Jerk alpaca and mealworms: We tried out London's strangest Christmas dinner

There’s a little-known archipelago not far from the River Thames, where hungry locals struggle to find any traditional grub – and have to settle for a tin of grubs instead.

One of London’s quirkiest restaurants is back serving up exotic, meaty morsels from around the world, boasting high-end cooking and extravagant flavours to match.

With unusual food imports now easier after some Covid restrictions were relaxed, thought we’d give Archipelago a whirl as an alternative Christmas meal.

The Fitzrovia venue has it all, from camel to crickets, via elk or ostrich – and there’s not a turkey in sight.

The self-described ‘culinary portal to world cuisine’ even caters to vegans and vegetarians, despite a barrage of bizarre meats.

Its python carpaccio recently slithered off the menu, thanks to problems shipping it in from Vietnam – and much to the restaurant’s annoyance, after 20 years of perfecting a dish that it takes eight days to prepare.

It came as a second blow to adventurous regulars stung by the loss of the chocolate scorpion.

In their stead, we opt for the two most popular starters: spicy crocodile wrapped in vine leaves and a zebra jerky; followed by jerked alpaca and kangaroo skewers – as you do.

But it is the bugs which are perhaps the most eye-catching options – and a favourite of owner Maurilio.

The hugely knowledgeable Brazilian, who was head chef before taking over in 2018, backs the caramel mealworms (£8) as his dessert of choice.  

And Archipelago’s crunchy treat duly blows our (admittedly low) expectations out of the water.

Served up with herby coconut cream and a trio of cute pancakes, the Brazilian-inspired peanut coating offers a warming, hearty sweetness that underpins this unlikely show-stopper.

Cucumber-infused vodka jelly adds to the dish as a refined pallet cleanser, though getting it out of a shot glass is a challenge.

The mealworms themselves come in a specially made tub, which reads: ‘Premium Cavi-err’ and arguably makes the little critters a touch more appetising.

Squeamish diners might still find it easier to look away and pretend they’re having a peanut brittle, but if your eyes can stomach it, your taste buds will light up.

Though all the dishes are presented immaculately, there’s only so much lipstick you can put on a lovebug, which Maurilio and his team have spiced up for a side salad (£8.50) with a subtle Thai seasoning.

Perhaps the most simple dish on the menu, it is served with locusts and silk worms. Yum.

Amid the impressive complexity of the other dishes, the unusual accompaniment to your hit of greenery batters a crouton on the texture front.

And for those of us concerned about the environmental impact of animal products, you can perhaps be consoled by climate experts remaining hopeful that eating insects could help us save the planet.

A fly on the restaurant’s wall would find itself among an eclectic mix of authentic-looking artefacts from around the globe.

Mainly momentos from countries that the previous owner visited, the decor is not tat but tactile and adds to the exploration theme playfully underlined by the ‘treasure map’ menu.

Goblet-like wine glasses punctuate the tables, overlooked by snake and crocodile figurines that wouldn’t seem out of place in an antique shop, but instead watch you eat their long-lost cousins.

Before you even begin, you need to remember the pre-arranged password and are then offered a self-inflating towel ‘tablet’ to drop in hot water and potpourri, like a bath toy for children.

It’s entirely unnecessary, but certainly a pleasant way of washing your hands before a meal: this will not be the fish and chips dinner the rest of the world seems to think London eats.

First up is the crocodile (£13.50), accompanied by freeze-dried passion fruit, honey poached plums and pickled samphire.

Lightly spiced and slightly chewier than chicken, the moist white meat is wrapped in vine leaves and served with an edible flower.

Like the mealworms, it has an excellent mix of textures and leaves you wanting another snap.

The zebra appetiser (£13) comes with tasty carrot and ginger ‘fluid gels’, a biltong powder, smoked onion and pickled garlic – a combination which works well.

Maurilio’s immaculate service includes popping up to talk you through each item on the plate.

But it will be an achievement for you to remember them all – if you’ve ever heard of them in the first place.

The jerked alpaca (£22.50) main, he explains, is served in a banana leaf with masa (similar to polenta) topping, a dried oregano tomato, buttermilk and hot sauce gels and a mogo cassava crouton.

It is tender and oddly homely, with the meat reminiscent of a comforting beef bourguignon.

The tomato is chewy and a bit strange, but – like much of the menu – you can appreciate the impressive technical skill required to craft it.

That talent is on display again for the kangaroo (£23.50) main, which comes with a tempting and tangy lime gel, mint and yoghurt sauce and a beetroot salad.

The onion falafel is perhaps slightly overdone but the citrus accompaniment helps the skewered, steak-like meat hop far beyond your standard Aussie barbecue.

Caramel mealworms aside, there are more conventional ingredients in nonetheless bold combinations on the dessert menu for the more cautious diner.

But if you like a taste of the unusual, this is far, far better than any traditional grub you’ll find.

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