Aspley's at Lanesborough Hotel, Hyde Park Corner, Mayfair
My friend S was leaving the country one far less hospitable and so, as is customary for a condemned man, we were to have a last meal together before he disappeared south. Using my old friend toptable.com I found a fabulous offer for a three course meal with a glass of prosecco at Aspley's restaurant in the Lanesborough Hotel at the bargain price of £30. It looked like a suitably ostentatious location for a final supper and so booked a table for two for 8pm on a Tuesday evening. I called S to let him know. "Marvelous M, sounds perfect" he purred, "What time should I be there?" "7pm by Hyde Park Tube" I lied, fully aware of S's less than accurate time-keeping skills "And don't be late." "As if, dear M, as if..." he murmured...
At 7:45 I stepped out of the tube into the warm summer air wearing a slinky black dress and killer stilettos. Unsurprisingly, I couldn't see S. My phone vibrated and S's number filled the screen. "M I'm so sorry I'll be there in 5... I'm hoping they'll be ok with jeans though, I've already packed all my smart clothes. I do have a shirt on, and I'll introduce myself as Dr S..." I drew a sharp intake of breath as I surveyed the impressive exterior of the Lanesborough Hotel, with its pillars and smart face looking sternly out at Hyde Park... how were they going to react to jeans?
Just before 8pm S appeared, grinning broadly and apologizing for his lateness. Taking my arm firmly he escorted me into the grand lobby, down the marbled corridor and into the impressive restaurant on the right. The smartly dressed and beautiful waitress didn't blink at his jeans, politely offered to take my shawl and then beckoned over an equally polite colleague who directed us from under the impressive chandeliers to a table on the slightly more private raised area around the edge of the room.
First impressions were therefore good: polite, efficient staff in the face of a diner in blatant contravention of dress code, a grand, impressive and well lit dining area and exceptionally comfortable padded chairs to sit on.
The Food and drink
As we were eating from a set menu, I expected a limited choice and indeed this was the case. There were 3 options for the starter and main course, but only two for the desert. If you were vegetarian, your options would have been reduced to the veggie option for each course or nothing. Thankfully, both S and myself are fully omnivorous and so found the selection, even from the set menu, quite adequate.
True to form however S was infinitely more interested in the wine menu, which came as an intimidating leather bound book at least half an inch thick. Luckily there was a good range of wines in terms of cost, and we had a rather nice Italian red for £40, which when I looked subsequently wasn't too horrific a mark up compared to what the same bottle would have cost from a shop.
Whilst browsing the menus a glass of breadsticks and small bowls of olive oil appeared, and were continuously and discreetly refilled until the end of the main course, which was a nice touch.
We did eventually manage to make a decision regarding the food. For starter I had a hot and cold salmon salad, while S opted for the more hearty sounding pork with horseradish. I can't comment on his, beyond the fact it was well-presented, but I assume it was good as it was all gone before I had the chance to request a taste. Mine was part triumph, part disaster - the foamy salmon part was delicious, while the smoked salmon and saffron was a taste combination too far.
Before the main course an amuse bouche was presented by our waiter (shortly after he had smashed a glass next to us; we weren't quite sure if the two events were related.) Unfortunately he had a rather thick Italian accent and a nervous demeanour (almost certainly due to the glass incident) and so we weren't entirely sure what it was. Our eventual consensus was a crab-based mix on sweet bread with green sauce of indeterminate origin. It was very tasty and warmed the taste buds nicely in anticipation of the main course.
For the main course we both chose rabbit, which came warm but quite rare with a small selection of potatoes, carrots and fennel. The portions were not exactly generous but in combination with the limitless breadsticks you did not feel hungry by the time you finished. Like the starter it was served on minimalistic white plates with the food arranged in a classical French style.
Desert was probably my favourite course. S had to answer a call of nature just before the plates arrived (possibly poor service; generally at such restaurants the waiting staff manage to avoid serving food when one of a couple is missing) but it meant I got to taste the gorgeous rum ice cream that came with his chocolate-based biscuit. Uncharacteristically I had opted for an apple tart with vanilla ice cream, which was an impulsive choice as generally I don't like apple tart. Fortunately it was less of a tart and more of a homely apple cake, light and delicious, with delightfully rich ice-cream accompanying it.
Overall, the food was a treat for tastebuds with each course having many stimulating flavours but avoiding having too many (with the possibly except of the salmon and saffron) and with the breadsticks you were not left feeling hungry despite the portion size. The wine was also most agreeable, and good value for money
In general I was impressed by the service. Waiters were attentive without being intrusive, and didn't rush us despite us clearly being the slowest clients present that evening. My only grip was my glass of processo being whisked away whilst still nearly a quarter full, the waiter who removed it being seemingly dumb to my squeals of displeasure!
