About this time last year I travelled to South East Asia for the fourth time in my life. While Thailand could almost be argued to be a second home to me now, I had never until then ventured that little bit further East to Cambodia and Vietnam. While very similar to Thailand, both of these new countries had their own characteristics, and this was most commonly seen in the style of food served.

South East Asian cuisine is my favourite. It’s colourful and vibrant, eclectic and exciting and is the thing that keeps me returning to this part of the world. It can also be a little exotic; another characteristic I like of my food. And so, one night in Siem Reap after a day of exploring the Angkor Wat temples, we ventured to a place called The Bug Cafe. No prizes for guessing what was on the menu at this place.

Since enjoying that evening of dining out on scorpions, tarantula, meal worms and snake, i’ve had a craving for trying even more weird and wonderful exotic dishes. So when TimeOut began offering vouchers for three exotic courses and a glass of prosecco at Archipelago in Fitzrovia for £25 each, my two best friends and I leapt at the chance.

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Archipelago is one of London’s most extraordinary restaurants, hosting a tantalising menu offering meats from around the globe with intriguing twists that bring a familiarity to the table.

Dishes include crocodile wrapped in vine leaves, crickets pan-fried with dried fruits and a carpaccio of python… and that’s just the starters. The mains aren’t quite so extra-ordinary, but there are dishes inspired by every corner of the planet, including South African Bunny Chow and Ethiopian Lamb.

Having enjoyed so many interesting insects whilst in Cambodia, I wanted to use my visit to Archipelago to enjoy some meats I hadn’t tried before.

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While it always makes sense to order different dishes you each of you can try as much of the menu as possible, I never restrict myself from ordering the dish I want most if someone else has ordered it too. So the three of us started our meal with the crispy zebra “jerky”, boerewors (a type of sausage popular in South African cuisine), with carrot & ginger fluid gel and biltong soil.

The zebra was outstandingly succulent. It was tender and fell apart, reminiscent in flavour of spare ribs that fall from the bone at the lightest prompt. The meat was sweet and the colourful gels each had a tangy individuality. The biltong soil was a bit of a nothing and added little to the plate – biltong is best in big strips and its a shame this was it’s only feature on the menu. Perhaps they’d do well to offer it as a snack to go along with aperitif – it’s certainly something i’d have ordered.

With our plates were scraped clean our mains soon arrived. Again, Janey and I had ordered the same main dish of Kangaroo Skewers while Beckie ordered the Alpaca with cornmeal slice, buttermilk jelly and patecones, joined by crisp plantain.

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The Kangaroo skewers were large and dense. Tougher than the zebra and not as flavoursome. Beckie and I shared a side of Thai coconut rice which was sweet and fluffy, and an enjoyable accompaniment to our dishes. The candy beetroot & guindilla salad and red onion farofa which came with our skewers was nice but nothing special. It lacked any real substance, though the gel blob on the plate was mellow and sweet which complemented the meat well.
If I could, I’d swap my starter and main dishes around. A larger portion of the zebra would be absolutely divine, and one skewer of the kangaroo would be more than enough to get a taste for the meat.
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Beckie’s Alpaca dish was presented beautifully – wrapped within a banana leaf and served with both a refreshing, creamy gel and a spicy slither of spice so the levels could be adjusted according to personal spice preference. The alpaca was rich like a stew, warming and hearty – the default spice level was strong but not over powering.
The plantain chips however were comparable to that of an old leather shoe that had been left out to dry after a dip in a puddle. Crisp around the edges but once at the middle, chewy, bendy and stale, as though they had been left out for a few days. Luckily these weren’t a main feature of the plate and the enjoyment wasn’t too greatly hindered.
When it came to pudding, it was a bit of a struggle for Janey who is dairy intolerant. None of the dishes were suitable for her dietary requirements and while this is something we probably should have told them about prior to our booking, we were surprised to find there wasn’t a single dairy free option on the menu. In the end she decided to risk it and chose the same dessert as me: The Pharaoh’s Treasure made up of chocolate & cardamom soufflé, white chocolate & curry ice cream and 24crt gold leaf.
Now, if you know me you know that Soufflé is my favourite dessert on the planet and I order it whenever it is on a menu, so I know what i’m talking about when it comes to reviewing soufflés… and this was not a soufflé. Not one bit. What arrived was rather a pyramid-shaped chocolate fondant minus the gooey middle. Delicious? Absolutely, but not by any means a soufflé.
The pyramid itself was dense and rich (rather than light and fluffy as you’d expect from a soufflé), with a deep, powerful dark chocolate flavour. The cardamom was lost on me, as was the flavour of curry in the ice-cream. Perhaps these flavours were simply over powered by the chocolate, as the white chocolate in the ice cream was unmistakable – indulgent and creamy, and sickly after a few mouthfuls. I scraped my plate clean none-the-less and battled between feelings of regret and satisfaction for the half an hour after.
Archipelago is a brilliant restaurant to visit if you are open to trying new things and have a sense of adventure with your food. There are some utterly superb dishes on the menu, and some that don’t have as much of a wow factor as you’d expect, but that’s not to say they’re not satisfying. It’s a place to visit at least once for the experience and the chance to say you’ve eaten something bizarre, and for a special occasion, I’d definitely recommend paying it a visit, though I’m not so sure you’d make it a regular favourite.
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The decor is dark yet still colourful with odd trinkets and symbolistic figurines hanging from the walls. It’s pretty, sexy and mysterious all at the same time, and the service is flawless. Our waitress explained all of the dishes in detail and made some great recommendations. If I were to return again, I think a few of the bug dishes would have to be tried out; perhaps the chocolate covered locusts or the caramel meal worms… they’re saying insects are the future of our diets and i’m almost excited about that.