The new chef at Apsleys, Heros de Agostinis, was previously the senior sous chef at the three star Michelin restaurant Pergola in Rome.
The meal today (April 2013) began with some good nibbles: bruschetta with wild mushrooms and leeks was well seasoned, but even better was a cocktail stick with rosemary potato, sardine and herb crust with a red pepper coulis (7/10). Best of all was tempura of prawns, which had the ultra-light batter that you seldom see outside top tempura restaurants in Tokyo such as Nanochome Kyoboshi or Kondo (8/10).
Tuna tartare, white tomato mousse and olives was very well balanced (7/10). Better still was buckwheat pasta with red prawns from Sicily and smoked aubergine puree, with lovely prawns (8/10). Turbot with a light curry sauce and pesto was an impressive dish. This sounds a weird combination, yet the spices were very restrained, the turbot had great texture, and the pesto was superb (8/10). Beef with peas and broad beans, with black olive powder and Parmesan chips was lovely, notable for the superb peas and beans, which had superb flavour. The beef itself, from Castlebridge, was very good, but the vegetables were the star (8/10).
Meringue with passion fruit cream, coconut sauce and Margherita cream featured extremely delicate meringue and lovely flavours (7/10). Even better was pain perdu with diced apple and vanilla ice cream (8/10). Millefeuille of lemon with cherry sorbet had delicate pastry and beautifully balanced lemon cream (8/10). The attention to detail here is shown in the excellent focaccia and the good quality coffee. I have had several really impressive meals here in the last few months, and am nudging up my overall score by a point to reflect the consistently excellent cooking that I have experienced here recently. As a bonus the service was silky smooth, and the sommelier knowledgeable.
A recent meal began with a nibble of sea bass in pastry on a bed of finely diced vegetables; this was lovely, the pastry very delicate indeed (7/10). Tempura of langoustines is a regular dish here, and is stunningly good, the langoustine of high quality, the tempura very light (8/10). Lobster salad featured tender lobster and a subtle dressing (7/10). Gnocchi were remarkable, extremely light in texture; in some ways this was the best dish of all, as it is one thing to make a good dish out of luxury ingredients, but quite another to take such a simple dish and elevate it to a new level (8/10 may be too low a score). Venison with a parsley sauce, mushrooms and potatoes featured particularly well-flavoured venison, perfectly cooked, the parsley sauce not intrusive (7/10).
A miniature chocolate soufflé was the only (relatively) ordinary dish, the soufflé just a little firmer on the outside than ideal, though still fine (6/10). However red fruit sorbet had lovely texture and balance (7/10). Service was excellent, dishes arriving at a steady pace and topping up happening seamlessly. This meal was just the latest in a series of fine meals at Apsleys, with the new chef Heros de Agostinis easily keeping up the high standards of his talented predecessor. The only thing that detracts from the experience at dinner for me is the seemingly unbounded desire of the front-of-house management to make the room lighting as gloomy as possible, which I simply don’t understand; no such problems occur at lunchtime, of course.
The notes below are from earlier meals.
The new kitchen team has quickly found its feet, as I discovered when I tried the tasting menu in June 2012, on which this latest review is based (I subsequently had a similar standard meal in October 2012). A series of bite-sized nibbles appeared on silver spoons: crunch potato with caviar, crab, avocado and tomato, langoustine tartare with cucumber and papaya, and carpaccio of beef with Parmesan and lemon dressing. There were also some good tempura vegetables. The best of these was the crab, which had high quality ingredients and is a classic combination, but these were all classy nibbles (between 7/10 and 8/10).
A lobster salad had tender lobster, the salad with a well-judged dressing, also a little strawberry, which was an unusual but not illogical idea (6/10). The dish of the night was foie gras terrine with quinoa and cherry sauce. The foie gras had smooth texture and intense flavour, the seasonal cherries providing balancing acidity, the quinoa a firm textural contrast: this was a stunning dosh (9/10).
Langoustine tempura with couscous, basil dressing and matchsticks of courgettes was garnished with edible flowers, and was excellent. The tempura was light and also was present in sufficiently small quantity to enhance the core ingredient rather than to be the main show. This was a similar approach to that of top tempura restaurants in Japan, such as Nanochome Kyobashi, but such lightness of touch with tempura is a rarity in the UK (8/10).
