Following his success at the highly acclaimed “La Pergola” in Rome which earned its third Michelin star in 2005, Heinz Beck’s first venture outside Italy is similarly enjoying success in the same stride.
Within five months of opening at the Lanesborough Hotel on Hyde Park Corner, Apsleys was awarded its first Michelin star in January 2010, making it one of the fastest London establishments to achieve a Michelin star since inception.
Following the recent departure of Massimiliano Blasone, Beck has installed his protégé and sous chef at La Pergola, Heros De Agostinis, as the new Executive chef of Apsleys. Having worked with other top chefs including Heinz Winkler and Marc Veyrat, De Agostinis brings a wealth of experience and knowledge which was truly reflected in some of the superb flavour combinations we tasted that evening.
As you enter the Venetian styled art-deco dining room, designed by no other than one of the greatest American interior architects, Adam Tihany, you cannot help but notice the massive glass roof and the elegance and grandeur, exuding luxury with a dazzling spectacle of three imposing chandeliers across the centre of the room and plush upholstery making it one of the most beautiful spaces to dine in London; a truly befitting dining room for a grand hotel that is reputed to be one of the most expensive in London.
Emanating his style and cuisine from his flagship restaurant back in Rome, Beck has created a unique menu that focuses on lighter Mediterranean-inspired dishes using local and Italian ingredients; a unique but delicious result. Being a true Italian restaurant, one has the choice of various Antipasti, Soup, Starter, Main Course and Dessert a la carte, or alternatively a five-course tasting menu (£65 or £100 with wine pairing) or a seven-course tasting menu (£85 or £130 with wine pairing).
As Beck was in town on this particular occasion, we let him take the reins and guide us through the course of the evening, including the choice of matching wines by the sommelier. Our seven-course meal kicked off with a medley of amuse bouches that focused on high quality seafood from the region and the Mediterranean sea.
The outstanding dishes included a deep fried spring roll of langoustine, papaya and cucumber with mango sauce, a delicious bite size piece of Sicilian blue fin fatty-tuna and pomelo topped with soya caviar and shiso leaf (not to be mistaken with the endangered tuna species), and a tartare of sweet prawns sandwiched in between two crunchy thin sesame crisps. The dishes were all generally delicate in flavor focusing on the freshness of their ingredients whilst incorporating various textures to add a further dimension. It was a great start, matched perfectly with a glass of Ruinart Blanc de Blancs.
The first dish of our tasting menu turned out to be one of our favourite dishes of the evening. Given we were in the height of cherry season, it was great to see the chefs make use of the product by incorporating it into a Foie Gras dish as a purée and as a caramelized product, garnished with a distinct but not overpowering jelly cube of kirsch that provided a depth to the flavour.
The foie gras itself also coated with a thin layer of the cherry purée and a layer of fried quinoa adding a perfect crunchy texture and seasoning to such a rich and creamy dish. We were equally impressed with the Italian wine matching theme where the course was complimented by a sweet glass of 2009 Franz Haas, Moscato Rosa, Alto Adige, which rounded perfectly off the dish.
We opted to have our only meat course cooked, following the chef’s advice, medium-rare. I can appreciate that this would be off-putting for some, especially given the dish was Pigeon with Highland Whiskey Sauce, a distinctly gamey meat. Whilst some of us thought the meat could have benefitted from being under the flame a little longer, I disagreed and thought it was spot on.
The one thing we all agreed on however was that the smokiness of the whisky worked extremely well with the gaminess of the meat. Beck and De Agostinis came afterwards to our table to explain how they came up with the flavor combination one evening over a glass of whisky at the bar – truly remarkable!
Whilst Beck and De Agostinis successfully demonstrated their skill in adapting local produce to their cuisine, the signature dish of Carbonara Fagottelli ultimately reminded us that, at the heart of this accomplished cooking, was authentic Italian cuisine. The delicious parcels of fresh egg pasta with a sweet liquid centre of parmesan cheese and egg yolk in a light sauce with finely diced courgettes and crispy salty beef cheeks was an absolute delight that burst life inside your mouth.
Our only criticism was that perhaps the menu lacked a couple of creative sweet dishes to complete the meal. We all felt that the coconut tapioca and banana sorbet pre-dessert and a chocolate dessert composed of a foam-like textured dried milk ice cream, raspberry drops and thin chocolate rice crisp somehow lacked the same level of depth and attention that the savory courses preceded.
We had also hoped for a take on classic Italian desserts with the chef’s own interpretation. Sadly, the meal had approached its end as we realized we were already ordering coffees. After a range of petits-fours, we had to regrettably decline an offer of grappa as we noted it was fast approaching midnight. What a fantastic way to spend a Monday evening!