The short night from Toronto to London, followed by the Heathrow express and then the crowded metros to the small hotel near Regent’s Park left me aching & a bit queasy. It was almost noon. I had a 1:30 lunch reservation at the Archipelago Restaurant, which is known for it’s exotic and eclectic menu, including several dishes that feature insects. I figured the hour-long walk in the bright sun across the park and some light bug dishes would help me get my feet back on the ground. http://www.archipelago-restaurant.co.uk/
I only got lost once or twice, and when I asked directions, I was told with some incredulity that where I was going was really, really far away. Not so far, actually – 2 or 3 miles - but I guess for Londoners that’s far. Entering the Archipelago is a bit like walking into a 19th century curiosity shop, chock-a-block with peacock feathers, buddhas, wooden Indonesian Wayang golek puppets, a collage on greens, reds, pink, brown, wood, glass, cloth, brass.
After telling them the password they had given me to hold my reservation, I was offered a table near the window, and a glass Buddha with a reddish translucent body, a grey head, and a crown of golden curls for my dinner companion. He didn’t say much but seemed to enjoy the ambiance. There was one other person in he restaurant, a clean-cut 30-ish American studying archaeology in England. He too was trying all the bug dishes, announcing that he was probably the only adventurous eater in the small Michigan town where he’d grown up. I asked him how he liked the insect dishes, and he was enthusiastic.
My lunch consisted of Summer Nights (Pan fried chermoula crickets, quinoa, spinach and dried fruit), Love-Bug Salad (Baby greens with an accompanying dish of zingy, crunchy mealworms fried in olive oil, chilis, lemon grass, & garlic), Bushman’s Cavi-Err (Caramel mealworms, bilinis, coconut cream and vodka jelly), Medieaval Hive (Brown butter ice cream, honey and butter caramel sauce and a baby bee drone & Chocolate Covered Locusts (white, milk & dark), served with a small glass of sweet white wine. I ordered a glass of Malbec, which complemented the flavours well.
I chatted with the guy serving me, an Australian who had once been an event organizer at the Sydney Opera House, and more recently had led tours around the UK and Europe. Himself an eclectic world traveller, he fit right in. The restaurant had been started by a guy from South Africa, who had seen a need for the kinds of “exotic” meats on offer – zebra, crocodile, pythons – in his home. Insects had been on the menu from the start, and so was not part of the “new wave.”
The food was all excellent, the insects adding the usual crunchy texture and subtle flavours. I want to say “delectable” but that makes me sound higher brow than I am. Archipelago had more sweets on the menu than I have seen elsewhere, which, with their mix of chewy and crunchy, and understated flavours of honey, caramel, nuts (in the Bushman’s Cvi-Err) and chocolate, surprised and delighted me. The insects clearly present, but not in your face, a more relaxed, perhaps “normal” feel to it than that Public in Brisbane or Billy Kwong in Sydney, and certainly not at all like Uchiyama’s hunting and cooking flair in Tokyo, which, for a westerner, bordered on street theatre.
If you are in London, the Archipelago is a great place to have an interesting and relaxed lunch.