Editor's note: In July 2013 it was reported that this restaurant will be converted by its owner (Arjun Waney) into a Mexican restaurant.
Sister to La Petite Maison and Il Baretto, Aurelia serves Mediterranean cuisine, with Rose Yeats (ex Roka) in charge of the kitchen. The dining room is split over two floors, a ground floor and a basement room. The décor was modern and low key, with plain walls and taupe upholstery. The menu reads well, until it is explained that this is really a “sharing” menu, with dishes arriving as and when the kitchen pleases. This idea seems to me to work fine for Spanish tapas or some Japanese food, where you can nibble on something like a bowl of deep fried prawns with dipping sauce. However with this style of food it is just weird: how exactly are you supposed to share a bowl of pasta with your neighbour, unless you are to end up in a cartoon scene with spaghetti at either ends of a pair of forks? In reality this meant that an initial starter would appear in glorious isolation, and one diner nervously wondered whether to start before the dish got cold, or wait for reinforcements. I really hope the restaurant bayonet this daft “concept”; I have eaten plenty of food in the Mediterranean, and it turns up in courses, not as tapas. That said, there were plenty of appealing dishes on the menu, even if it was a lottery as to which would arrive first.
The wine list was organised in slightly eccentric fashion rather than by country or style, and ranged widely in geographic terms. The mark-up strategy was hard to fathom. Ksara Blanc de Blancs 2010 was £32 for a wine that costs a tenner in the high street, while Marque de Vargas Reserva 2005 was £60 for a wine that retails at £17, and Chateau de Pez 2007 was £80 compared to a shop price of £27. Normally as you move up a list the relative mark-ups moderate, yet here Antinori Tignanello 2008 was £180 for a wine you can find for £52. There was no relief as you climbed higher up the list: Chateau Palmer 1990 was an absurd £650 for a wine that you can buy for £178 in the shops, while Latour 2001 was an egregious £1,350 for a wine that will set you back £381 retail. Maybe Mayfair diners are expected not to be too au fait with wine prices, or at least not to care.
The best starter was a dish of fried vegetables, essentially tempura, which featured delicate batter and fresh vegetables (easily 15/20). By contrast a dish of artichokes (£9.50) braised with olives, sundried tomatoes and garlic was rather tasteless (12/20). Tuna tartare (£12.50) was delivered to the table fridge-cold, though with pleasant tuna, and could have had more seasoning (13/20). Linguine with crab, chilli parsley and lemon (£17.50) was capably cooked, though in this case it was quite boldly seasoned, too much for one of my dining companions (13/20). The best pasta dish was papardelle with wild boar ragu (£18), which had tender pasta and rich, hearty ragu (15/20).
Corn-fed baby chicken was served on a wooden board, flavoured with thyme and served with a pot of polenta supposedly flavoured with smoked peppers. The chicken itself was very nicely cooked, though the polenta was tasteless (14/20). Rib of beef (£22) was tender and served with very strongly flavoured horseradish (14/20). One course that was distinctly odd was a main course of “queen scallops” with chorizo crumbs and garlic butter, the scallops the smallest I can recall seeing. If you added half a dozen of these together you might assemble something close to a single normal scallop in volume. They were cooked reasonably but had little in the way of natural sweet flavour (objectively 12/20), and the portion size was absurdly small. This was all the odder since the pasta starters were very generous in size. A dessert of tarte tatin with vanilla ice cream was just poor, the fruit not properly caramelised (barely 11/20). Coffee was pleasant.
Service was friendly, and I recognised no less than three waiters poached from my regular haunt Zafferano. The bill was £90 a head, with some pleasant but modest wine, such as Marcel Deiss Riesling at £58 for a wine that retails at £16. This just seems too much for what was delivered on the plate. This is not an easy place to score, since the cooking was distinctly up and down. If you had the tempura of vegetables followed by the papardelle ragu you would have left happy, but by contrast if you had chosen the artichokes and then the scallops you would be fuming. This sort of inconsistency is hard to reconcile with the price point, while the overall experience was marred by the daft “sharing” concept, which for me is simply out of place in this cuisine. This was early days and perhaps the kinks will be ironed out as time passes, but there is much work to do.