New restaurant openings have increased dramatically in London over the past year making the choice between seasoned stalwarts and innovative newcomers even greater than before. Here are a few worth trying for a leisurely evening of culinary and atmospheric delight.
Palm Court, The Langham, Marylebone
With its polished marble flooring, icicle-like chandeliers hanging over the lobby and enormous vases of fresh flowers everywhere, it’s hard to imagine The Langham in London was bombed by the Nazis during the Second World War before becoming broadcast studios for the BBC.
Even harder as you walk straight up the short flight of entrance steps through a decorative wrought-iron gate and into the high ceilinged, sophisticated art deco ambience of the ‘Palm Court’ restaurant, a popular spot for traditional English afternoon tea and dinner. Gazing around at-table from comfortable winged armchairs, the crystal-spangled walls and abundant mirrors on the ceiling and upright pillars accentuate the spaciousness of the room, creating an added sense of genteel grace. Soft, cream-colored divans and potted palm plants emphasize the nostalgia element, hinting at the elegance of a past era. A grand piano stands in the center of the room with a large, decorative vase of roses nearby.
Encouraged by our enthusiastic Indian waiter, we settled on a selection of seafood starters in three very different forms – open, cold ravioli topped with of lobster, a brandied lobster bisque and juicy oysters, their intense flavor captured inside a thin tempura skin with ginger and coriander adding a touch of zest. Moving from surf to turf for mains we chose tender, slow-cooked thick-cut veal, which came oblong and upright on a light bed of pilau surrounded by a shallow soup of shallots, champignons and carrots.
The Langham has created its own impressive signature dessert, one best described as a surrealist’s representation of a trapeze artist, the head a chunk of chocolate ice-cream, the long, balancing bar of marshmallow and his rotund body being chocolate mousse cloaked in bright raspberry, all firmly anchored on a base of feuielletine. A second option, no less tasty, are praline profiteroles topped off with chocolate sauce and caramelized hazelnuts.
Amaranto, Four Seasons Hotel, Park Lane
This venue encompasses three distinct areas in one large, rectangular space – a restaurant, bar and lounge. For a quiet, leisurely dinner, it’s probably best to sit at the far end of the restaurant, in one of the corner tables, so as not to be bothered by people moving back and forth through a central door leading to an open patio. Much of the conversation in the club-like bar and lounge is business-linked.
While the menu at ‘Amaranto’ is Italian-inspired, with produce such as red prawns, linguini pasta and datterino tomatoes from such diverse geographical areas as Sicily and Naples, it is also impresses by its internationalism, with a variety of local British products including organic beef from Wales, line-caught wild turbot from south-east England and even asparagus from the Wye Valley, as well as morels mushrooms and white asparagus from France.
A well-chosen starter is the clutch of assorted seafood including prawns, scallops and squid, which – lightly fried in semolina flour – are tasty parcel bites, especially so when dipped in the smooth garlic and saffron sauce that comes as accompaniment. Follow this with a traditional pasta dish and perhaps none better than the flavorsome Scottish blue lobster linguini, the strands threaded through and thoroughly soaked in a thick, intense shellfish stock.
The wild turbot is a healthy main, roasted with three types of asparagus, threaded in and around the flesh as if simulating the fish in its natural underwater habitat. A smooth spicy saffron aioli adds sensation. Here, reference must be made to the considerable skills of sommelier, Jack Menoumba. Having decided on pairings for each course, he deftly guided us through the comprehensive wine list. Reflecting his depth of knowledge, the friendly Italian’s choices were wide-ranging, from a Marchesi Antinori ‘Cervaro della Salla,’ a crisp blend of chardonnay and grechetto, to the sweet Donnafugata ‘Ben Rye’ by the Rallo family which hails from Pantelleria, a tiny volcanic island in the middle of the Mediterranean. The powerful five-year-old Nuit Saint Georges, Domaine Duband from the Chevannes region of the Cote de Nuits, being dark and intense, was a perfect partner for the silky linguini made from duro wheat by artisan pasta maker, Geraldo di Nola in Grangnano, a little town close to Naples.
The London Cabaret Club, Bloomsbury
Located in the Bloomsbury district in an art deco ballroom, the London Cabaret Club combines both a fine-dining experience with a glamorous evening of song and dance entertainment with extravagant costumes themed around the evolution of British pop music over the last few decades. A choice of three different menus is offered to guests, namely ‘Eighty’s,’ ‘Ninety’s’ and ‘VIP 2000.’ We enjoyed the latter after being guided to a table close to the entrance and exit points of the stage positioned in the center of the room.
A band played behind us, but not too close as to affect conversation in any way. All courses come as sharing platters and are served between the various diverse performances by a talented cast. Starters include a selection of garden pea and mint arancini, goat cheese truffles with pistachio and black sesame seeds and small tapioca tuilles loaded with crab and avocado salad.
A combined surf and turf platter presents delicate pieces of seared fillet of beef on smoked potato foam and a helping of traditional English fish and chips, small pieces of cod in a light batter served with tarragon sauce. Desserts are tapas-style, with assorted delights including vanilla macaroons, dark chocolate cake and crème brulee. A disco follows the main show so it is a suitable place for group celebrations of all kinds as well as romantic liaisons.