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Compared to the jangly colour clash in the recently launched Ampersand Hotel’s over-styled public rooms, its Med-influenced wine bar seems positively restrained. This smart, washed-brick cellar is
a calm spot for brunch, tapas (saffron croquetas, pissaladière, sumac crispbread with green harissa) and more substantial main courses such as calf’s liver with wet polenta, chard and stewed
peppers or sea trout poached in olive oil with courgettes, sorrel and lemon – plus assorted puds (lemon posset with churros, say). Apero also functions as a cocktail lounge, with a list of
well-crafted drinks inspired by totems of European culture. Favourites include Frescobaldi (a zingy Sipsmith gin and limoncello-based coupe), sugar-rimmed Rose Caryatid (pink Prosecco and
pomegranate), Tintoretto (a bittersweet rum aperitif) and Amerigo – a deeply rewarding whiskey old-fashioned with Galliano and blackberries.
I've been passing through the South Kensington area now for years. Whether it's on the Boris bike on the way home, a drink fuelled - sorry i mean 'sampling' afternoon at the Sampler. Or simply an al fresco meal on the Exhibition Road. It took a long time before i had any idea that a Mediterranean restaurant even existed inside the barely known Ampersand Hotel. Opening it's doors back in the summer of 2013. Head chef, Chris Golding is the brains behind it all and has a stellar CV. Chris had previously worked at the likes of Nobu and Zuma and with Apero was hoping to bring the South Kensington locals a little slice of the Mediterranean life - and he's certainly done just that.Walking through the doors of Apero you really would have no idea that from the outside, this stunning restaurant exists on the inside. Shiny white tiles adorn the walls, cool turquoise leather chairs fill the room and an array of lighting which looks as if it was put together from a set design from Heal's illuminates the room. They really do have the decor spot on. A stunning selection of fluffy bread arrived, one with a heavenly streak of saffron through it. Smoked butter was a dream come true, while a dip of olive oil and what i think was pumpkin was like nothing I've eaten before - but would happily do so again.Starter of courgette flower stuffed with a minced squid mixture felt as if it would be more at home as one of the sharing dishes instead as a starter, but either way it was a lovely example of just what an amazing ingredient courgette flowers really are. Crisp tempura like batter with shaved orange peel and a well seasoned filling that tasted as if it were freshly fished out of the sea that morning. Apart from perhaps wanting a nice dollop of aioli on the side, it was difficult dish to fault.Artichoke, olive and pata negra arrived as another starter and brought the colours of the Mediterranean to the plate. Vibrant and vivid vine ripened tomatoes and lashings of olive oil were the best part. Unfortunately the kitchen had managed to do something unspeakable and serve artichoke that was hard, tasteless and still with its hard bristly hairs. The dish managed to leave a sour note in our mouths, meaning even the the pata negra had lost its flavour too and only the tomatoes were at least forgiving. Last time i checked the best way to enjoy artichoke is soft and its segments shredding apart to the touch.The most amazing thing about Apero, has to be the price of its set lunch menu. Three courses for a mere Â£15 - and everything you're seeing and reading about is exactly that. An absolute bargain, especially given its prestigious South Kensington setting. And with that came our favourite dish. Roasted hake, vanilla butter mash, more of those artichokes - which were actually cooked well in this dish, and sea purslane (shrub found mostly in Eurasia). Everything was so beautifully balanced and cooked so well. It also looked great on the plate - and there was so much of it. You do have to wonder sometime how much money they really are making sometimes. It seems too good to be true.Another dish oozing Mediterranean charm was this oven cooked free range chicken with borlotti beans, olives and some sweet, juicy tomatoes. Again not an extremely technical dish but with perfect execution of the chicken, crispy skin and a sweet tomato based juice lurking under it made for a very satisfying plate of food. This dish looked, and reminded me so much of something i once ate while in sitting down next to sunny coasts of Malta. It brought back some fond memories, mainly of too much wine.Once we got round to ordering desserts, the realisation of how full we was really started to become apparent. A slice of pistachio cake with lavender and honey ice cream arrived, the cake being ever so slightly dry but the ice cream was heavenly. Lavender, especially in ice cream is one of those rare matches that produces something so unexpectedly satisfying. I'm still amazed lavender hasn't made it into the ice cream parlours and gelato takes outs across London. Hopefully it will become more of a reality some time soon. If not I'll just have to beg head chef, Chris Golding to send me home with a 5ltr pot of it.Brillat Savarin is perhaps one of my favourite cheeses, so once i saw it on the menu i couldn't say no. This cows milk cheese from Normandy was named after the 18th century political figure, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin and was created in the 1830's. Why it was named after him i have no idea, but it was a nice short story for the interim. With a line of rich truffle through it this amazingly soft cheese felt as if it went directly on to my hips with each spread on a cracker.To sum up Apero was actually quite a hard one. Some dishes were great, while others needed more precision behind them to really balance out their flavours and blend everything on the plate together. One thing Apero can easily take an accolade for is having one of London's best value menus. At Â£15 for three good quality courses in this part of town you'll be hard pushed to find something similar at this price point. The most exciting part of it all is knowing that these dishes are really just an insight into the restaurants full menu, so I'm sure things getting even more serious once you delve in. I'll just have to go back again and find out for myself.7/10
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