Review: Apero at the Ampersand

 
Steve Dinneen
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Apero has fish is to die for, if you don't mind the charmingly chaotic atmosphere, says Steve Dinneen

APERO @ AMPERSAND; 10 Harrington Road, SW7 3ER; tel: 020 7589 5895
FOOD ****
SERVICE ***
Value ****
Cost per person with wine: £50

A few years ago I was wandering through Kreuzberg, before it was completely overtaken by hipsters, looking for a falafel joint (Berlin being the falafel capital of the world – forget the Middle East, the German Turks have got it going on). This mission was soundtracked by Kraftwerk’s The Mix, which, when you’re in Berlin, is as obligatory as listening to The Velvet Underground in New York or Serge Gainsbourg in Paris.

A group of vaguely threatening punks had just finished relieving me of my cigarettes when I spotted a gigantic sign reading “KRAFTWERK” outside what looked like an old power station. “A museum dedicated to the electronic pioneers”, I thought. “And what better place for it than this utilitarian cathedral of concrete and aluminium?”

I went to the reception and asked to be pointed in the direction of the exhibition.

“Excuse me?” replied the woman behind the counter.

“The exhibition. I want to see the Kraftwerk exhibition,” I explained, slowly and loudly.

“I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

“No, I just want to see the…”

I tailed off as a security guard appeared to escort me from the building. Kraftwerk, I later discovered, is German for power station.

This month I finally saw Kraftwerk, in the suitably industrial setting of the Tate Modern. It was a brilliantly German performance, starting dead on time and ending exactly two hours later. Afterwards, I went to the Ampersand hotel in Kensington, which is as good a place as any for a post-Kraftwerk meal; while not housed in a power station, it has a distinctly retro-techno feel to it.

Its restaurant, Apero, is tucked in the cellar, the décor largely consisting of lots of whitewashed brickwork and leather banquettes.

When I got to the door, a man dressed in chefs’ whites was loitering shiftily, clutching a paper bag.

“Smell what I’ve got in here,” he said, apropos nothing. Who could refuse such an offer: I got a good nose full.

“Truffles. Cost £300 from the market.”

“Excellent, yes, right…”

I wandered in, trying to work out whether he worked here or was just pedaling illicit truffles, like some gourmet drug-dealer.

I stood in the middle of the (very thin) restaurant for a few minutes, trying to catch someone’s eye. Occasionally a member of staff politely sidled past, eyes directed at anything but me. Charmingly chaotic would be the charitable way of describing Apero. When I was eventually seated, I began by trying to decipher the cocktail menu, which would have troubled even the Enigma decoding machine. I gave up and asked the waiter, who couldn’t work it out either, explaining that people usually just pointed at the one they wanted. I ended up with something pink.

Thankfully, the food menu is more straightforward – Apero serves tapas, albeit very big portions, broadly split into “small”, “salads”, “fish” and “meat”.

My guest started by interrogating the waiter to within an inch of his life.

“If you were about to be executed and this was your last meal, what would you order?” (“all of them” was a bit of a cop-out).

The baked scallops came first: and they were bloody good: perfect, plump lumps of flesh with no faffing around with superfluous flavours – this is the way scallops should be served. Even better was the stone bass – beautifully flakey meat on a vivid red, buttery bed of beetroot-infused risotto. “It should be good,” said the waiter conspiratorially, “the chef has a tattoo of some beetroot.”

The gnocchi was perfectly cooked – crispy on the outside and molten in the middle – although it was a touch too salty.

The meat courses were more forgettable. The onglet steak was well prepared but there was no disguising the fact it wasn’t a great cut of meat, and the lamb neck gave my jaw a bit of a work-out. The beef tongue with goats curd was better – light and tender – but still overshadowed by the fish.

My waiter, Joseph, made up for being stumped by the cocktail menu by picking out a stellar bottle of red, which, at £26, was a real bargain.

The staff know their way around a playlist, with the likes of Gainsbourg and Édith Piaf providing the soundtrack – sadly no Kraftwerk.

The slightly anarchic attitude to service, great music and mostly excellent food add up to more than the sum of their parts. There is a very “we’re all in this together” feel to Apero. After dinner I sat drinking with some Americans who were playing rock paper scissors over who was going to pick up the bill. It’s that kind of place: and there aren’t enough of them in West London.