, on the Friday I went there was a restaurant full of people not spitting out kangaroo and quarrelling with the chef, so perhaps I’m wrong about Archipelago. Perhaps my taste buds are not as brave as they think themselves to be. Or perhaps this restaurant has been allowed to remain a pock on London’s culinary scene for 12 years, because there are enough people happy to pay for terrible food once, as long as there’s a gimmick involved.
110 Whitfield Street London W1T 5ED
Contributing Writer: Lucy Self