Aspleys opens

Saturday, September 26th , 2009

apsleys 3648 dining room 2-crop-v2.JPG 
Apsleys (pictured) is the Lanesborough hotel’s latest attempt to produce a decent restaurant in its conservatory (Paul Gayler cooked here for many years, and it has more recently been an ill-received Italian restaurant).  This time they have reached high up into the culinary firmament for help, and have enlisted Heinz Beck of the three-star Michelin restaurant Pergola in Rome. Of course he is not in the kitchen himself, but he has recruited an Italian chef who achieved a star in his own right in Tuscany. I was pleasantly surprised by Apsleys. Hotel dining rooms can so easily be expensive and disappointing, as the hotel provides a certain amount of captive audience traffic. I actually quite the like the room here, with its central skylight and thick pile carpet. The two levels of tables, with a mezzanine layer a few steps up and surrounding the lower central layer, break up the large room to good effect.  Based on the meal this week there is no slouching in the kitchen, with some genuinely classy Italian cooking. I was particularly impressed by a superb pasta dish, and very stylish desserts (see the review for details). The price is hardly cheap, this being Hyde Park Corner, but is not particularly excessive either given the location and level of cooking on display, while service was terrific.
Casa Brindisa is the sister of the long-established Borough market favourite, and brings the same high grade Spanish ingredients and tapas format to South Kensington it has successfully delivered at Borough Market for some years. The menu is appealing and the cooking a cut above most tapas joints. I don’t think it is quite in the league of, say, Fino, but was a very enjoyable experience nonetheless. 
I have found that Tangawizi delivers consistently the best Indian food in London recently, and does not get the recognition it deserves, probably due to its remote location at the wrong end of Richmond bridge, and its distinctly basic décor. Yet the food is surely the point, and this week a really superb starter of spicy cauliflower, excellent methi chicken and light and supple naans once again demonstrated the skill going on in the kitchen. The kidney bean dal here is the best in London, and the tandoori cooking is very skilful.
Another old favourite is Diwana Bhel Poori near Euston station. This simple café has been turning out consistently excellent South Indian snacks for decades, and I have been eating here regularly for over 25 years. The décor is very basic, with cramped bench seating and tiny paper napkins, though they have moved up-market recently and started using plates rather than metal dishes for serving the snacks. The fast turnover means that the spices used are fresh, and this really shows in dishes like bhel poori, with an excellent tamarind sauce to go with the crunchy puffs, yoghurt and fresh coriander. The only reason I don’t score this higher is that they have a menu of regular North Indian curries as well as their excellent south Indian snacks, and the former are generally very ordinary indeed. However if you stick to dishes like aloo papri chat, the superb samosas, the dosas and the home-made ice cream you will have a very fine meal, and at an almost absurdly cheap price. We had a plate of snacks and sweet lassi, and paid under £9 a head this week, for example. If you go crazy you would still struggle to get your bill over £15 a head in this fine London institution.
I made the first of two appearances this week on Masterchef the Professionals, helping with the assessment of the quarter-finalists; I found Marianne’s cooking was particularly good. If you missed the episode then you can see it on your computer via the BBC Iplayer. I will also be popping up next week in the same role, on BBC 2 on Thursday 1st October at 8:00 p.m. (slightly earlier than the 8:15 p.m. slot this week).