I wasn’t able to make the launch of Apero, alas I’d already agreed to get drunk whilst playing ping pong, a story for another time perhaps? Something about the little Mediterranean restaurant appealed though so I made a reservation, and the boy and I visited a few Saturdays ago.
As with many of the buildings in the area, The Ampersand Hotel is grand, a spanking white and dove grey pristine model, we sneak along to the slightly less imposing Apero entrance to the left, glass doors preempt us and swing spookily open as we approach. We’re greeted with a cosmic light feature above a curving staircase, casting its radiance behind onto a vast cabinet filled with pretty trinkets, it’s the last hint at any suns rays we might be blessed with as we descend into the crypt like space. What could easily be a cramped and dim room has had some clever decorating to create a long corridor that is internally and subtly illuminated, opening up towards the back into the hotel lobby. Exposed brickwork is interspersed with whitewashing and little tiles, obsequious dingly dangly lights hang and flashes of peacock blue at the bar immediately remind me of Riding House Cafe, along with pale nooks and alcoves, it has the feeling of a serene Mediterranean bunker.
I cast a lustful glance over the beautiful cocktail menu, an impressive, and highly tempting to my eye, collection of twists on classics with names and characters borrowed from those illustrious artists housed in nearby museums and galleries, I opt for a carafe of wine in this instance as the boy’s not drinking. The food menu is a divided into groups of small plates and pretty much all of it appeals, so we order fairly randomly when our waiter comes over, not being quite sure, as is often the case at these sort of places, whether we’ve over or under done it. Pretty soon plates start arriving and our small table is overwhelmed, we find ourselves maneuvering dishes and I quickly discard my unnecessary water glass in order to eke out more room.
Smoked aubergine arrives first, a bowl of smoky puree cut through with bright daubs of citrussy goats curd, three unadvertised sheets of flatbread melt ethereally in the mouth and are almost perfect for scooping up, their sharp edges fail to mop up the last traces so I’m forced to abandon any ladylike tendencies I might have and resort to finger. Saffron croquettes have fluffy gossamer light centres and a delicate flavour that is offset with a piquant creamy dip. Jamon is lusciously flavoursome and slices are draped neatly over crispbreads, I can’t help thinking I’d have preferred simply a plate of ham with perhaps some bread on the side rather than have it done for me.
O’Shea’s onglet is the absolute star of this meal, even served with a richly spiced harissa sauce the flavour of the rare, sliced beef shines stunningly through, texture is perfectly tender and it’s a serious battle of willpower to share those slices. Bruschetta is a well seasoned rainbow of heritage tomatoes on neatly cut ciabatta square, doused in oil. The flatbread is more like a mini pizza base, puffed up, lightly doughy and very different to the crispy accompaniment to our earlier aubergine, juicy little tomato quarters are toppled on top, frolicking with fragrant basil, generous swathes of sloppily creamy stracciatella and fruity olive oil; a simple but perfect pairing. Burrata; a plumptious ball of oozing creaminess arrives languishing in a bowl of beetroot puree. Slicing into the bulging orb releases it’s rich middle into a sweetly earthy beetroot bath, a combination so satisfying, we scoop up the indulgent mess with little ears of radiccio, then anything else that comes to hand until the bowl is sparkling.
Desserts all sound divine and I’m torn between several. So we order three. Oink. Slices of pungent pecorino are served with fresh fig and rounds of excellent crisp bread (Peters Yard is my guess). A saffron panacotta is delicate and light, surrounded by honeyed peaches and topped prettily with a pansy, although it lacks the wobble I’m expecting. A pistachio and olive oil cake is at first taste ever so slightly dry but comes to life when combined with accompaniments of vanilla cream, candied pistachios and a cherry jelly.
Looking back, our meal perhaps looks slightly incoherent; it certainly wouldn’t be the first time I’ve overdone bready choices on a menu forgetting that many of the other items may come with unsung bonus elements, I guess that’s the danger of pared down descriptions for you. Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed both the meal and ambience, an empty restaurant when we arrive is full and bustling on departure. I fully intend to sample that cocktail menu soon and brunch looks rather tempting too. The location may not be one I often find myself, but it’s close enough to Victoria to make sure I factor in a detour, I have my eye on a particular seat at the bar for some of those cocktails and a few nibbles.