You know when you enter the womb-like world of Four Seasons Hotels that everything is going to be just fine, and Amaranto, the Four Seasons Park Lane bar, lounge and restaurant space is a case in point; the staff are utterly charming and professional, the interior design is impeccable and quite different to other hotels in the group, while the dining is simply bound to be excellent; after all, they only source the finest chefs and ingredients.
The sumptuous red bar, which has an almost operatic Italianate feel with vast displays of wine and champagne, is a great spot for an aperitif of Ruinart Blanc de Blanc, nor can I remember the last time I um’d and ah’d so much over a menu as I sipped. Designed by Chef Eliano Crespi, one look told me that this wasn’t going to be the dependable, classic Italian experience I had imagined, for his take on the cuisine of his motherland is nothing if not unique, nor is he afraid to take ingredients and techniques from other cultures, as evident from the main courses I was toying with ordering; Scottish lobster with yuzu and a cocoa crumb, or duck breast marinated in coffee and yogurt, a dish that was inspired by his Indian wife.
Seated in the newly updated restaurant overlooking the secret garden terrace, in true Italian style we were soon greeted with a large basket of breads and an amuse bouche of taco (yes, taco) filled with aubergine. A pre-starter featured beautifully tender smoked duck breast with foie gras parfait, a sole juicy blackberry, a drizzle of balsamic and a rather alarming dark chocolate truffle flavoured with Grappa. Yet something told me to have faith, and taking a piece of the accompanying toasted brioche and piling a little of each ingredient on top I discovered that it was in fact a masterfully balanced dish; the sweetness and richness of the foie gras countered by the sprinkling of salt, the acidic balsamic and blackberry, the bitter cocoa and the boozy aniseed hit of the Grappa.
While my husband opted for the popular Scottish blue lobster linguine with a spicy shellfish sauce, my starter was a showcase for Culatello di Zibello, one of Italy’s most prized hams, air-dried and matured for 14 months, and produced in the flatlands south of Parma near the Po River to a 700 year old method. This sublime meat was partnered with gnocco fritto, shallow-fried bread almost like pizza dough, and a sweet, smoky aubergine caviar with baby basil that was extremely moreish. A dish that was incredibly comforting and oh-so Italian, capturing all the generosity of antipasto and a culture famous for their hospitality, the medium-bodied Focara Pinot Noir 2015, was a perfect marriage with the smoky ham and aubergine. Grown on the cliffs of Mount Conero, this 100% Pinot Noir aged for 12 months in oak barrels had just enough musk qualities to hold its own with this exceptional salumi.
Next, English Asparagus season was highlighted in a surprise course of risotto; green in colour thanks to an intense puree having been made from this king of vegetables, with pieces of wonderfully al dente asparagus adding more bursts of flavour and texture throughout. The rice was equally al dente, just as it should be, while the risotto itself had just the right, unctuous, consistency. A caramelised scallop, caviar, finely sliced radish, and a single asparagus tip topped the dish off a treat; the sweet, soft scallop lifting the dish to another level entirely and adding another welcome texture. The full-bodied Valdivieso Gran Reserva Chilean Merlot 2011 was not the most obvious wine pairing for this dish, yet it’s testament to sommelier Jack Menoumba’s skill that he perceived how the wine’s deep stone fruit flavours would contrast with the woody, almost grassy asparagus and the sweet caramelised scallop.
I was very pleased with the main I finally opted for; wild Cornish seabass with seafood tortellini and baby courgette, for it proved just as much a celebration of the vegetable as this beautiful white fish, always a marvel with Mediterranean flavours; the crispy-skinned fillet resting on a vibrant green courgette puree, with pieces of courgette adding bite, and shards of the yellow courgette flowers proving an attractive yet delicious finishing touch. The white peach, citrus and oak notes of the Bret Brothers Pouilly-Fusse 2014, a wine produced in very small quantities, was meanwhile an intelligent pairing, adding complexity and just a hint of butteriness to an otherwise light, spring dish.
I was thrown, yet nonetheless captivated by the sound of the gin-soaked Baba, which arrived accompanied by a rhubarb compote and a blood orange sorbet. The damp sponge was meanwhile stuffed with a fragrant elderflower cream and topped with poached rhubarb and a shimmer of gold leaf; the subtle, aromatic juniper notes of the gin making this a highly unusual, yet successful update of a classic dessert, while the floral notes were greatly enhanced by the slightly sparkling Moscato, a dish that rounded off an altogether superb dining (and wining) experience.
Amaranto may not hold the Michelin star they so clearly deserve, yet you can expect 3 star service throughout and a meal that is far greater than not only most hotel dining rooms in London but many renowned Italian restaurants in the UK. It’s hard to think when I had such refined Italian cuisine in Italy, ah yes, that would have been Il Palagio at Four Seasons Firenze. Well staffed, the front of house team are extremely helpful and knowledgeable, and pride themselves on taking the time to talk to their customers, nor did the service show any signs of waning come the end of what was a quiet Sunday evening.
There were two birthdays at either side of the restaurant on the night we dined, one a child’s and the other an elderly gentleman’s who was clearly a regular diner, and both occasions were marked with equal warmth and sincerity by the waiters who beamingly presented the personalised desserts. Even without receiving a candle the restaurant had managed to convince me that it was my birthday for I just hadn’t been expecting such a treat. Regardless of what day it is, Amaranto is as good a venue to celebrate the Italian food revolution as any in London.
Amaranto at Four Seasons Hotel Park Lane, Hamilton Place, Mayfair, London W1J 7DR. For more information and reservations please visit the website.