The reopening of Four Seasons on Park Lane, London, after a two year closure, has evoked much interest and, indeed, envy. Not only has the guest accommodation undergone complete restructuring and refurbishment, but so have the public areas, to the tune of a £125 million investment. The distinction between fine dining, which gained Brunot Loubet and Jean-Christophe Novelli acclaim here in the 1990s, and less formal eating has disappeared. In its place is an integrated bar, lounge and restaurant, with meals taken in any of the three areas, at most times of the day, according to the occasion and mood of the guests. This flexibility would appeal particularly to hotel guests who might otherwise have to seek alternative dining venues. However, the separate dark glass entrance clearly suggests that Amaranto has aspirations to be a destination restaurant.
The remodelling of the ground floor has produced an opulent, stunning series of interconnecting rooms, in keeping with the high standards of the Four Seasons group. The conservatory front of the restaurant opens onto a terrace garden which willsoon be available for al fresco dining. Inside, marbled surfaces in black and upholstery in red are the predominant colours in the bar and restaurant. The distinctly plush, oriental feel is further emphasised by Chinese lacquered cabinets, spot-lit equine sculpture and dim lighting.
Amidst the unashamed luxury and pleasing design is an interesting feature; the well spaced dining tables are covered with leather table tops and tablemats which is perhaps in keeping with the modern way of maintaining a relaxed feel in otherwise opulent surroundings.
Heading operations in the kitchen is Chef Davide Degiovanni, whose experience at Semplice and Locanda Locatelli, both Michelin starred, will stand him in good stead and provide an achievement to emulate. Certainly, he is highly enthusiastic in his new role, and relishes the challenges ahead. Amaranto is a much bigger undertaking with its flexible eating arrangements. The remodelled kitchens accommodate up to 22 chefs, preparing an average of 180 covers at day across restaurant, bar and lounge. The Italian based, seasonally changing menu, overseen by Executive Chef Adrian Cavagnini of the La Terrazza restaurant at the Hotel Eden in Rome, uses ingredients imported from Italy wherever possible which helps to account for their superb quality, but also for the high prices. Whilst the daily set menus offer a less expensive opportunity to sample the light, modern interpretation of regional Italian cuisine, a fuller appreciation of the kitchen’s skill is gained from the carte.
Fine Dining Guide visited on a weekday evening in found much to admire in the cooking and service.
The sumptuous, seductively designed bar, replete with impressive Italian-led ‘wine walls’ was the ideal place to enjoy an aperitif. An exquisitely refreshing bellini of raspberry and thyme proved an excellent start to the evening.
Initial impressions were very good: home made breads, including three kinds of Focaccia and Stromboli (anchovy and gorgonzola) had fine texture and full flavour. This was enhanced by dips of Tuscan and Sardinian olive oil and rich balsamic vinegar.
An amuse bouche of candied tomato with mackerel, carbonara and pesto served its purpose of exciting the palate with the vibrant, herby flavours that typify Italian cuisine.
A starter of delicate and well flavoured Fassona beef carpaccio, lightly seasoned with celery and spring herbs, was given a lift by the addition of parmesan mousse – far more exciting than the usual parmesan shavings! The elegant acidity and well integrated sweet tannins of the Pinot Noir did full justice to this dish. (Wine: Hofstaetter Barthenau Vigneto Sant Urbanhof Pinot Nero 2007)
Another starter involved scallops prepared three ways. Britanny scallop seared in pancetta with a carbonara sauce, retained its natural succulence. A tartar, bursting with fresh sweetness was balanced by blood orange and chives. Less successful was a scallop carpaccio with spicy new potatoes, the taste of which was muted. The accompanying Chardonnay, with its fruity aroma, mild acidity and hint of vanilla, set off the shellfish perfectly. (Wine: Elena Walch “Beyond the Clouds”, Chardonnay 2007)
An intermediate course; a serving of aubergine risotto; one of chef Degiovanni’s signature dishes proved delightful. The rich, creamy rice, slightly al dente in texture, was given extra depth of flavour by a taleggio cheese fondue and finished with a 120 year old Modena balsamic, poured by the chef himself. This was a masterful rendering of risotto, so often used and abused by lesser chefs, providing the appropriate consistency and bursting with flavours. The sparkling Ferrari wine, yeasty, crisp and elegant, with a hint of ripe apples, proved an ideal match for the food. (Wine: Ferrari “brut perle”, Blanc de Blanc)
Main courses featured grilled British meat with Italian touches. Casterbridge lamb cutlets were grilled pink to maximise their flavour and coated with a balsamic sabayonne which added a gentle sweet and sour element. Roasted root vegetables gave extra sweet earthiness and contrasting texture. The matching Valpolicella wine, with its warm and spicy bouquet, and its complex, velvety taste, worked well with the grilled lamb and the balsamic sabayonne. (Wine Allegrini Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2006)
Deeply flavoured, matured Angus beef fillet was perfectly timed to a medium rare. Baby baked potato, creamed Swiss chard and sweet and sour aubergine proved to be interesting garnishes which did not overwhelm the meat. However, the dish, although not dry, may have benefited from more sauce to bring the elements together. The accompanying red wine had a ruthless acidity which complemented the savoury elements to perfection (Wine: Fattoria le Pupille “Poggio Valente” Morellino di Scansano 2006)
Desserts exceeded the high standards set by the previous courses, showing the strengths of the pastry section. Apple and cream mille foglie, featured multi layers of softly baked caramelised apple, topped with mascarpone cream on a crunchy almond biscuit base. A paper thin dried apple slice crowned this simple yet delicious dessert
Even better was the white chocolate and lime tart, the soft filling of which burst with amazing citrus fragrance. The accompanying passion fruit sorbet was a model of its kind, with intense flavour and velvety texture. A lively citrus dressing completed this outstandingly refreshing dessert, the after taste of passion fruit and lime lingering for some time.
Excellent coffee and petit fours completed this accomplished meal. True to the Four Seasons’ reputation, service throughout the evening was relaxed, welcoming, efficient, attentive and unobtrusive. In particular, Sommelier Rafael Peil explained the matching wines with an infectious enthusiasm which demonstrated a deep and passionate love of his craft.
The wine list, predictably strong on Italian vintages, also had a carefully chosen selection from Old and New Worlds. A unique feature, at least for London restaurants, is to sample the wine list by the glass, provided at least two are ordered.
Amaranto has made an impressive start under an inspirational chef and capable front of house. Although the competition is fierce, especially from the other five star hotels in Park Lane, the Four Seasons can rightly reclaim its place in offering its guests a memorable dining experience. With over 60 covers present on a mid-week evening, the carefully constructed concept of providing a versatile restaurant that can satisfy guests while attracting those from further afield is clearly paying dividends.