No restaurant review would be complete without a brief nod to the facilities. I visited the ladies on the way out and found it to be a floor to ceiling marbled wonder, polished to within an inch of its life. Real handtowels were rolled in a neat pyramid ready for you to dry your hands, and the mirrors were large and brutally honest in the lighting. In short, the loos were exactly as you would expect.
"Excellent choice M" cooed S, slipping his arm around my waist "And to think that when we were at uni together I said you lacked culture!" I disentangled his arm, shot him a short glare and then smiled as I saw the softly lit front of the Lanesborough. It had delivered the almost holy trinity of good service, good food and good value, so S's inadvertent slur was most probably meant as a compliment. Seeing the glare, S rolled his eyes. "It's a good job I'm going away for 6 months isn't it?" he mused "Else I'd have to find somewhere equally good to take you to apologise for my accidental insults!"
It's been a fortnight of celebrations for me, what with an anniversary, a birthday and landing myself a new job. I think I've had more champagne in the past couple of weeks than I have for the whole of the rest of the year! Not that I'm complaining, of course! For my birthday, I decided to try a restaurant in Mayfair called Bullochs at 116, which is situated in the Hotel Athenaeum at Mayfair. I subscribe to an internet restaurant booking facility called Toptable (.co.uk) which regularly sends out newsletters with details of special offers at various restaurants across the country, and Bullochs happened to be offering 50% off your entire food bill for lunch or dinner, which sounded like a brilliant deal to me. I booked a table for four online (myself, my partner and our two closest friends) and looked forward to a lovely birthday meal. *** FIRST IMPRESSIONS The hotel itself is fabulous. Decadent but not garish, comfortable yet elegant, and it smelt great! I know that's a really strange thing to say but I often instantly either feel at home or on edge by the smell of a place. I wished I'd booked a room for the night, I felt so instantly relaxed and happy there. The restaurant was tastefully decorated in shades of green and cream, with a very quiet and relaxed atmosphere. The staff were friendly and welcoming, and gave us a really nice table in the corner where we could chat comfortably. *** MENU CHOICES The restaurant is quite small and the menu reflects that, with a selection of about five starters, five main courses and five desserts. The starters ranged from crab salad, wild mushrooms with roasted pine nuts or bouillabaise soup and were all priced at £7.95. The main courses are all £19.50 (apart from the dover sole which has a supplement of £8) and you could choose from Thai Fish medley, monkfish, roasted rack of ribs or a vegetarian option. The desserts sounded fantastic - Banana and Apricot par
fait is the one that sticks in my mind - but we were all far too full to ponder over the list by that time! *** FOOD I chose the crab salad followed by dover sole, off the bone, with salted new potatoes and mixed seasonal vegetables. The crab salad was delicious, and quite large for a starter, and the dover sole was simply exquisite, not a single bone in sight. A special mention must also go to the potatoes which were tender and flavoursome, and I'm not even a fan of potatoes! My partner had the Thai fish medley which he said was fantastic, and our friends tried the monkfish and roasted rack of ribs, which were also pronounced delicious. None of us could find anything bad to say about the food, it was cooked to perfection and the flavours blended really well together. Ten out of ten. *** DRINK The cheapest bottle of wine was £19.00, so we decided to go for broke as it was a special occasion, and splashed out on two bottles of vintage Bollinger champagne. I won't tell you the price of those, as you'll probably nearly faint, like I did, but I can honestly say it was worth the money, as I?ve never tasted such gorgeous champers! There was a selection of about forty wines, plus various spirits and soft drinks. The coffee at the end of the meal was superb, and served with a selection of mini truffles - yum! There's a whisky bar next to the restaurant, and we popped in after our meal. Whiskies cost upwards from £7.50 a shot, and the whisky bar is lovely and cosy, complete with bookcases and an open fire to relax in front of. *** SERVICE The service was good, although we did have to wait quite a long time for our starters. Our waitress was friendly and attentive, and made sure our glasses were topped up regularly. They were aware that we had booked under Toptable and took the 50% off our food bill without even having to be asked. *** PRICE It's not cheap, bu
t I wouldn't hesitate to go back for a special occasion, even if I had to pay the full price. Our bill for four came to £208, but I don't think that's TOO bad considering £112 of that was champagne...(aaaargh! I know, I know! It was lovely though...!) It was the nicest meal I've had in a long time, and I thoroughly recommend the restaurant. It would be perfect for a romantic occasion. *** HOW TO GET THERE The Athenaeum hotel is at 116 Piccadilly, about five minutes from Green Park Tube Station and eight minutes from Hyde Park Corner. The entrance to the restaurant is through the main entrance for the hotel. Telephone : 020 7499 3464