Did you ever watch the show Fear Factor? It involved highly charged, competitive types enduring all sort of challenges to ‘test their fear’ but really to make cringingly entertaining viewing. Among the dangling from heights or the coming face to face with creepy crawlies, there was always a segment where the contestants had to eat some weird animal parts (offal or genitals) or insects. This memory leapt into my mind while I was looking through the menu at Archipelago.
I’d guess that most people would describe this restaurant as quirky, something for the adventurous eater who’s game to try something out of the box. I say this because ordering the chicken would be considered beyond boring alongside the alpaca, kangaroo or python. Archipelago describes its menu as truly global and exotic, this is evident from the flavour combinations in the menu and the jumbled mess of the dining room. It might appeal to some but personally, the hodgepodge of trinkets adorning almost every inch of the wall or floor space was just distracting.
When I finally managed to ignore the rather large statue looming over me and a certain someone had finished readjusting the cushions on the lounge seat, we chose our dishes- the stranger the better in this case.
First of the interesting proteins- the ‘Cayman Islands’, crocodile wrapped in vine leaves and the ‘Burmese Embrace’, smoked python carpaccio. The crocodile was nothing like I expected. In my mind crocodiles are dangerous beasts with a rough exterior so I imagined it to be chewy and tough, but honestly it just tasted like chicken. I wish I could give you a more exciting comparison but if I wasn’t concentrating I’d swear I was chomping on chicken curry pieces.
The python on the other hand was actually chewy and horrid; it was the consistency of rubber with the taste of cardboard. You really cannot get any worse than that. I know Archipelago’s point of difference are the unusual meats on their menu but surely any restaurant’s first priority is to serve edible food at the very least, and tasty food if you want to stay in business? A certain someone generously said that it wasn’t ‘as bad’ with the olive puree, but I was less than convinced.
Once our jaws had recovered we moved onto the mains- ‘Peruvian Jumper’, spicy jerked alpaca with a cornmeal slice and buttermilk jelly, and the ‘Hot Marsupial’, zhug marinaded kangaroo skewers with candy beetroot and guindilla salad, with a side of the ‘Love-bug’ salad. The alpaca was pleasantly slow cooked and flavoursome but unfortunately the cornmeal slice was stale and wreaking of grease. My kangaroo was also rather enjoyable; tender cubes of kangaroo nicely marinaded in this Middle Eastern blend of spices and acceptably grilled to medium. I’ll admit I demolished them easily. My beef with both these dishes was.. well… I felt like I was just eating beef when I was munching on kangaroo and the alpaca could have easily passed for a pulled pork- at just under £20 each, is it wrong to want more pizazz?
The ‘Love-bug salad’ definitely deserves a mention if not for the taste but the sheer disgust it generated from my friends on various forms of social media. I’ve always considered myself a ballsy diner, my motto is to try anything once (though dog and whale are firmly on the veto list) but maybe I underestimated my bravery because I didn’t really think twice before tossing the crickets and mealworms into my mouth. A certain someone also crunched without hesitation. The insects have been so fried to death, they don’t really taste of anything so I just thought of them as wonderfully high-in-protein croutons.
And finally, we thought we would end on a sweet note and ordered the ‘Medieval Hive’, brown butter icecream with honey, caramel sauce, and a baby bee poached in honey. Translation: sugar on sugar on sugar, that poor little bee had no chance to stand out. I love my sweet treats but even my sweet tooth was beginning to ache by the end of it- a little bit of acidity or freshness would have made such a difference!
If you are still reading at this point, you can probably guess that Archipelago did not exactly tantalise my tastebuds as their website promised. With their produce coming from all over the show, a taste of the exotic is unsurprisingly not cheap and cheerful- our meal, including a glass of wine and two beers came to over £100. From experience, we know this is typical of London prices but based on the standard of food I wouldn’t rate this as particularly good value for money.
For me, this was definitely a case of novelty over substance but that’s actually the point isn’t it? No-one is coming here for mind-blowing gourmet dishes, they’re here for a fun experience and a funny tidbit they can show off with at the next dinner party! So yeah, I’ve eaten crocodile, any advances on that?
You should know- the kind people at Zomato gave me a voucher which contributed to our meal and I paid the rest, but as always, all opinions are my own.