Apsleys

This was the first restaurant outside of Italy created by Heinz Beck, but now that The Lanesborough is having a nine month refurbishment, it has sadly closed down. The hotel itself did feel a little tired and in need of a makeover, but as for the restaurant, it has to be one of the finest dining rooms in London. It’s hard to believe that it’s all going to be changed.

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The lunch menu on offer was three courses for £35 which is  very reasonable for this level of dining. I know there are other Michelin starred lunches for cheaper, but you have to take into account just where you are eating. My partner and parents went with the lunch menu, but I opted for the al a carte, where prices are quite steep.

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To start things off there was an excellent selection of breads, which the waiters were more than happy to keep topping us up with for the duration. There was also a little amuse-bouche of onion puree with a piece of lamb (a little strange).

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My partner started with the Herb Risotto and King Prawns. It was a magnificent green and the colour was reflected in how light and fragrant the dish was.

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The Slow Cooked Salmon was the least attractive of all the dishes, and I’m not a big fan of dishes that are served lukewarm.

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Pumpkin soup came with blue cheese ravioli to give it an added texture and burst of flavour.

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I had the Tuna tartare with white tomato mousse and Taggiasche olives (£24). It came with all the drama of dry ice that was giving off a strong mint smoke for some reason. Not really sure why this went with the tuna. There was a lot of style on the plate, but the texture didn’t appeal to me that much. I was surprised by the mousse which had a bite to it and you could cut through, and had an intense tomato flavour. Full marks to the showmanship though.

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Next came Pumpkin Tortellini filled with pickled ginger and amaretti (£19). The pasta was amazing and so finely made that you could feel the little grooves where the chefs had pressed it together. The filling was so expertly balanced to make sure that the sweetness didn’t overpower. This really was an excellent dish.

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For main I had Venison (around £35) and there was so many different techniques on show I can’t even begin to list them. It had dark chocolate crumb coating it and came close to being a little on the sweet side. It also felt that there were too many flavours competing with the venison. I’d have preferred if they’d held back a little more here and let the venison shine through.

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From the set menu the most appealing dish was the play on Christmas dinner, and from the taste I had, not even Heinz Beck has mastered the skill of keeping turkey from being a little dry.

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Then came the puddings which looked as good as they tasted. The presentation was so pristine and colourful, and it was on these dishes that the Michelin star credentials were shown.

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For coffee and petit fours we were shown into the library room, which although traditional, was a shame because it was some distance off matching the glamour of the dining room.

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With a bottle of champagne and two bottles of white wine the bill was over £100 a head. It was a fantastically indulgent lunch and well deserving of its Michelin star. The staff were attentive and friendly, and having discussed football and horse racing with them, they were anything but stuffy unlike the staff in a lot of these fine dining restaurants. It will be interesting to see where Heinz Beck’s next venture is, or if he takes charge of the restaurant when the hotel opens it’s doors again this Autumn.

Food: 8.5/10

Service: 9/10

Atmosphere: 9/10

Value: 7/10

Overall: 8.5/10

Lanesborough Place SW 1, SW1X

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Cafe Murano

This review has been sitting in my drafts for a good couple of months. Mainly because I drank so much red wine on the night that it has taken me that long to piece my memories of it together. But what memories I do have are all good. Cafe Murano is the second recent opening involving Angela Hartnett, the other being Merchants Tavern that opened in late 2013 as well. From what I could tell from the very little information given away before its opening, it was basically going to serve up affordable Italian food; and being the younger sister of the Michelin starred Murano it was hard to resist this combo. I went on the first Friday it had opened, but there was nothing to suggest that they were having any teething problems. The staff were excellent and the food was top notch at very reasonable prices.

Inside a long bar area leads to the main dining room. Unfortunately we never got to experience the warmth of that room as we were given the worst table in the restaurant, stuck between the cloak room, the check-in desk and the front door. This meant we were cold and also constantly had people standing over our table.  It also made the atmosphere less lively as we were tucked away from the action. This is the only complaint I have from the night. Thankfully the waitress serving us was excellent, and soon the food and drink made up for it.