Marinated tuna with fennel and orange worked well as a combination, the orange able to cut through the natural richness of the tuna (7/10). This was followed by a rustic pasta dish from Rome with black pepper, in this case given a twist with the addition of langoustines. The pasta was so good that I didn’t think it really needed the langoustines (between 7/10 and 8/10). A scallop with a lightly pesto sauce and a hint of curry was cooked well, and the subtle spicing did not overwhelm the scallop, though this was not quite in the league of some of the other dishes (6/10). Wild sea bass (which had been cooked in a salt crust) had excellent flavour and was carefully cooked (7/10). My main course was a superb pigeon dish with an unusual but effective whisky sauce (8/10).
Desserts were not quite to the same level of the rest of the meal tonight. A pre-dessert of saffron cream, orange ice cream and almond foam had very good orange ice cream but had rather over-dominant almond flavour (6/10). A semifreddo with chocolate ganache and rice crisp had lovely ganache, but I was less sure about the rice crisp as a partner for the other elements (6/10). Finally a milk ice cream with Amadei chocolate was well made (7/10).
Service was pretty much flawless throughout the evening. The bill came to £120 a head, of which the tasting menu was £85 (there is a five course tasting menu at £65). This was a very classy meal, overall between 7/10 and 8/10 level, and the new chef is already operating at a high level.
Below are brief notes from a meal in March 2011.
The conservatory at the Lanesborough has seen a number of restaurant incarnations over the years. The latest, opening in the late summer of 2009, is an Italian venture with guidance from Heinz Beck of three Michelin star Pergola in Rome; he has recruited chef Massimiliano Blasone, who earned a Michelin star in Tuscany and has worked with Beck before. The large dining room has a large skylight and a raised dining area surrounding a central space, which can accommodate 70 or so diners at capacity. Twenty chefs work in the kitchen. I have had several meals here, and the cooking has developed to the stage wheer I beleive it is the best Italian food in London.
There was a three course set lunch at £25. a five course tasting menu was £59, or £89 with wine pairing, or there was a seven course version at £79 (£119 with wine pairing). Bread is made from scratch and served warm, a choice of ciabatta, focaccia, white slices, brown slices with cereal, breadsticks and strega flatbread. The focaccia was the best for me (7/10) and the flat bread was good (6/10, though the others seemed to me around the 5/10 level). Wine mark-ups are high, with the excellent Jermann Vintage Tunina 2007 an excessive £107 for a wine that costs around £30 in the shops, while Roberto Anselmi Capitel Foscarino 2009 was listed at £45 for a wine that retails at around £15.
Highlights of a recent meal were tagliolini with lobster and almonds, which featured absolutely superb pasta and carefully cooked lobster, the dish carefully seasoned (8/10 is perhaps a mean score). Pumpkin tortellini with white truffle and castelmagno cheese was also a superbly opulent dish (8/10). Beef fillet was lovely, with spinach and a good red wine reduction, with spinach on the side and a little 40 year old balsamic vinegar to balance the richness of the dish (7/10). The cooking at this restaurant seems to be steadily improving since its opening.
Below are notes from a meal in September 2010..
An amuse-bouche was a trio of carpaccio: scallop marinated in ginger and lime on a bed of amaranth, tuna tartare, and tuna with orange and bottarga. I particularly liked the tuna tartare, and overall this was around 6/10 level. Carbonara fagotelli (£17.50), which I have written about previously, was enhanced with white truffles (7/10). The dish of the night was tagliolini of lobster with almonds and aubergine (£22), which had very tender lobster and superb pasta (8/10). Pumpkin tortellini with Castelmagno cheese and white truffles was also excellent, the sweetness of the pumpkin working well with the earthiness of the truffles (7/10).
Grouse was wrapped in spinach leaf with a parsley mousse with poached foie gras, pearl onions cooked in port with wild mushrooms and mustard seed sauce (£38). The grouse had excellent flavour and was carefully cooked, and the combination with the mustard and onions worked well, offsetting the richness of the foie gras and the grouse itself (7/10).
