Spare a thought for poor former health secretary Matt Hancock, who has been so drastically misunderstood that he’s had to fly all the way to Australia to eat bugs and worms and testicles to present his “human” side to the British public.
“The honest truth is there’s so few ways in which politicians can show that we’re human beings,” he lamented, suitcase in hand, I’m A Celeb gilet on, on his way Down Under. Matt Hancock must not believe that snogging his aide under a security camera and groping her bum in a breach of lockdown rules counts as showing his humanity – I’d say that it was a spectacular display of the type of human being he is.
I hope Matt Hancock feels more understood now he’s been photographed with testes hanging out of his mouth on every paper and social media outlet these past weeks. Even those who steadfastly refuse to watch I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here will have seen images of the politician grimly wrestling with animal organs that really should have stayed privately attached to the animal. He’s eaten mealworms, camel’s penis and cow’s anus and it has certainly got the nation talking.
It had me wondering: could I get a bite of the action? What will people think of me if I start eating bugs and sexual organs? Maybe I can have an image overhaul like Matt Hancock.
“What about going to Archipelago,” my editor said.
Archipelago is a restaurant in Fitzrovia serving critters from the same rainforest where Matt Hancock is currently swinging in his hammock. Head chef and owner Maurilio Almeida says he sometimes spends three years crafting one dish. There’s crocodile in vine leaves, marinated kangaroo skewers with candy beetroot and a ‘love bug salad’ made with mealworms, silk worms and locusts.
I book a table, sit down and begin to pile fresh crickets in my mouth. Someone has to. They look like little robots with their bulbous, shiny heads. They explode in my mouth, but that leads to a nuttiness in both flavour and crunch. I pick out a locust which has a ginger kick, then start shovelling them in like they’re going out of fashion. Paired with a salad, they make sense as a texture switch-up for walnuts.
“We want to give an idea of what’s out there,” Almeida says as I eat. He’s certainly doing that. I have more bugs for dessert: caramelised mealworms with vodka jelly and pancakes which are fun to wrap into little parcels. Chocolate covered locusts come with a sweet dessert wine.
Earlier there was ostrich steak, one of the leanest meats and superb with a fresh pepper sauce that dissolves into the meat. Thin slivers of camel had the luxurious feel of beef carpaccio atop piles of creamed potato and zebra with onions, picked garlic, carrot and ginger gel with biltong soil was a revelation: it’s the most popular dish on the menu and was fatty like duck but strong in a totally different way.
Hancock doesn’t fool me: the only “human” trait he’s revealing by eating bugs is his carnivorous desire for attention.
“Every time we introduce a new dish we do research around the world to give our diners a new experience they can never have at home,” says Almeida. I’m still eating but I’m already lamenting the loss of zebra meat in my life. I can’t sustain my Archipelago habit weekly but I’ve never tasted anything like this and I want more. Who knew kangaroo and lime jus would be the mouth party of the season, or that spiced elk would arrive as a steaming pile of meat cuts alongside a triumphant cold Brazilian potato salad with grilled courgettes, aubergine and crème fraiche? “We’re helping control the population,” Almeida says of the kangaroo meat. “It is considered a pest in Australia so it’s very sustainable.”
With the City A.M. photographer flashing in my face, I feel like Matt Hancock must. It’s tough eating worms in front of people, but at least Hancock is earning a reported £400,000 for his services. I sent some of the photos to a friend who immediately told me I’m just seeking attention. It’s true, but it’s not the response I’d hoped for. Another friend can’t stop laughing. “Not like you to put yourself forward for a novelty bug-eating photoshoot to go in a paper printed 90,000 times.”
I think I’ve found another thing I now share with Matt Hancock, along with having had a mouthful of locusts. You don’t fool me, mate: the only human trait you’re revealing is your carnivorous desire for attention.
Archipelago is bookable on thefork.co.uk, a food discovery and booking platform. Get 50% off food at 100+ restaurants taking part in TheFork Festival running until 27th November.
Archipelago-restaurant.co.uk; 020 7637 9611 or email email@example.com. 53 Cleveland Street, London, W1T 4JJ.
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