How they are paid in gold
Just to babble in the back room
As I get older I get more phlegmatic and less prone to getting irritated by things but Apsleys, the new restaurant at The Lanesborough Hotel irritated the hell out of me.
I was irritated by the room. The hotel is owned by the St Regis group so obviously they’re going to have a shedload of money to spend. But why spend the money creating something that’s simultaneously curiously bland yet nasty ? A lovely example of all the money but no taste – usually David Collins territory.
I was irritated by the furnishings. The carpet which had so a thick pile I had to use my considerable strength to shove the table out to be able to sit down. And when I did eventually get seated instead of a chair I got the soft sofa from the front room: the one kept for best. Comfortable in a lounge situation but totally unfit for purpose in a dining room: I couldn’t lean forward over the table, which meant I spilt stuff over myself . (Actually, I’m so clumsy I would have done this anyway.)
The service irritated me. There was plenty of it and it was friendly enough but they were all over me like a bad suit. After a couple of bites of bread or grissini, somebody would come along with a new batch. Many times. After a couple of gulps of tap water there was someone right there pouring me more. Maybe the Lanesborough’s regular clientele expect this sort of service. Who knows, but sometimes less is more.
The wine list irritated me. They’ve got an Enomatic wine system, it’s an Italian restaurant (allegedly), so you’d expect a good range of Italian wines by the glass – a rarity in Britain. You’d expect it but you wouldn’t get it.
I had some (vain) hopes for the food. After all, the chef worked at Cecconi’s. Cecconi’s never got good crit. Oh.
Deciding to go old school Italian, I started off with an antipasti of San Danielle Ham. It was served in a decent enough sized portion and had a nice balance of saltiness and creaminess but inevitably Italian Hams, even the famed Culatello, pale besides their Iberian counterparts. The complexity just isn’t there. The meat came with some tasteless Montasio cheese and an unnecessary halved marinated onion.
I was hoping for a bit more from my primi of Sea Urchin with Bigoli. The pasta – like a thicker, coarser spaghetti – was cooked al dente and was an interesting pasta but the gonads had disintegrated (never a good thing) into the sauce producing a grainy, vaguely seafoody-tasting sauce. Not unpleasant but completely lacking any pep and woefully under-seasoned. Fixing the latter and adding some lumps of sea urchin might have made a better dish.
A similar problem of blandness was evident in my secondi. The Veal Sweetbreads were cooked nicely and the peas and broad beans (are these even in season ?) underneath tasted sweet enough, but the unheralded cream sauce overwhelmed the dish and killed the taste. Even I wouldn’t have made such a rookie mistake. Some Zucchini Fritti would have been far better prepared as slices - deep-frying julienne-sizd strips inevitably increases the oiliness quotient.
A Tiramisu should be a straightforward enough pudding. It can be prepared in advance, allowing more time to getting it as good as possible. The version here unfortunately overdid the cream component so that the dish was super-rich and not in a good way. Result - bad indigestion and serial Zantac intake.
A double espresso would have been barely acceptable at half the price. PFs of bombolonis (small cream-filled doughnuts) were a sugar overload and slightly tough.
So, shit room, over-attentive service and bland food completely atypical of Italian cuisine which – although I’m not an expert - should speak of simplicity, good flavours and generosity of spirit. Just who are they aiming this restaurant at ?
Oh, and as a final irritation, the bill included a 12.5% service charge but the gratuity box on the credit card slip was left blank which tells you all you need to know really.