Those with an aversion to creepy crawly things beware, once you enter this moodily lit Mexican restaurant its proclivities are quickly apparent – on the back wall hangs a portrait of its six-legged namesake. “For me, it’s a cultural and gastronomic experience that shows the world our beautiful cuisine,” says chef Mario Hernandez of his fondness for including bugs in regionally inspired dishes from his homeland. Test your taste buds with his latest variation on the taco, in which cocopaches, or giant mesquite bugs, are served with zucchini blossom and cheese.
Despite its location, don’t expect any stodgy British staples here. Instead, Archipelago promises eclectic cuisine that features novel ingredients – including, of course, bugs. Start off easy by sampling pan-fried chermoula crickets, accompanied by quinoa, spinach and dried fruit. Come dessert time, go for the Medieval Hive: brown butter ice cream, honey and caramel that’s adorned with a baby bee. Should you prefer mealworms, the Bushman’s Cavi-err sees these versatile beetle larvae coated in caramel and served with blinis, coconut cream and vodka jelly.
Insects may seem like an odd favourite for a chef who cut his teeth at a Michelin-starred establishment, but Thitiwat “Mai” Tantragarn is a staunch advocate of incorporating the creatures into his cuisine. Since opening Insects in the Backyard last year, he has relied on bugs sourced from his own organic farm to supply the desired tastes and textures in each dish. The fat from silkworms, he confides, tastes similar to cheese – which is why he’s used it as a substitute in a new cheese pie on the menu. Another recent addition is sliced scallops topped with ant caviar. “It gives a sour flavour,” he explains.
“Unlike what you can see on survival TV shows, there’s nothing juicy or slimy when you eat insects,” says Davy Blouzard reassuringly. He was so smitten with their flavours that he co-founded this French-Khmer fusion restaurant dedicated to spiders, scorpions and other insects. At a recent wine and insect pairing event, four new dishes – from a silkworm and sweet potato bite atop a silkworm custard, to a Khmer beef fillet with red ants and tamarind sauce – were presented to diners. The evening’s success, Blouzard says, was proven when “all the plates came back empty to the kitchen”.
At rooftop restaurant El Topo, which sits atop the Eastern Hotel, Antipodean diners are treated to authentic Mexican cuisine – insects and all. The menu, inspired by the colourful food scene of Oaxaca, boasts all the usual staples: salsa, tacos, quesadillas and more. But look closer and you’ll find insects trussed up as savoury snacks, too. Begin with an order of their signature crickets – known as chapulines– which come roasted in a tangy blend of chilli, garlic and lime. With the same addictive crunch as potato chips, they’re the perfect, protein-rich accompaniment to a cold beer.
Illustrations by Tom Jay
This article was originally published in the December 2018 issue of SilverKris magazine