We’re often asked where the name comes from. Arbuturian. Something to do with trees, is it? I once stayed at a country hotel where the restaurant’s maître d’, pouring a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, gleefully said to me, ‘We have one of those here, you know.’ One of what, I asked? ‘An arboretum,’ came the reply.
Well, I now take this opportunity to put the questioning and curious at ease. It is not a sylvan glade. Nor is it an old boys’ magazine (but it emulates them in some ways), nor a synonym of epicurean – although one is unashamedly a devourer of fine food, fine living, fine times, and the finer things.
No, dear reader, I can state, for the record, that Arbuturian is a made up word. It is, however, derivative of the place wherein this jaunty little online rag was imagined; the delightful Soho dining establishment, Arbutus. For it was here, many moons ago, that three chaps would gather, for a gentlemen’s lunch every other month, to meet, sup, sip and discourse on those fine things hitherto mentioned.
The preamble – you may have come to expect them from me by now – is purposeful. You see, those bright minds behind our namesake, they of Wild Honey, too, have since conjured up another delightful dining establishment. And one which appeals to far more than just our salivating sensibilities. It is, of course, Picture.
Opening three years ago in Fitzrovia, their second in the staple has recently arrived in Marylebone and it was there, early one summer evening, relenting from the unseasonable mugginess, that Larman and I enjoyed one of the better meals we’ve had on our culinary excursions for quite some time.
Its name might suggest its setting. It does feel gallery-esque in a contemporary, minimalist sort of way. There is little in the way of ostentation, marked particularly by the menu that met us at the place setting. A folded, typed sheet of A4, not unlike an art gallery’s room sheet, date-stamped and listing a frontispiece of a trio of aperitifs (including an intriguing watermelon lemonade) tantalising one to open it.
Inside, a six-course summer menu, should you wish. But Larman and I were drawn to the a la carte, offering three sections; vegetable, fish and meat courses, with the suggestion we take one from each. We tucked into one of their ‘beef bites’ – a lollipop of braised steak in breadcrumbs – and ruminated on the page before us. The lack of ostentation in the venue extended to the contents; here was an impressive selection without being pretentious. Nothing was overtly described, components simply listed.
To begin, I selected a ravioli. Never normally one for ravioli, what grabbed me was that this contained caramelised onion and pecorino, and it paid off with a sweetness nicely off-set with crunchy peas and lettuce, the whole thing enlivened the palette, matched by a bone dry Tokaj. Now, there’s a name you’ll know. Yes, they of infamy when it comes to unctuous dessert wines. This, by contrast, had nothing on the nose and nothing biting at the start but was subtle as silk once sipped. The better choice for not upstaging the gentle flavours of this first course. Of which Larman’s, incidentally, began to suggest how the restaurant got its name; a Ligurian beef heart tomato was presented in a manner of beef tartar. Finely diced, and assembled with feta and rouille, it looked good enough to hang on the wall. He swept through it before I got a look in.
I continued my spring theme with the stone bass, it coming with a panoply of spring veg. I’ve not had fish cooked that well for quite some time. A fair size but not unmanageable either, I wanted more – particularly with the Alsatian pinot blanc that accompanied it – but we were holding out for the lamb neck sharer.
Designed for two, it was roasted in a herb crust, seasoned with anchovy and paddling in a rich gravy, and with an accompaniment of breadcrumb-coated sweetbreads with white beans, we made short work of it happily accompanied by a thick tannic Stellenbosch named Ladybird. The name, we were told, in honour of the beetle that preys on the mead bug, which attacks grapes.
Every dish had proved a hit. Approaching something near satiation, with a menu this good we couldn’t refuse one final hurrah for dessert. ‘Chocolatemousseespressomartini,’ Larman requested, with such haste, with such enthusiasm that I assumed it was one item and couldn’t find it on the list. Needless to say, a dark chocolate mousse with a salt caramel crumble is perfectly accompanied by an espresso martini. You could almost call it one dish.
What a meal. What a pleasure.
Why ‘Picture’, though? Why not. After all, what’s in a name?
Picture Marylebone. 19 New Cavendish Street, London. For more information, including details of set menus, visit www.picturerestaurant.co.uk.