Turbot cooked in a salt crust with roasted peppers and a potato terrine (£38) was in itself of high quality and was well cooked, but the dish overall was spoilt by clumsy preparation at the table. The waiter did not do a good job of filleting the fish, leaving lots of bones, while in the time all this took the accompanying vegetables had gone cold (still about 5/10 given the lovely fish). In my view they should do this preparation in the kitchen. I am all for some culinary theatre, but not to the detriment of the dish.
Desserts of rum baba and ricotta soufflé with chocolate and passion fruit were to the usual very high standard here (7/10). Service, fish filleting aside, was excellent.
Below are notes from a meal in February 2010.
I like the décor, which included art deco style panels and a lush, thick carpet; it is hard to get away from a hotel dining room feel, but the tables were generously spaced and the room well appointed; lighting could be improved, and became gloomier as the evening wore on. I have no idea why some London restaurant managers think it is a cunning plan to dim the lights part way through the meal; presentation of the food here is skilful, and it is a pity to be peering into the gloom to appreciate it. The tasting menu is £55 for five courses (£75 for seven courses) with starters priced at around £18, main courses nearer £30 and desserts at £8.50. Lunch is £28 for three courses.
We began with a plate of amuse-bouches: a spoon of sea urchin was well paired with Oscietra caviar, yellow fin tuna was marinated with orange juice, cannolo of sea bass was served with a mini celery salad and cantaloupe melon, and langoustine roll was served with capers and Rice Krispies. The star was the langoustine roll, a little tail of raw Scottish langoustine, the capers balancing the seafood taste and the Rice Krispies giving a texture contrast. In fact each of the elements of this dish featured an astute pairing of ingredients, the sea urchin given a salty contrast of caviar, the slightly fatty tuna balanced by the acidity of the orange (7/10, more for the langoustine).
The first proper course was carbonara fagotelli, which I have described previously, though it was a fraction less hot than ideal by the time it arrived with us today (7/10). Warm pheasant was served on a bed of red cabbage and Sicilian dried fruit and delicate mini-salad. I enjoyed the dish but again temperature was an issue, the elaborate presentation probably contributing to the dish not being quite as hot as it should have been (6/10).
An intermediate course of spaghetti of monkfish with red peppers and courgettes was the star of the meal, stunning pasta with beautifully cooked monkfish, the courgettes and peppers adding a pleasing additional dimension to the dish (8/10 is perhaps too mean a score).
A pre-dessert of yoghurt ice cream in a cornet, a liquid strawberry concoction and mandarin sorbet was a very skilful dish, the mandarin sorbet in particular having stunning texture and flavour (7/10 overall but higher for the sorbet, which was pretty much faultless).
Millefeuille of raspberry was made with Chantilly cream and hazelnut ice cream, with hazelnut crumbs providing a texture contrast; this was enjoyable but not the best of the desserts, though an accompanying strawberry gratin flavoured with almonds was excellent (6/10).
Creamy cheesecake with lemon ice cream was as good as at a previous meal (7/10). “White dream” was an orange parfait, yoghurt ice cream filled with raspberry coulis, a sphere of meringue filled with a passion fruit cream and a pair of delicate chocolate cylinders. Again this dessert showed a high degree of technical skill, the various components of the dish working well together (8/10).
Coffee (espresso from Illy) was rich and dark, and a plate of petit fours was excellent (easily 7/10). Service was superb, highly attentive without being in any way obtrusive.
The notes below are for a meal in late 2009.
The meal today was even better than my previous experience, perhaps suggesting that the kitchen is settling down. Breads (made on the premises) were a little better than last time. The olive rolls were still good, and today a bacon roll was enjoyable, as was thin, crisp flat bread (6/10).
Nibbles, including a pumpkin soup, were very good though not out of the ordinay (6/10). However a slow cooked duck with red cabbage and candied pumpkin had lovely deep duck flavour, the red cabbage providing an excellent earthy foil to the duck (7/10), Salt cod with buffalo ricotta and cherry tomatoes confit had nicely balanced tastes (6/10), Game ravioli with butternut squash cream featured superb pasta, the game flavour coming through strongly, the butternut squash cream providing a lighter contrast (7/10).
