Because we had such a positive experience at Arbutus last week, Jon and I decided that we would try out Wild Honey, which is Arbutus’s sister restaurant. And I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t care that Wild Honey opened to rave reviews a few months ago and was designated Time Out London‘s Best New Restaurant of the Year.
Our friends Phu and Aaron had told us they prefer Arbutus because they prefer (buzzing) Soho over (genteel) Mayfair, and I couldn’t agree more that it’s only the neighborhood of each that makes them distinct from each other. There was overlap in the dishes offered on both restaurants’ menus; the prices were similar at both; and the wine lists are identical.
The decor at Wild Honey was all wood-paneled formality, and the crowd looked a lot older than the one at Arbutus. But these differences aren’t necessarily bad things, much as I might personally dislike wood paneling (it’s so – clubby). In fact, I much preferred our meal at Wild Honey to the one at Arbutus, partly because we had unbeatable company with us at Wild Honey, and partly because we had fantastic service the night we went.
I love egg yolks. I love pancetta. What this means is that when a menu offers a dish called “fried duck egg with warm pancetta and lentil salad,” I’m all over it. Served in an impossibly-gorgeous stainless steel frying pan (“impossible” because my stainless steel pans haven’t looked that shiny since I brought them home from the store), the dish is a dreamy, high-end breakfast. A slice of hot, crunchy toast was exactly what I needed to sop up the intense creamines of the ginormous duck egg yolk. The pancetta did its meaty saltiness thing, and I ate the lentils just because they were there.
Is this dish simple? Yes. Is it well-executed and delicious? Definitely. And that about sums up the kind of cooking that made Wild Honey (and Arbutus) worth visiting.
Thanks to the fact that we were a party of four, I also got a taste of the chestnut soup (way too salty and intense, which is the same problem I had with the bouillabaisse last week at Arbutus) and of the smoked eel (I was hoping it’d taste sweet and BBQ’d, like unagi, but it just tasted like smoked fish) starters. Let’s just say I was super glad I ordered that duck egg.
I continued to keep it simple by ordering the roast Scottish beef with baked onion and “autumn vegetable puree” (celeriac, as best I could tell). The beef was juicy and raw, the way I like it. Although on its own, the dish needed a bit of salt, I found that eating it with the buttery, hot goodness of a sort of potatoes dauphinois took care of that under-salted problem. And if I had to really nitpick (and of course I do), I’d say the baked onion didn’t do much for me. I’d expected it to be intensely sweet from the baking, but instead it was just a pretty, but strangely unflavorful, hot onion, as if it had been boiled.
The cheeses offered at Wild Honey were more numerous and delish than the ones we had at Arbutus. I walked with our server to the middle of the dining room to choose the cheeses we wanted, and I was glad the server discouraged one of my choices in favor of another, which turned out to be delicious.
Which brings me to the point that our server that evening, Vera (so my receipt tells me), gave friendly and decisive opinions that never lead us astray. We tried five carafes of wine during our meal, and not only were the two she recommended among the least expensive on the menu, but also one of the whites, a Spanish verdejo wine called Jose Pariente, was so memorable that I’m excited to look for it in wine shops now (here’s where I insert my plug for the Sampler).
Of the desserts, the much-described wild honey ice cream with crunchy honeycomb was my favorite. Fresh, creamy, sweet and crunchy. A nice, simple end to our meal.