I happen to love a lunch break. And by that, I mean a real break, when I enjoy superb food, I’m not sat at my desk, and for a little while if possible I detach myself from the workday for a mini recharge. It gives me something to look forward to in the morning, and it gives me something to smile about in the afternoon. In fact, if you ever see me eating a sandwich in front of my laptop, I can assure you, that is NOT a good day.
But some days aren’t just good days, they are great days, and lunch often has a lot to do with that. When time permits, one of my favourite things to do is to pop into the nearby Arros QD for an experience that sets just this tone for the day.
The moment you walk into this special place, you feel you are transported to another country: the stylish modern decor and the abundance of plants can almost make you forget that you happen to be in London on a cold, rainy day. So, long before you’ve even gotten your ticket from the coat check (a little piece of art in its own right), or spotted the open kitchen for you to see the masters at work, you have already been delighted. But of course, this is no surprise if you know that this restaurant’s QD is in reference to Quique Dacosta, the highly acclaimed Michelin starred chef, known for his modern, adventurous dishes and intentional use of local ingredients. This happens to be his first restaurant in London, which opened this June.
I’ve been here far more times than I should admit to in the couple of months since I have been working in this neighborhood, and I know the menu well. And so, in spite of the impressive a la carte menu, we kept things very simple and chose from the set lunch menu of which there are 4 small tapas-sized dishes for my colleague and me to share, and then a main course we could each select – unless, of course, you opt for paella which is for a minimum of two people. Of course, when you are dining in a Spanish restaurant whose name translated literally means ‘rice’, how could you not go for the paella?
The first dish to arrive at the table was the Napolitan cracker with anchovies, black olive and tomato powder. The plate is as pretty as a picture, and so I am delighted when it is served, we are asked if we would like the server to break it, because I wouldn’t have the heart to do it myself. It was as delicious as it looked: light as air, and full of savoury flavours with an underlying warmth which I suspect is from paprika.
The stone bass ceviche with dried corn, kafir lime and tiger milk was rather special. The tiger milk consisted of coconut milk, lemon and lime which created a light and refreshing experience for the palate, and was balanced by a hint of chili. The dried corn provided some contrasting texture to add even more interest to the dish, and all in all, it was delicate and exquisite.
The chicken skewers with kimchee sauce followed shortly after, topped with spring onion, and they were delicious. Well cooked, not dry, and the kimchee sauce was a bit spicy, with warm, hot flavours that managed not to overpower. They were very well prepared.
Finally, the last dish before the main course was the kale citrus salad with mixed Valencian citruses, three tomatoes dressing, kumquat and caramelised cashew nuts. This is, hands down, the most fun I have ever had eating kale. The dish was not only as pretty as a spring garden, but it tasted as sweet as candy. I feel that this speaks volumes to the quality of the ingredients, because we all know that in London, tomatoes are more tart than they are sweet (sadly), but for me, this was a great combination of sweet and a bit of tart. The cashews added a lovely crunchiness and texture to a dish of otherwise rather soft ingredients, which I really enjoyed.
These dishes really were small and light, truly acting as a light taster and appetiser so that we still had room for the piece de resistance, the paella Valenciana, prepared with rabbit, chicken, garrafo beans, rosemary, and served with traditional aioli and lemon on the side.
It’s worth noting that I am not usually a fan of paella outside of Spain. If it’s not prepared properly it can be dry, it’s always heavier and more filling than I’d care for a main course to be, and it’s rarely cooked well outside of Spain. But this was a perfect paella: the rabbit was still moist, the rice was cooked to perfection, the seasonal artichokes and beans made for a wonderful complementary addition, and the aioli and lemon lifted the flavours together like an orchestra conductor driving towards a musical swell. It was such a delight, and the only paella I will happily eat in London.
As you might have imagined, my friend and I were rather full by this point, having shared a sizeable paella. And, our menu would have called for coffee and nothing more. But, as we arrived with the intention of immersing ourselves in this gastronomic experience with both feet, we opted for a dessert as well, for good measure. While I had the pistachio dessert on the previous experience (which was light, lovely and worthy of having again), the giant cookie was particularly intriguing.
