The Lanesborough Hotel reopened in mid 2015 after a lengthy refurbishment, changing owners in the interim. This led to a change of restaurant too, with Apsleys closing and the flagship dining room now run under the guidance of Eric Frechon of three star Michelin Epicure at Le Bristol in Paris. He has installed chef Florian Favario, formerly senior sous chef at Epicure for four years and prior to that chef at two star Chateau Cordeillan-Bages in Bordeaux for seven years.
The dining room is in the same space as Apsleys, with its large central skylight, There are well-spaced tables in the central area under the skylight, with more tables in a slightly elevated section surrounding this. The room feels lighter than in its previous incarnation: instead of the grey paintwork, walls are now blue and the room décor feels busier, with assorted objets d’art. There is also a private dining room that can seat up to 14 guests.
There were two tasting menus: a five-course version at £75 and a seven-course version at £95. Starters ranged from £16 to £24, main courses £26 to £38 and desserts were £15. The wine list started at £25 and had a few offerings at the £30 level before quickly racing up into prestige territory. Examples were Rioja Monopole 2013 at £35 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £8, Gosset Riesling Springvale 2013 at £75 for a label with a shop price of £24, and the lovely “Were Dreams” 2010 from Jermann at a painful £170 compared to a retail price of £54. For those with the means, Henri Germain Mersault Charmes 2005 was £185 compared to a shop price of £66, and Leflaive Folatieres Puligny Montrachet 2001 was £495 (plus service of course) for a bottle that will set you back £154 at a wine merchant. Leflaive Chevalier Montrachet 2002 was an excruciating £1,850 plus service for a label whose current market price is £516. This kind of pricing strategy seems designed for people with an expense account rather than those interested in wine and spending their own money.
A trio of nibbles was very basic. Roast cucumber was topped with curry oil and was very salty. A slice of melon had a little mint on it but was, well, a slice of melon. There was also a piece of celery with a little truffle mayonnaise where the truffle flavour had gone missing in action. This felt like the sort of nibbles you might see at an elaborate dinner party, not at a luxury hotel (11/20). Bread was bought in from a bakery called MARC in Perivale, and was pleasant enough, a choice of olive rolls, baguette and chestnut rolls (though why chestnuts in July?!?). After this worrying start, a tomato amuse-bouche was much better. There was “green zebra” tomato tartare, beef tomato sorbet and a “pineapple tomato” juice, garnished with little tuiles. The tomatoes had decent flavour and the sorbet in particular was good, and there was a gentle hint of spice in the dish (14/20).
Cauliflower came deep-fried and served with olive oil infused with curry flavour and topped with aged Parmesan. I quite liked this dish, a nice way to enliven the humble vegetable, though I wish the chef had been less tentative with the spices; as can be seen in Indian cooking, cauliflower can easily cope with bold flavours (still 15/20). At £18 this must be one of the most profitable dishes in London.
Langoustine ravioli was the dish of the night, the pasta excellent and the crustaceans sweet and laced with herbs, resting in an old-school rich shellfish veloute flavoured with espelette pepper: a lovely example of proper French cooking (17/20).
Sea bass came baked in a salt and seaweed crust, with mussels, razor clams and violet artichoke couscous with samphire. The fish had good flavour and was accurately cooked, though perhaps an extra vegetable element to the dish would have been beneficial (14/20).
Turbot was poached in lemongrass butter, served with baby bok choy, ginger and carrot puree and herb jus. The fish was cooked correctly but the seasoning was too light, the dish overall seeming a little bland, albeit enjoyable enough (14/20).
The pastry section was headed up by Nicolas Rouzaad, who transferred here from the Epicure restaurant in Paris. A pre-dessert of both white and yellow peach came with peach sorbet, verbena, ginger consommé, fresh almonds and redcurrants. The peaches were ripe and the ginger was an interesting way of lifting the flavour of the fruit (15/20).
A sugar casing in the shape of a strawberry was filled with strawberry mousse, served with strawberry sorbet and a garnish of a few wild strawberries. This was artfully made, the textures of each element was excellent and the fruit had quite good flavour, though not the best I have ever tasted (16/20). A Caribbean Guanaja chocolate cylinder had caramelised cashew nut praline, chocolate mousse and coffee ice cream. The plate was prettily decorated and the chocolate of high quality, though the coffee ice cream needed greater flavour intensity (14/20).
Illy coffee (£5.50) came with some pleasant chocolates and some genuinely classy macarons made by the pastry section. The hazelnut macaron in particular was very impressive. Service was attentive, with a particularly good assistant manager who used to wok at Launceston Place. This was only just over a week since opening, and although the dining room was quiet it did not feel like the Marie Celeste. The bill came to £164 for three courses, a pleasant bottle of wine and pre-dinner drinks; if I take out all the drinks then the food element was still £82 per person. If you avoided pre-dinner drinks, scoured the wine list, found a modest bottle and shared that then a typical cost per head might be £110. This is an awful lot of money for food that at its best was excellent, but was far from consistently at that standard throughout. It felt as if the kitchen was still finding its way in these early days after opening, buying rather than baking its bread, sending out very basic nibbles, yet not acknowledging this reality in the pricing. If you are going to have a soft opening to iron out the wrinkles then offer a discount during this period. At the price point here the food should be, well, celestial, and any little imperfections are hard to forgive.