'A date': Adventurous eating at Archipelago and amusing comedy at Banana Cabaret

About a year ago my boyfriend and I decided to start ‘Alphabet Dates’ – starting with ‘A’ and then going through the rest of the alphabet, each one of us will take turns and organise a whole date themed around that letter. Aiming to have fun together doing new things, exploring new sights and experiencing new ideas, our alphabet adventure started on a Friday evening with an adventurous meal at Archipelago, and ‘amusing’ comedy at Banana Cabaret.

For our first date my boyfriend was in charge, so all that was expected of me was to meet up at the specified rendezvous point and to be treated to a night of ‘A’ themed surprises. After finishing work on Friday, we met near Oxford Circus and (dodging the tourists) walked into Marylebone. Not knowing where I was going, or what to expect, we finally stopped walking by an unusual looking restaurant. Getting the nod that this was our first stop, I stepped inside to our first date destination…

Starting the evening off with a glass of bubbles (with a strawberry and flecks of gold), I had time to properly soak in the atmosphere. Archipelago’s décor can best be described as sumptuous and slightly reminiscent of a 1920s hunting lodge – carved wood and golden ornaments are framed by the richly painted red walls. In another setting this could be called cluttered but it suits Archipelago down to the ground.

This unique atmosphere complements and enhances the exotic food options available at this eccentric dining experience. For starters, my boyfriend couldn’t resist the Serengeti Strut – zebra jerky with carrot and ginger, and biltong soil. His reason – how often do you get the opportunity to say you’ve eaten zebra? And the result – tastes a bit like beef apparently and very delicious. As a vegetarian I ordered the 5th Avenue Babylonian – blue cheese parfait, pear and walnut ballotine and oat cakes. It was tasty but I started to get a bit envious that it didn’t really push my food comfort zone in the same way as my boyfriend’s selection.

But not to worry, I got my opportunity to push my boundaries in my choice of side for the main course – Love Bug Salad! Consisting of deep fried mealworms, crickets and locusts on a bed of lettuce this definitely required some moral thought before we ordered. Being vegetarian I am generally against eating living creatures, but I’ve heard so much about the benefits of eating bugs – touted as a nutritious solution to feeding a growing global population – that I had to give them a go.

Cue nervous discomfort when the dish was presented at the table – although fully cooked, they still look very much like insects and still have the ‘ick’ factor. Gathering the courage, I tucked into a locust and honestly it didn’t taste too bad – actually it didn’t taste of anything much. Likewise the mealworms, which I happily tucked into – very crunchy!

For the rest of our mains we tucked into Peruvian Jumper – jerked alpaca, cornmeal slide, buttermilk jelly and patecones (more meat for the boyfriend) and Rajasthan Snap – but with significantly less snap as I opted for the veggie option of tofu curry rather than crocodile. Both were presented on zebra print plates demonstrating that no detail is too small to reinforce the exotic dining experience. Again, both were delicious.

After finishing off the meal sharing the decadent Medieval Hive – brown butter ice cream, honey and butter caramel sauce we had had to be off for the final mystery event of the evening.

With no idea where I was going, I dutifully followed my boyfriend to the tube and finally arrived at Balham. Being guided into a pub called The Bedford, I was initially a bit disappointed – it seemed like a long way to go for a quiet drink and it didn’t even begin with ‘A’! However, walking through the pub, it opened up into a surprisingly larger round performance space and I took my seat for an evening of Banana Cabaret (‘A’ for Amusing).

Banana Cabaret offers an evening of comedy with a selection of four different comedians – so even if you don’t find a particular person funny, you know it’s only a short wait to the next comedy act. Highlights of the evening were Joe Lycett who gave some very funny observations of people’s reactions to his pansexuality, and the wonderful Simon Evans. I’d previously enjoyed hearing Mr Evans on Radio 4 comedy panel programmes but had never heard his set, and I wasn’t disappointed! Deploying his dry comedic wit on a variety of seemingly mundane topics from relationships, house buying and having children, we couldn’t stop laughing. It’s always the sign of a good comedian when your cheeks hurt at the end of the night.

My verdict on our first Alphabet Date – fantastic! It had done exactly what we wanted – made us try new things, explore London and most importantly spend some quality time together.

Now it’s my turn to organise our ‘B’ date…