Apero is the restaurant of the Ampersand Hotel, opening in May 2012. Chef Chris Golding was previously head chef of the short-lived Galoupet in Knightsbridge. Prior to that he worked as junior sous chef at Mirabelle, sous chef at Nobu Berkeley, and at Nahm as senior sous chef. Chris was a Roux Scholarship Finalist in 2007, 2008 and 2009. Korean pastry chef Ji Sun Shin worked at Nobu for five years, and previously she worked for three years at Mirabelle.
The dining room is a basement and is casual, with no tablecloths, wood floor banquette seating and a bar along one side. The menu is Mediterranean, drawing on dishes from around that region. The somewhat unusually constructed wine list also draws upon the Mediterranean for its source, with 60 wines from France, Spain Italy and even Morocco, including several “natural” wines. It starts at £18.50, with almost all wines under £50 other than two outliers, presumably for any millionaires that stray in: Sine Qua Non “The Thrill of Stamp Collecting” 2009 is £450 for a wine that retails at around £240, and “Labels” 2007 from the same vineyard also at £450 for a wine that will set you back £273 in a shop. The more regular wines include Michel Bettili Jvbilvm Pinot Grigio Zibibbo 2011 at £28.50 for a wine that you can find in the high street for around £8, La Zouina Epicuria Chardonnay 2006 at £48 for a wine that you can find in a shop for £15, and Vino di Anna Jeudi 2010 at £50 for a wine that retails at around £14. There are just two champagnes listed, with Moet et Chandon at £70 compared to its retail price of £43.
The menu, as the waiter was at pains to point out, is intended for “sharing”, though how you are expected to share fettuccine unless you are acting out a scene from Lady and The Tramp is beyond me. Dishes arrive when they are ready rather than in sequence, which may be easier for the kitchen but has the undesirable effect of one diner sitting awkwardly while the other tucks into what is quite obviously supposed to be a main course. This seems to me a daft idea; it is one thing to share dim sum, quite another to bring Mediterranean dishes out to eat in a random sequence.
The focaccia (£2.50) was made from scratch in the kitchen, and was good, having nicely caramelized onions on top and a texture that, though rather denser than a classical focaccia, was very pleasant (14/20). Deep fried Crottin de Chavignon (a Loire goat cheese) was served with croutons, lettuce and saffron honey (£7.50); it definitely needed the greenery to offset the richness, but was a welcoming bundle of gooey warmth (14/20). I liked a salad of kohlrabi and apple salad with cucumber (£4.50), the salad elements prettily presented and nicely dressed (14/20). This was better than mixed salad (£4.50), whose leaves were fine but which was a touch salty and whose dressing had too much vinegar relative to oil (12/20).
Beetroot risotto (£7) worked well, the rice having good texture, the beetroot’s earthy flavour working nicely with the rice (14/20). Fettuccine with crab (£13.50) had pasta with good texture, but an awful lot of unannounced samphire, and very little crab. I know crab is expensive, but the dish really needed more of what was supposed to be a main component (13/20). Chicken with carrots, peas and a creamy sauce (£13.50) was pleasant enough and cooked well, but the chicken, though it was free range, lacked flavour. I didn’t expect the kind of wonderful flavour that the chickens from Landes have, but it needs a better quality chicken that this for the dish to work properly (13/20). This is a general problem with chickens used in London restaurants; the contrast between them and the chicken served at somewhere like Ferme aux Grives in France is immense.
Classical tiramisu (£7.50) was excellent, with plenty of coffee flavour and good texture (easily 14/20) Even better was passion fruit rum baba (£6.50), the mango foam and passion fruit flavor coming through well, the bread base around the side of the glass in which it was served moist and not having too much rum to overwhelm the fruit (15/20). Service was very attentive, and the bill came to £68 a head with several glasses of wine. Overall Apero offers good quality food at a reasonable price point, much better than the dining rooms of many London hotels. I wish they would drop the idea of serving dishes at random times rather than as starters and mains, but otherwise this is a successful experience. The desserts in particular were of a high standard.