This giant cookie, much like the Napolitan cracker we enjoyed at the start of our experience, requires being broken to discover the surprise that awaits underneath. Once again, our server kindly did this for us:
Inside, what awaits is macadamia nuts, araguani chocolate, and vanilla ice cream – all of which makes for a classically delicious combination of flavours that can’t go wrong – but I could have sworn I picked up more than a hint of liqueur, quite possibly rum. Had I been aware of it I might have opted for a different dessert (I’m not a huge fan of rum or any liqueur in my desserts, as you’ll more than understand if you’ve read my earlier post on cakes) but it was a good dessert all the same. In all honesty, the drama of cracking the cookie seems to be more of the appeal of this dish for me: there is nothing wrong with it, but I just didn’t feel the same degree of joy as I did with the other dishes, or the same degree of satisfaction as I did with the very original pistachio dessert of the previous visit. That’s not to say it wasn’t outstanding; it’s more that my standards had been set so high already.
To conclude our special lunch, a coffee was very much needed. We ordered espresso, and while the coffee was alright, it was the way it was served which most impressed. The china is unique and stunning; it was a joy to drink from these little artistic masterpieces.
All in all, it was a fantastic meal. We’d both been here before so there were no surprises, but the experience was generally consistent (the dessert had a stronger alcohol flavour than last time, according to my friend, but overall, quite consistent). It was surely a special occasion lunch, coming in at £84.38 for the both of us (we had only tap water to drink). We knew the dessert would be another £10 for us each, but I realised only after the fact that they charged us for coffee. They clearly shouldn’t have, as you can see printed on the lunch menu clearly that it should have been included. This added another £8 plus VAT. But regardless, I know I’ll be coming back – surely for lunch and most likely for dinner at some point. And not just because the area has limited fine dining options, but because the food and the experience here are worth the return visit.
*Calories: I started trying to calculate this but I realised what a ridiculous task it would be and how I would inevitably fail at getting any kind of real accuracy. I logged 1500 calories for the lunch overall, and that was, at best, an informed guess. Needless to say, knowing I was coming here I skipped breakfast and dinner.
Food taste: 4.6 / 5 (Lovely flavours, original dishes, delicious food. Only the dessert – albeit very good – didn’t meet the standards of the other dishes. The coffee was ok, but with all the artisanal coffee available in the area, there is a lot of competition for good coffee. )
Food/table presentation: 4.5 / 5 (Food presentation was great: appetising, inviting, creative, and a treat for the eyes as much as the other senses. The dishes and flatware were beautiful, in particular the china on which coffee is served. The tables were a bit small to comfortably eat paella on, but I suppose they weren’t designed with that in mind. )
Service: 3.8 / 5 (Good service overall, but except for one fellow floating around who was amiable and seemed authentically concerned that his guests were happy, the others gave the impression they were just going through the motions. The dishes were introduced sometimes so fast that I couldn’t understand all that was being said, and there was something to be desired in the way of friendliness and warmth, with smiles hard to come by. It was a somewhat cold service, and this was the case on every visit so far.)
Atmosphere/decor: 4.2 / 5 (It’s lovely, with elegant black details and fascinating pieces of art found at all corners of the restaurant. The use of plants create a calming and inviting space, and the open kitchen adds to the experience. It’s a little cold this time of year in there for me, particularly if seated along the window, but I assume they keep it that way in part for the open kitchen. )
Value for money: 3.5/ 5 (It’s certainly good value for money if you opt for the set lunch menu (this score is based on the lunch menu), but do be careful if adding to that. Even though we shouldn’t have been charged for the coffee, £4 each for an ok coffee when you can find high quality artisanal coffee across the street for a more than £1 less is difficult to swallow, and there is only so much that beautiful china can forgive.)
Overall rating: 4.1/ 5