Archipelago is the place to go if you fancy something different for dinner. They specialise in the weird and wonderful – from bugs to exotic meats to seriously strong drinks. Happily, however, there is more to the food than just its novelty value.
I started with crocodile marinaded in chilli and garlic, wrapped in blackened vine leaves and served with a plum dipping sauce. Two of the other diners had eaten crocodile before and both proclaimed that it had been fishy-tasting and not very pleasant. This, however, was delicious. The meat is dense and white and satisfyingly filling, and the charcoal taste of the vine leaves took the edge off the heat of the marinade. A caramelised duck breast served with pomegranate and pistachio nut salad was also excellent, the sweet sauce being particularly good. Peacock-on-a-date served with a tomato and vanilla confit, however, failed to excite. The vanilla was overpowering and the peacock meat itself somewhat dry.
For the main course, I plumped for peanut-crusted wildebeest, served with a lemon balm soba noodle salad and a garlic and ginger dipping sauce. The meat was disappointingly tough and the salad insipid. Zebra served with a port, juniper and blackcurrant sauce, however, was fantastic, the meat being like a particularly succulent beef steak, and the sauce providing a sweet, tangy contrast. The love-bug salad which many of us decided to try was also good, being a green salad in an enjoyably spicy warm chilli dressing, served with two crickets and three locusts. The bugs were, from the taste of them, marinaded in garlic and then deep fried. There is actually very little taste to the insects themselves – it was rather like eating somewhat substance-less king prawns.
For pudding, the obvious choice was chocolate-covered scorpion served with a shot of Sauternes. Once again, there was very little substance to the scorpion. If it hadn’t been for the extreme crunchiness of the shell, one would be forgiven for thinking that it was merely a chocolate mould. A rather more exciting choice, taste-wise, was the baby bee brulee. This was an orange-blossom honey and stem ginger creme brulee, served with white chocolate honeycomb and a tiny bee with the sting removed. The bee itself burst in the mouth like a ripe berry, releasing a surprisingly tangy, honeyed taste. The brulee was deliciously creamy, the ginger counteracting the richness.
Looking back on the evening, Archipelago wasn’t the best choice for a large group (there were 13 of us). All dishes are cooked to order and the space itself is small. I would happily go back again, but only as part of a much smaller group – four maximum, although I think the ideal would be an intimate tête-à-tête. Just make sure that your date has a strong sense of adventure.
(This review was originally published 27 June 2007)