Heinz Beck was in London, so I had no real choice, but to go for a dinner at the Lanesborough. Apsleys, the restaurant, run by Beck and his chef Massimiliano Blasone, had just received its first Michelin star, and I had eaten a very good lunch there in November 2009. We were five tonight, and let the chef chose the menu. He certainly did choose wisely and I was about to have a brilliant night.
The room is still incredibly pretty, but the lighting is dreadful. It’s so dark that one can hardly see one’s plate. It’s a real pity, but well, what can one do really?
Service was brilliant tonight, with everyone taking very good care of us. Every little element was taken note of, and every wish directly obliged. It was exemplary service.
The meal started with a few glasses of Taittinger’s Prestige Reserve and a very enjoyable mise en bouche: A piece of skate wing was cooked a la meuniere and served with deep-fried aubergines and tomato confit. This was very well made, every element being perfectly prepared, the only slight issue here, was that the individual elements were not necessarily easy to combine. However, this was a fine little palate teaser.
Bread tonight was excellent, much better than on my previous visit, and offered in much greater variety. Two kinds of olive oil were offered and Italian salt, which worked more than well with the various types of bread.
The meal itself started with a Langoustine Carpaccio with Beluga Caviar. A disarmingly simple dish, that is a real treat. The langoustines worked simply beautifully with the caviar, salmon roe and croutons, which gave the whole thing a little crunch. It was perfectly seasoned, resting on very fine ingredients: An excellent start.
Next up was a signature dish of Beck: Scallops with amaranth and black corn. On a puree of red amaranth (a Latin American cereal, which the Incas used very frequently) lay a few slices of raw scallops, which then were topped with a few popped amaranth seeds. Again, this was disarmingly simple, but it worked beautifully. The puree reminded me somewhat of seaweed, and worked beautifully with the scallops. This was something like the slightly more daring creations of La Pergola, which cooks more modern food than many Italian 3*. Excellent.
2006, Verdicchio di Matelica Riserva, Beli Sario, Le Marche, Italy
Up next was a Lobster on aubergine with tomato confit. Somewhat reminiscent of the amuse bouche this dish featured a perfectly cooked lobster, a tasty aubergine puree and a good tomato confit. I found the absence of a sauce, or any form of textural contrast a little bizarre, but apart from that this was a good dish. Although it certainly wasn’t the highlight of the evening. Good.
2008, Cuvee Anna, Tiefenbrunner, Südtirol, Italy
The following course was a real highlight though: Monkfish spaghetti “De Cecco” with courgettes. This was exactly what I am looking for, when eating very good Italian food. The pasta was brilliant, with just the right amount of bite to it, and enrobed by a beautiful sauce (made out of slowly roasted cherry tomatoes), it was simple yet delicious. The monkfish strips were very nice, and didn’t have that often annoying rubbery texture, this fish can have when not properly cooked. It should be mentioned that the pairing with the Chablis was more than great. Excellent. If more Italian restaurants could cook pasta this well, one would be in heaven.
2006, Chablis 1er Cru “Cote de Lechet”, Denis Pommier, Bourgogne, France
This might have been the other highlight of the meal: “Cod Nero”, onion confit and green vegetables. A better piece of cod has rarely crossed my path (maybe the one Christian Bau served me in December was better, but that’s about it). This piece of black cod was poached in red pepper juice and topped with crunchy San Daniele ham powder. The combination of flavours was incredible. With the vegetables, who gave a very pleasant support for this magnificent piece of fish, one really had a 3* dish in front of one’s nose. This was quite simply exquisite and stunning.
2003, Meursault, Domaine Matrot, Bourgogne, France
It was time for the main course, a Barbary Duck in Tahiti vanilla sauce. Tahiti vanilla is easily the most expensive type of vanilla one can buy, hence the mention of it on the menu I suppose. This dish was with the lobster the only slightly less “interesting” one. Whilst being a very well cooked piece of duck, it was a little tough, and the accompanying vegetables seemed a little outdated. This seemed like a dish straight out of cookery school. The sauce was brilliant however, and it still was a good course.
2007, Nebbiolo Langhe, Produttori del Barbaresco, Piemonte, Ialia
The pre-dessert was a Banana granite with Raspberry sorbet. This was perfectly pleasant, fresh, well made, and very enjoyable. (no photo, as it was too dark)
The main dessert was excellent again: Apple and chocolate gianduja. A simple name was given to such an intricate construction. Every element on here was very good: The gianduja ice cream was excellent, the millefeuille quite fresh, and beautiful with the creamy Italian meringue and the little chocolate cylinder delightful too. This was a fine collection of three desserts on one plate I would say. Excellent.
2005, Aszu 5 Pottonyos, Royal Tokaij Co, Hungary
For a 1* restaurant, that has received an enormous amount of bad press from the rather ignorant British press, this was a stunning meal. I’d even go as far as saying that 2/3 of it were in safe 2* territory. The cod, pasta and both starters were at least worth 2*, and the rest was a very good * too. The only thing I noticed was the absence of sauces in most dishes. Whilst the duck dish was sauced with a stunning jus, the rest was more “dry”. This might be the style of Massimiliano, but in the lobster dish, it would have been enjoyable to have a little sauce of some sort. On the other dishes, I didn’t find it annoying at all, as the products were all beautiful, and in the cod’s case so well cooked, that one really didn’t need anything else. The wines worked beautifully too. Especially the Ruinart on the langoustines, the Verdicchio on the scallops and the Chablis on the pasta were exemplary pairings. Need I repeat that service was perfect, and warm? I don’t think so.
The prices here are amazingly reasonable for the kind of place it is, and I would urge anyone to give it a go. It’s more than worth it!