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We started with a couple of cocktails. A Cubism, which was basically an Italian spin on a Mojito, and was a little too heavy on the bitter and light handed on the rum. And my partner went for an Amaretto and cherry based drink, that tasted exactly like a cherry bakewell tart. The cocktails were nothing special, and it made me think that this isn’t a cocktail kind of place. Had this been Soho, I’d have got it. But here, with the quiet bar counter, it just didn’t fit. We turned to the wine list, which is made up of an extensive and fairly pricey selection of Italians and not really paying too much attention I went for what turned out to be a too drinkable red for £35.

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Now the food. Had it not been for the waitress I’d have probably ordered the whole lot. I was in a particularly indecisive mood and couldn’t understand  how this menu worked with all the different sized plates. I’d love for somebody to explain the Italian system to me, as I had the same problem at Cecconi’s and ended up having a five course lunch. The waitress kind of helped by telling us some people try everything, others just go for a bowl of pasta. The gist of it was basically to just order whatever sounded good.

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To get things going some fresh foccacia came which on its own wasn’t the best I’ve had, but the oil it came with (exclusive to Cafe Murano we were told) was some of the best I’ve had. Next were the Truffle Arancini (for only £3!). I would have happily eaten them all day. Just enough truffle (oil I guess) so that it wasn’t sickly. This was Mayfair’s version of the pork scratching. As bar snacks go, it was as good as it gets.

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Joining it was Mozzarella and Charred Aubergine (£6.50). This was an incredibly light dish, and it was a perfect example of how all you need to do with great ingredients is keep things simple.

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The Warm Octopus, Chickpeas & Pesto (£9.50) was probably my least favourite of the night. I’d have liked more of a hit from the pesto, and it wasn’t the biggest portion I’ve seen.

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Then came the Swiss Chard, Spinach & Ricotta Tortelli (£8 for the smaller portion). This is without a doubt the best pasta I have ever eaten. I didn’t even know pasta could reach this level. The filling was rich and creamy and there was plenty of that amazing olive oil and parmesan coating it, but the pasta was the unrivalled star of the show.
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Then there was more pasta, this time Red Mullet linguine (£11) with a strong hit of chilli and garlic. Again the pasta was perfect, and the flavours had been carefully balanced so that the Red Mullet still took centre stage.
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For main my partner won the battle to have first choice (I couldn’t argue as it was her birthday) and she went for the Risotto Milanese, Osso Buco (£15). The risotto was perfectly al dente, but a little on the runny side. I always thought risotto should hold its shape a bit more, but I’m no expert. It was a little salty as well, but not enough to take anything away from how good this dish was. It was the poshest of comfort foods and so warming we soon forgot we were sitting by the door.

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I went for the Roast Silver Mullet, Potatoes, Olives & Thyme (£15), and it wasn’t the most exciting plate of food I’ve seen. It all looked a little bit flat. The fish was cooked to perfection, as were the potatoes. But there wasn’t much else to it other than good ingredients well executed. I was extremely jealous of my partner’s dish.

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I finished things off with the best Tiramisu (£6.50) I have ever eaten. It was comfortably big enough to be shared, but after being trumped on mains I kept it to myself. The sponge was soaked in booze and strong coffee and the cream was light. I’d heard about the Tiramisu at Murano, but didn’t expect it to be this good.

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My partner chose the Apple Crostata and a scoop of rich vanilla ice cream, which was good, but there was no doubting who was licking their lips more. I’d go back just for that Tiramisu.

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The bill came to just over £180, which for a restaurant that offers simply cooked, affordable Italian food might sound like a lot. But we had our fair share of booze, and admittedly the cocktails weren’t needed, nor was the second bottle of red. The small plates can add up though if you’re in a particular hungry mood, or like us just don’t understand the way an Italian menu works. But you could quite easily come in here and have a glass of wine, a great bowl of pasta and some of those truffle risotto balls for less than £30. We had a fantastic meal, and if this was only the first week, then I’m sure things will only go from strength to strength.

