Italian food by a superstar chef just doesn't cut it in a downturn

<strong>Apsleys </strong><br />1 Lanesborough Pl, SW1X 7TA<br />Tel: 020 7333 7254<br /><strong>FOOD<br />SERVICE<br />ATMOSPHERE</strong><br />Cost per person without wine: &pound;75<br /><br />APSLEYS at the Lanesborough is doing its best to be classed as a restaurant in its own right, rather than an add-on to a hotel. It really is. Its latest incarnation as &ldquo;Apsleys &ndash; a Heinz Beck Restaurant&rdquo; (to give it its full name) gets an A for effort, but really it feels a little strained and self-conscious to achieve its goal. It lacks the finesse of the restaurants at, say, Claridges, the Connaught and the Berkeley, all of which have star chefs too. <br /><br />I say &ldquo;too&rdquo;, but Heinz Beck probably won&rsquo;t be on most Londoners&rsquo; radar, since he&rsquo;s a German. London&rsquo;s last high profile German chef, Dieter Muller, who briefly cooked at Andaman, went down like a white wine spritzer in a beerkeller. Beck is famous &ndash; somewhere &ndash; for having won three stars for his restaurant La Pergola, which is in Rome. <br /><br />To make a top-of-the-line Italian restaurant work in London, that is not necessarily the way forwards. Italian is one cuisine that doesn&rsquo;t appeal in the form of souped-up gourmet art, as French food does. Recent Italian successes in London have been simple, such as Polpo, with its paper placemats and wine in beakers; Bocca di Lupo, specialising in simple regional classics done well; or even the packed-out Jamie&rsquo;s Italian restaurants. Italian made with emulsions, jus and pithiviers is just hard to love and often feels like poor value. But I&rsquo;ll come to that.<br /><br />First, the dining room. Some may call it over the top but it is the most authentic part of the Apsleys experience. It is fully, thoroughly opulent and utterly stunning. You immediately feel like you&rsquo;re hot stuff when you strut into the dining room, a chandelier-strewn, glass-ceilinged paean to opulence. You feel just a bit like a pop star. Indeed when it comes to style, the Lanesborough is tops.<br /><br />Neither do I have a problem with very conscientious staff &ndash; Apsleys has them in spades. I&rsquo;ll take an anxious, attentive army of hovering minions over being ignored or snapped at any day. However, I can see that it could be annoying.&nbsp; <br /><br />Some of the food is terrific. The foie gras terrine with lentils and balsamic ice cream was an astonishing combination of tastes, textures and temperatures and delighted and amazed us (as it should have at &pound;25, the average price of starters). The carbonara fagottelli, marked with an asterisk as a &ldquo;Heinz Beck Signature Dish&rdquo; consisted of exploding parcels of hot cream and bacon which were intensely delicious. Lamb crepinette with aubergine and spinach featured very soft meat, almost sponge-like in texture, wrapped weirdly but wonderfully in a seaweed cloak. The aubergine wasn&rsquo;t very nice, though.<br /><br />Otherwise, it fell flat a bit, exciting-sounding dishes let down by twiddles and sides that didn&rsquo;t work, such as the celery and melon mix that accompanied the slightly gluey cod cannolo, and the endless bits and bobs that came with the puddings. A gnocchi in seafood broth sounded promisingly simple but perhaps that was just the problem &ndash; neither myself nor my companion finished our&rsquo;s, both finding it a joyless affair, both gluey and watery at once.<br /><br />The problem is that Apsleys is out of step with the times. Firstly, making fancy food work in our pared-down gastroscape would challenge anyone. Second, its success depends on hitting a bulls-eye for every morsel served, showing value for money even though prices are high. <br /><br />To get the best out of a dramatic restaurant, opt for the lunch menu, which is &pound;28 for three courses. At that price, Apsleys becomes a very different &ndash; and far more enticing &ndash; beast. <br /><br /><strong>In a Nutshell: </strong><br />A high-brow Italian with overly fussy and inconsistent food, and some eye-watering prices. On the plus side, the room is enough to lighten any soul, and the service is sweet and attentive. They&rsquo;re trying &ndash; they&rsquo;re just not quite there yet.<br /><br />