Partridge crepinette with polenta includes very carefully judged partridge, nicely seasoned (7/10), We then tried a rabbit ravioli with asparagus and pistachio, again the pasta delicate, the filling delightful (7/10). Roast pigeon was cooked pink, served with pearl onions and mustard seed sauce, the pigeon of good quality and the mustard seed sauce a nice balance to the pigeon (6/10).
For dessert, creamy cheese cake with lemon ice cream was superb, with lovely texture and just a hint of acidity from the carefully controlled lemon ice cream (8/10). A dessert of a crisp chocolate dome with salted pine nut ice cream, garnished with a little gold leaf, was a wonderful example of how to make a chocolate dessert, with high grade chocolate, the salt of the ice cream just enough to bring out the flavour even further, without interfering with the main component (8/10). Coffee was of good quality, and petit fours were also very good (7/10). Service was excellent throughout; a superb meal.
Below are notes from my first meal here in September 2009, soon after it opened.
Breads are made from scratch, but were mixed: good breadsticks and excellent olive rolls, but ordinary bacon rolls and rather dry foccacia (5/10 overall, but 7/10 for the olive rolls). The 44 page wine list has an Italian focus, but also has plenty to offer from elsewhere. Starting at £25, the list has choices such as Heggies Chardonnay at £37 for a wine that will set you back around a tenner in the shops, Jermann Pignacolusse 2002 for £68 compared to a retail price of around £22 and the excellent Antinori Tignanello 2005 at £128 for a wine that costs about £48 to purchase retail. At the luxury end of the list Didier Dagenau Silex 2004 was listed at £150 for a wine that’s costs about £77 to buy in the shops, while Opus One 1996 was a hefty £495 for a wine that you can buy for around £125.
Nibbles consisted of well-made aubergine terrine, a few salad leaves that appeared (oddly) to have no dressing and a spoon containing artichoke puree, a little fried veal and kumquat to give some balancing acidity (5/10). A starter of artichoke tortellini with tomatoes, mint oil and Parmesan was well made, the pasta having soft texture, the artichoke flavour coming through well (6/10). My starter was carbonarra fagotelli, egg pasta parcels filled with cream of egg yolk, Parmesan and parsley, with a sauce of Parmesan, pepper, egg yolk, bacon and finely diced courgettes. This was a very skilful dish, the pasta having superb texture, the herb elements offsetting the richness of the dish (8/10).
Fillet of turbot was topped with an olive crust, accompanied by caponata (a Sicilian stew of aubergine, capers and pine nuts). The fish has good flavour and was nicely timed, but I think the dish was finished under a salamander, which had the effect of drying out the olive crust too much (5/10). Better was high quality fillet of beef cooked medium rare (sous vide) and served with tender spinach, girolles, pommes puree and slivers of both salsify and bacon crisps giving a welcome texture contrast, offered with a red wine and balsamic sauce, the elements combining well (easily 6/10).
Desserts were prettily presented. Crunchy chocolate dome with salted pine nut ice cream and mint foam was served with almond caramel and drops of passion fruit coulis. The ice cream was very effective, bringing just the right amount of saltiness to contrast with the rich chocolate, while the mint flavour was carefully controlled (6/10). Even better was a cheesecake with lemon ice cream, the base just right, the filling rich but having the lemon to balance that, and augmented by a little rhubarb providing a tart contrast, and a chocolate chip containing a rhubarb marmalade. Perhaps this last element was superfluous, but the cheesecake itself was superb, and the rhubarb was carefully prepared so as to be acidic, but not too acidic (7/10). Coffee was strong and dark, and accompanied by high class petit fours, including a peppermint, rich chocolate ganache and superb almond biscuits (7/10).
Service was superb throughout the evening. There is no shortage of waiting staff, but they are effectively marshalled, and topping up of both bread and wine was pretty much flawless. The bill came to £107 each (with 12.5% service included yet the credit card slip left open) with a medium priced wine, so this is hardly cheap. Yet there is real skill on display here, with good presentation, high grade ingredients and significant technical skill. This is the best restaurant that the Lanesborough hotel has yet hosted, and deserves considerable success, being much more than just another hotel posh dining room experience.