My lips, this cricket

This is a post designed exactly so that people can weigh in on the most exotic foodstuff they’ve consumed.  It’s going to fall heavily on the side of carnivores, for which I apologize in advance, but if you have tasted fresh rowan from the Himalayas, by all means, speak up.

I’ve dined twice at this restaurant in London, Archipelago, which specializes in exotic cuisine.  The first time I went, I was too embarrassed to take photographs of our meal, because this is desperately uncool.  The second time I had no such compunction and snapped away, as I was truly regretful I had not documented the first time I ate crickets.

While by no means cheap, it is reasonably priced for the quality and rarity on offer, and a great place to bring out-of-towners looking for a bit of a treat.  My first visit, I had the ostrich starter (ostrich is always amazing – thready and flavorful) and the zebra steak. 

 The zebra steak was a bit of a letdown, not because it wasn’t very tasty, but for three specific reasons: 

a) If you had told me I was having a nice slab of beef, I would not have known the difference.  

b) Embarrassingly, I realized how disappointed I was when they served me, because I somehow thought it would be striped.  I know.  This was not an expectation I was conscious of until it was sitting on a plate before me, and I was thinking, where are the stripes

c) I feel a bit shit about eating zebra.  There’s really no logical reason to feel worse about eating it than any other kind of meat (save shark or whale), but in my Westernized mind, zebras belong on the nature channel, running freeeeee.  Not on my plate.  I’m sorry, Zebras!  I will never feast on you again, except in the event of the coming Zombiepocalypse if I am desperate for food, in your native land, and can manage to catch one of you.  And if you, in turn, become man-eaters, then it will only be justice if you trample me beneath your hooves and grill up some chewy Tailfeather flank.  Carry on.

So, on our second visit, here are the delicious details of our consumption:

Japanese unagi with horseradish cream and black vinegar pearls

Unagi is freshwater eel, and it is delicate, yet meaty.  The pearls were unusual, only in that I expected them to pop like roe, but because they are manmade, the consistency is very soft.  The horeradish cream was terrific.

Crocodile fillet seared in vine leaves with a plum dipping sauce

Croc has a chewier texture than alligator (which I have commonly had fried in the southern US, and truly does taste like chicken).  We were all a bit wary of this dish, as most people don’t like dolma, but it turns out grape leaves themselves are fairly innocuous.  That said, we preferred to unwind the grape leaves and dip the white meat underneath into the sauce.

Zhug marinated kangaroo fillet with water spinach and choi

For my money, this is the best dish in the house.  The kangaroo is well-marinated and the meat itself takes on flavor well.  It is also very tender, succulent, and one of the few dishes I’ve had that can’t be easily compared to a more common meat.   

Rich gnu & shitake mushroom stroganoff with roasted root vegetables

The gnu, or wildebeest, was also very tender, in contrast to the zebra.  While the quality of the meat was generally excellent, there were several fatty bits.  My feeling was that is suffered a bit in the stronganoff recipe, which, while tasty, was a bit mundane.  I thought the meat itself could have been better capitalized on, rather than drowned in a sauce.

Pan-fried locusts & crickets in chilli & garlic

As a side, we had the Love Bug Salad.  The sprinklings of bugs are not hugely generous, but we managed about one cricket and one locust per person in a party of four.  The taste is surprisingly good, very smoky and crisp.  The crickets are better, but if I were at a ballgame and was offered a bag of Doritos versus a mixed bag of crickets and locusts, I would actually choose the latter.  They were crunchy and pleasant, and the salad beneath had a nicely tangy dressing.

The dessert menus are pasted into old, leatherbound books.

I love the atmosphere in Archipelago just as much as the food.  It is a deep-jewel color with paintings, sculptures, and artwork from Africa to to Southeastern Asia, cluttered together like the home of an eccentric, traveled, yet tasteful aunt.  The ultimate feel is one of cozy and intimate exoticism, perfectly suiting to the offering.

Dessert: Chocolate-covered scorpion

 There are a number of neutral and creamy desserts available, but I went for the scorpion, which was much smaller than I expected.   In was, nonethess, perfectly preserved in chocolate, and I was rightly warned to chew the tail very slowly.  Nonetheless, the stinger, however tiny, hooked my tongue  when I was not careful, and I had to mentally applaud the wee scorpion for its tenacity.  Whilst mostly chocolate-flavored, I crunched down on its middle bits in a much meatier way that I had with the crickets, and while not oozy, I had  a much more visceral sense of innards. 
Visit from the Doctor”. A medicine chest of 12 digestive potions that will set you off homewards with a spring in your step. The doctor’s concoctions include vodka and vanilla, chocolate liqueur with cherries, sambuca and liquorice, schnapps with 24 carat gold flakes and many more. All served by a gorgeous “doctor” able to cure most ailments.

The final dessert was a “Visit From the Doctor,” as advertised above.  There were a number of intoxicating mixes on display, including a jalapeno gin that looked beautiful.  In the face of all these intriguing combinations, however, there stood the last:

That is a bottle of Absinthe in which coils a preserved snake

 Sold.  It was insanely strong – I’ve drunk a reasonable amount of Absinthe in my time, and this was the most challenging – but it did its job.  And ultimately, it becomes a terrific story.