Apsleys – a Heinz Beck Restaurant

Note: Chefs Massimiliano Blasone and Marco Calenzo have now left the restaurant. Consequently this blog post may not reflect the current state of affairs at Apsleys.

Heinz Beck has the distinction of being the only chef in Rome to hold three Michelin stars with his restaurant La Pergola at the Rome Cavalieri Hilton. And Apsleys, at the Lanesborough Hotel on Hyde Park Corner, is the London offshoot of this internationally acclaimed, German-born, Italian-based chef. Apsleys opened about two years ago, and this year, it received Michelin acclaim when it earned its first star in January.

As befits a restaurant that is housed in a St Regis hotel, the Apsleys dining room is a statement in jaw-dropping art deco elegance. It exudes luxury, with three massive chandeliers holding centre stage as they dazzle in front of your eyes. The interior designer was none other than Adam Tihany, the internationally renowned restaurant and hotel designer. Pierre Gagnaire’s Sketch counts as one of his designs, and notable upcoming projects include the redesign of the Mandarin Oriental in Hyde Park which will feature the new Heston Blumenthal restaurant which will open this autumn.

Being an Italian restaurant, there are the usual antipasti, zuppe e primi and secondi courses on the menu. There is also a five course (£59; with matching wines – £89) and a seven course (£79; with matching wines – £119) tasting menu. The five course tasting is based on the seven course menu, but with no lobster starter and a choice between the sea bream and the venison courses rather than both.

We selected the five course menu which kicked off with a ‘Chef’s Surprise’ amuse bouche of an arancini (a rice ball coated with breadcrumbs which originates from Sicily), and a sweet pepper and courgette terrine. The arancini, which tasted like a deep fried risotto, was pleasant but unspectactular. The terrine was filled with natural sweetness and had a lovely soft texture.

Amuse bouche

Amuse bouche

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Ricardo’s Italian Restaurant

Ricardo’s Italian Restaurant is a little Tuscan eatery that we – two girls at a loose end as to where to eat on a Saturday night – stumbled into. It’s not a well known restaurant, but I’ve driven past it a gazillion times and it’s always full, so I figured it couldn’t be half bad.

Although we had not booked, we managed to get a table, which was a bit of a squeeze. The dining room is rectangular, and most of the tables are packed very tightly along the wall. The menu makes for difficult reading as well. It’s one long laminated list of starters, pasta, fish and meats, in no particular order, which caused us some confusion as to what were starters or mains. There was also a shortlist of the day’s specials attached to it.

Fish soup with Sardinian fregola

Fish soup with Sardinian fregola

We started with a fish soup (crab, clams, prawns) with Sardinian fregola and chilli (£9.99). I am a big fan of Sardinian fregola, which goes deliciously well with fresh seafood and a rich tomato base. The menu listed crab as an ingredient, but this was hard to detect in the soup. There were two decent sized pieces of butterflied king prawns which were crunchy but not particularly flavoursome, and the clams were ok. This was a passable dish, but the soup lacked intensity of flavour.

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Bocca di Lupo

Bocca di Lupo

Bocca di Lupo

Up until recently, I was probably one of the very few foodies left in London who had yet to go to Bocca di Lupo. I know. Most people love it, and there has been an endless stream of great reviews that sing its praises. So why have I been so slow to go? Well, I was trying to let the excitement die down first before venturing there, or so I liked to tell myself. No, in truth, I was just flat right rejected for a reservation the couple of times I tried calling for a table at short notice. It seems that a lot of advanced planning is required if you want to eat at Bocca on a Friday or a Saturday night. So I decided to call early, weeks ago in fact, to secure a spot at the Chefs’ table (at the counter right in front of the chefs), and just prayed that I would happen to be free. Before you know it, the evening approaches, and to my surprise I actually find myself walking through the door of Bocca di Lupo.

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Angela Hartnett’s Murano Restaurant

Polenta with parmesan and poached farm eggs

Polenta with parmesan and poached farm eggs

A girl has to eat, and when a girl has to eat, a girl has to eat well. A fellow girlie friend happened to have the day off from work, and so I had to think of somewhere nice for our girlie lunch. I cranked through the inner recesses of the restaurant database in my brain. Hmm, perhaps something a little bit upmarket. Yes, a Michelin-starred restaurant would be a nice touch. After all good food is what one would expect a girl to eat. Mayfair came to mind, perhaps somewhere near the Elemis spa in case we feel like a bit of pampering afterwards. Aah, what about Angela Hartnett’s recently crowned one-star Michelin restaurant Murano I thought? One-star Michelin, Mayfair, and with Angela Hartnett, one of the most successful female chefs in the country at the helm, it seemed only just to support her restaurant as a nod to girl power.

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La Famiglia: A weekend of indulgence (part 1)

The best way to approach a weekend of eating indulgence is to have a designated driver, someone who is preferably not you. The flexibility of being able to drink is the most obvious bonus, but when you’re rolling out of a restaurant after a meal it’s rather nice not to have to worry about how you’re going to make your way home. Then there’s the matter of when you’re heading out of town for Sunday lunch where, practically, a car is a definite must. In our case, lunch was at The French Horn in Sonning-On-Thames. Practicalities aside, it was also rather nice after having eaten yourself silly to be able to doze off in the car on the way back to town… but more on that later.

First up on the weekend were our Saturday night exploits at La Famiglia, a Tuscan restaurant. It bills itself ‘as a destination for the rich and famous’. Case in point: Jennifer Aniston’s flying visit to London back in June this year to meet up with her then (now?) beau John Mayer. During that trip she dined at La Famiglia and the event was captured all over the tabloid spreads. Enough said.

Located just off the Kings Road, La Famiglia also caters to the well-heeled of Chelsea, and on this particular Saturday night, every table was thus filled. The décor is rustic, predominantly white with splashes of blue, and softly lit. To create that family feel, there are abundant pictures of ‘the family’ lining the walls. The space is tight however, and the tables were small, and in our case too small to comfortably fit four. (No doubt Jen wasn’t forced to squeeze into her seat like this)! But it’s wonderfully seductive with a charming ambiance and a sense of time-honoured tradition that seems to draw you back time and time again.

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Via Condotti Italian Restaurant

When you’ve recently travelled back from Sydney to London on a 24 hour flight and had to suffer the injustice of an 11 hour time difference, presumably you could be forgiven for ignoring your friends. For a week or so after I arrived back in London, I hibernated in my flat and barely saw daylight other than to ward off hunger pains with the occasional visit to the shops. However there came a point when the explanations I gave for my absenteeism such as “I’ve been so jetlagged,” or “I’ve not slept,” were no longer acceptable excuses from not partaking in the social norms of reality.

Eventually the call to order arrived, a message through my hotmail account asking if I was still alive. And so it was that I awoke with a jolt, literally and figuratively as my stomach also stirred with grumbles for a satiable fill of my favourite pastime, a good meal out with friends.

So it was on a crisp autumnal evening that I walked down Conduit Street to my destination, Via Condotti, an Italian ristorante named after Rome’s most famous shopping strip (Via Condotti) and itself located within the reaches of some of London’s finest shops. As I approached the restaurant, I was met with a beguiling entrance which laid claim to a charming dining room lit with warm soft hues, peach and magnolia walls and light wood floors. White linen tables and leather backed chairs had been arranged comfortably throughout.

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