Food: 8.5/10

Service: 9/10

Value: 8/10

Atmosphere: 7/10

Overall: 8.5/10

33 St James’s St, St James’s,  SW1A 1HD

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Cafe Murano on Urbanspoon

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Cecconi’s

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There’s nothing I hate more than when a restaurant makes you feel like you should thank them for letting you eat there. It should always be the other way around. At Cecconi’s, I imagine that even if you are one of the wealthy regulars who swans down from their Mayfair pad for a casual lunch and catch up about the latest shop window displays on Bond St, then maybe, just maybe the staff will care about who you are. But for the rest of us though, it is tough luck.

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It really is a place-to-be seen and everybody here is dressed for the occasion. It’s one of the only restaurants where you type its name into Instagram and get more photos of people posing there, than actual photos of the food, which just about sums it up. It’s an incredibly good looking restaurant, and has the feel of a younger and more casual Scott’s. Prices are high, but given the location I don’t mind parting with the money, and there are many restaurants neraby that are more overpriced than this.

But beneath the glamorous surface, things began to fall apart. My  parents were down for the weekend and so I booked it for a Saturday lunchtime. After two incessant voicemails telling me to confirm my reservation I rang them only to be on hold for 7 minutes. I hung up. On Saturday morning I rang them to tell them that my parents’ train was delayed, and asked if they had anything later. No of course not. So we changed the table to a 2. When my parents train made up time, meaning they could then join us, I immediately asked if we could up the size of the table again. No, the table had gone. This may have been the case, but what was frustrating was that three tables around us sat empty for the duration of the meal.

So after the whole fuss with the table we were seated by the window and given a menu and some good bread and olive oil. We ordered two glasses of wine which we then had to remind our waiter twenty minutes later to bring (no apology of course). Rather than chatting to us, or even welcoming us, his first line was to reel off the specials. He then promptly left. He was like this for the whole meal, and literally couldn’t have been less helpful. He was so aloof that it felt like I should have swapped places with him and then paid for his meal.

So to the food. Not learning our lesson from Cafe Murano where we ordered just about everything, we again failed to grasp the Italian style of dining and ordered too much food. From the cicchetti we had Aubergine parmigiana (£8) which really was tasty, and much better than the one we had at Zucca a few weeks back, and even though it was only a little slice it was so rich that it was sufficient.

We also went for a small porion of the crab ravioli (£15). Again for this price portions were a little small, as it was only four pieces of ravioli. But each one was filled with crab meat and the pasta had a lovely bite to it.

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We also had the meatballs (£7) after we were told they were out of porky belly. The meatballs were tender but the sauce was boring. It basically tasted of the tomato passata you’d buy in a supermarket.IMG_0346

Next up was the Calamari fritti (£12) which were about as good as calamari can get (although not quite as good as the squid I got a few weeks ago in José). A good squeeze of lemon and dollop of fresh mayonnaise with a hint of garlic is all they needed. IMG_0347

Judging by the starters, I wasn’t then expecting the size of the main courses that turned up. The lamb shoulder with potato and artichokes (£22) was a huge portion, so big that I couldn’t finish it all. Maybe the style is to share? The lamb was tender from the slow cooking but overall the dish was just a little boring and needed a hit flavour from somewhere. Maybe even just some garlic. It was solid homecooking, the type you can’t always be bothered to labour over on a Sunday, but for a restaurant of this standard they could have added another dimension.

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My girlfriend chose the lobster pasta (£29) and again it was a huge portion, although admittedly there was a lot more pasta than lobster. Again it was a fine dish without doing anything to overly excite. Really all there was to the dish was a basic tomato sauce and (presumably) homemade pasta. It was only the addition of lobster that meant the price shot up. All I was thinking was just how good value Burger & Lobster is when compared to this dish.

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We passed on desserts and with three glasses of wine lunch came to just over £140 for the two of us. We did order too much food and this could easily have been dinner, so the bill could have been less. Overall the restaurant has a great feel to it with a constant buzz and it’s easy to see the appeal. It isn’t about the food here, so if you want top Italian dining then go elsewhere, instead this is about getting a taste of that scene, which will keep bringing people back. What puts me off rushing back  to join them though is the service, which was really poor.

Food: 7/10

Service: 4/10

Atmosphere: 8.5/10

Value: 6.5/10

Overall: 6/10

5A Burlington Gardens, W1S 3EP

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