This restaurant is currently closed for refurbishment, opening September 2014.
The 436 bus to Hyde Park Corner, on reflection, isn’t the best way to arrive at one of London’s most prestigious hotels. However, needs must where the devil drives, and it was only after promising Lady Stirling dinner at Apsleys that I realised it was the chauffeur’s night off, Jarvis was out shopping for a new pair of plus fours and, like the Queen, I rarely carry cash. “Listen dear, do you mind awfully if we get the bus?” Insert withering look here.
It wasn’t ‘just’ dinner at Apsleys (when is it ever ‘just’ dinner at Apsleys?). In town for two nights only was none other than Heinz Beck, the mastermind behind the three Michelin star restaurant at La Pergola in Rome. A German in Italy, cooking Italian food better than the locals – whatever next? And now he has brought his Mediterranean menu to London.
Somehow we managed to arrive on time; thank you, TFL. If I wore a watch I’d have looked at it and nodded in that self-satisfied “I’m good” kind of way. “I’m very sorry sir, the restaurant doesn’t open until 7:30”, a very pleasant lady informs us. “The chef’s briefing is only just concluding.” A glance at LS and the second withering look of the night told me that this was completely my fault. “Do you mind if we retire to the bar?” I asked.
The Withdrawing room leads to the famous Library Bar, which is adorned with a dark molasses wainscoting, book-adorned shelves, comfortable leather chairs and cosy crevices for more intimate moments. It was in one of the cosy spots that Lady Stirling and I sat, sipping a Millionaire and raspberry mojito respectively, discussing the form. When Mr Beck is out of town, the executive chef Massimiliano Blasone commands the kitchen with what I imagine to be a calm confidence and informed leadership inspired by Heinz, who is a charming, polite and altogether gentle man – something we found out when he was good enough to stop by each table towards the end of the evening. We briefly talked about where he would be eating while in London and, as guarded as he was, I did manage to tease out of him that Pied à Terre could be on the list.
Our mojitos finished, some crudités & olives eaten, and our table was ready. As you walk into Apsleys, the room opens out into a welcoming, well-lit space, with seating spread over several levels The light is calming, the décor subtle and comfortable, our expectations high. The table commanded a fine view of the room, a mix of well-heeled hotel guests and VIPs, a favourite of Russian oligarchs and American businessmen alike.
After the shortest of pauses, the sommelier arrived to offer us an aperitif. We were lucky enough to be attended to by Patrick Frawley, the head sommelier of the Lanesborough, who took charge of the wine list, the selection, the charms of Lady Stirling, and still remain polite enough to listen to my witterings about the grape.
We begin to dine. If Heinz’ calmness in person permeates to his staff then it is also reflected in his food. There is nothing brash or Germanic about the menu; delicate, delicious, immaculately presented dishes follow one after the other. The menu starts with combinations of light, fresh ingredients. Lobster, artichoke, strawberry and asparagus served with an elegant Feudi di San Gregorio, Greco di Tufo have disappeared before we can compare thoughts on the intensity of the flavours and surprise at how well the combination works.
The dish that followed was extraordinary. Carbonara Fagotelli: small parcels of pasta made with cooked, grated egg to add texture and depth and hiding within it an exquisite pecorino custard. We both stopped mid-bite as the parcel burst open and our olfactory and gustatory senses did their best to tell us just how bloody good this mouthful of food was. Something so rich must surely be made with butter; however, butter is rarely used in the kitchen and olive oil pervades, so the more health conscious can dine without fear of the gout returning. Please pass the port. We exchanged looks and finished the dish with nothing more said than the occasional moan of delight and…was that a tear I saw trickling down Lady Stirling’s face?
We were carried through the rest of the meal, course after course of great food. The high standard was constant and notable – the exception being the carbonara which was certainly a crowning glory. Lady Stirling described the meal as “quite simply the best dining experience of my life”, and once you’ve been cooked for by me, the master of the croc monsieur, there is very little room to move up. This Heinz Beck chap is obviously exceptional.
If we arrived on the 436 bus, by the time we had sipped the last of the 2007 Giovanni Allegrini and squeezed in the final morsel of chocolate, we had sailed the QE2, flown Concord and ridden the Orient Express.
Food second to none, a fantastic selection of wine, service of the highest order, there might be only one star above the door, but you should expect Apsleys to be leading the charge in the next round of awards. London restaurateurs, watch out, Mr Beck is here and he means business, albeit in a subtle, genteel and positively delicious way.
Apsleys at The Lanesborough, Hyde Park Corner, London, SW1X 7TA. Tel. 020 7259 5599. Website.