Heinz Beck runs three Michelin starred Pergola in Rome, and has a series of other restaurants, such as Beck in Tokyo. Beck at Browns opened in April 2018 with Heros de Agostinis behind the stoves. Heros was head chef at the excellent Apsleys at The Lanesborough before that hotel closed for a major refurbishment and switched out its restaurant to Celeste. Heros had previously worked as senior sous chef at Pergola, as well as with Heinz Winkler and Marc Veyrat. The dining room is much improved compared to my last visit here, with better lighting. There is plenty of wood panelling, with patterned wallpaper above the wood panels, and the room has good acoustics. The menu is very appealing, with plenty of classic Italian dishes, some given a luxurious twist.
The wine list featured labels such as Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot blend 2014 at £48 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £19, Centopassi Nero d’Avola Argille di Tagghia Via de Sutta 2014 at £63 compared to its retail price of £19, and Querciabella Chianti Classico Riserva 2013 at £90 for a wine that will set you back £30 in a shop. At the posh end of the list there were references such as Fattoria Le Pupille Saffredi 2013 at £230 compared to its retail price of £70, and Borgogno Barolo Riserva 1982 at £730 for a bottle whose current market value is £216. As can be seen, mark-ups are steep, even by the demanding standards of Mayfair, and relative mark-ups barely moderate as you climb the list.
At an initial dinner the meal started with a trio of nibbles. There was an oyster with apple sauce, crostini with anchovies and butter, and crab “chips”, that was really a crisp base with crab meat and a garnish of edible flowers. These were good, my favourite being the crab (14/20). Bread was from the Swiss Bread Company, and included very good olive bread, pleasant brown slices and good grissini, but also a rather stale-tasting carte de musica.
A cylinder of white crab meat was topped with a shaped and grilled romaine lettuce leaf, which was a pretty touch. The crab itself was fresh and had excellent flavour, and was entirely free of shell (15/20). Pan-fried calf sweetbread came with artichokes, fava beans and peas as well as a delicate cheese tuile. The vegetables had very good flavour, the sweetbread being suitably creamy and rich (15/20).
Cacio e pepe is a Roman pasta dish traditionally made with, as its name suggests, just cheese and pepper. Here there was the addition of langoustines marinated in lime. I thought the pasta itself was genuinely classy, made fresh in the kitchen. I also am a big fan of langoustines, and these tasted nicely of the citrus marinade, but I am not sure whether the two things really belonged on the same plate. I would have scored the top-notch pasta a point higher if the dish had simply omitted the langoustines (15/20).
Red mullet was stuffed with tomato, black olives and tarragon and cooked in a thin crust of bread with a lime jelly and served with a little mashed potato. This was a clever dish, the bread crust bringing an interesting texture contrast and even the rocket garnish being unusually good, peppery and fresh (16/20). Risotto of artichoke and 24 month aged Parmesan was a classy affair, made using one year aged Acquarello rice and enhanced by some artichoke crisps as a garnish. The texture was gorgeous, the stock imparting plenty of flavour, the artichokes having good flavour (16/20).
Tiramisu had coffee cream and sponge fingers at in the middle of the dish, having a very light texture but plenty of coffee flavour (16/20). Hazelnut “planet” consisted of hazelnut mousse with ricotta ice cream and lemon jelly, a pretty dish with plenty of nutty flavour and a little acidity from the lemon (15/20). Coffee was Illy, and the service was excellent, the staff including one very good waitress who used to work at Hedone.
At a further lunch, the meal began with a nibble of lightly seared tuna with yuzu and a nori cracker, with a single bak choi leaf. The tuna was of unusually good quality, the sharpness of the yuzu just in balance with the inherent fattiness of the tuna (15/20). A further nibble of foie gras was pan-fried with a balsamic reduction and raspberries. The foie gras had good flavour and silky texture, the fruit providing just enough acidity to cut through the richness of the liver (16/20).
Scallops from Scotland came with white asparagus from Bassano del Grappa near Venice, an area noted for the quality of its asparagus. This was seasonal and excellent, the scallops pleasant though lacking the inherent sweetness of the very top specimens and served with a sauce made from scallop and balsamic vinegar (14/20).
Vitello tonnato here had fillet of veal with tuna mayonnaise made using veal stock, along with green beans and potatoes. Here the traditional capers were high quality ones from Pantelleria in Sicily, widely regarded as being top of the range. Here they were deep-fried rather than just being chopped raw, and I’m not sure this idea improved things. Vitello tonnato is a rich dish, and the capers add sharpness, but by deep-frying them this was blunted, so the dish reverted to being quite rich (14/20).
The Heinz Beck signature dish is fagotelli carbonara. Here the pasta parcels are filled with egg yolk, guanciale, pepper and Pecorino cheese. When cooked, the filling melts, so as you bite into each parcel there is a liquid centre. This is a fine dish and I have tasted it plenty of times, both at Pergola and Apsleys. The version today was not quite the right texture though, the pasta being just a little too soft. This was seemingly caused by the pasta being made fresh just before service and having insufficient time in the fridge to develop the firmness it normally has. It was still a good dish, but not quite as it can be (14/20). Better was scorpion fish (rascasse) linguine with courgettes and pepper. The pasta, made from scratch in the kitchen, was lovely, the fish having very good, deep flavour and the seasoning of the dish was spot on (16/20).
Rhubarb granita came with yoghurt ice cream and was lovely, not overly sharp and nicely refreshing (16/20). A chocolate fondant tart was made using dark 71% Valrhona chocolate, served with rum and raisin ice cream. The chocolate had a rich liquid centre and the ice cream worked well, though the overall effect was quite rich (15/20).
Service was again excellent. The bill for lunch came to £44 for one with just water to drink, though if you came in the evening and ordered wine then a more typical cost per head for three courses might be at least £80 per person, more if you stray beyond the lowest reaches of the wine list. Overall, although this was still very early days in the kitchen, it was good to see chef Heros de Agostinis back in London, as there are perilously few high-end Italian kitchens operating in London. Although there was some inconsistency in the dishes that I tried, the food was already of a high standard, and will doubtless improve further as the kitchen settles down.