BY PALOMA LACY
London Underground feels like a bit of a ghost town at the moment so I was nervous about what to expect from a restaurant smack bang in the middle of one of the city’s busiest shopping districts.
South Kensington is always such a fun and lively place and I’m pleased to say that Friday lunchtime felt much like any other, with a mix of Londoners and tourists going about business and pleasure, alike.
I headed for the ultra-smart but most definitely un-stuffy Ampersand Hotel, minutes from the Tube, to check out Apero. Located in the basement of the hotel, the walk from the lobby was pretty quiet, with few souls around. I was worried the restaurant would be similarly attended, but not so.
Apero was buzzing, people perhaps looking for a little bit of happiness in these uncertain times.
The first thing I noticed was the attentiveness of the staff and not just at my table, every table regularly visited by waiters keen to take orders or just to check how diners were getting on.
It was plain to see here that the staff care.
This contemporary Italian menu had its work cut out catering for my dining companion, who would be the first to admit she’s a rather particular customer, with a good number of dislikes.
I hadn’t sought out the menu ahead of our visit and must admit, at first sight was a bit concerned it would fit the bill for her.
Thankfully, she sailed through it, discussing the merits of at least three starters and main courses. I was relieved. My problem, as ever, was an urgent need to try everything.
Central London locations usually come with somewhat ritzy price tags but the two and three course set menu at Apero will set you back £13.95 and £16.95 respectively.
The starters didn’t seem particularly Italian but nonetheless enticing – salmon tacos and spiced beef skewers both appealed, as did pork and nettle tortellini as a main.
The a la carte menu boasted several star turns and again competitively priced. I liked the look of La Bella Vita Sharing Menu – great value at £22.50 per person.
The feast includes grilled focaccia and dips, padron peppers, prawns and sweet garlic skewers, basil, pecorino and pink peppercorn risotto, pork tomahawk and new potato, chocolate fondant, cherry and yoghurt ice-cream and affogato.
A lot of food and more than I felt we could do justice so we decided against it but actually ended up choosing some of the dishes from the a la carte menu anyway.
A better bet for lunchtime seemed to share a snack and small plate and go it alone for the main.
Polenta chips and parmesan chips (£5.00) were my friend’s choice and were okay. Sorry for the underwhelming response but believe me this is more positive than it may first appear. You see, I have long had a strange relationship with polenta.
I don’t really like it but adore the idea of it so try it over and over again in the vain hope that I’ll grow to love it. This was probably the best experience I’ve had with it to date.
It once again hit the bland button on my palate but was saved by the flavoursome cheese dip. You can’t beat home-made focaccia – a winner every time, though very filling. And the home-made theme continued with fresh taglioni, courgettes and lobster (£14.50).
So used to dried pasta, I’m not sure I’m the right audience of the fresh stuff.
I love dried pasta and like the texture when cooked al dente, which you don’t achieve with fresh.
The same, I don’t think is true of stuffed pasta, fresh ravioli or gnocchi is far superior.
Dessert showcased yet more invention, with dishes like apricot and elderberry panna cotta, with pistachio crumble (£6.00), and my choice – spiced pineapple upside down cake and pineapple ripple ice cream (£6.00).
A showstopper of a pudding in the taste department and so beautiful to look at, I was almost afraid to cut
10 Harrington Road,
South Kensington, SW7 3ER.