Wonderful Mediterranean cooking and hospitality in the main restaurant of Browns Hotel
In my opinion, Browns hotel is practically an institution in London, with its classic, black railing Mayfair exterior on Albermarle Street, charming 5-star boutique nature and beautiful afternoon tea setting. Heinz Beck is the master behind the scenes here, hence its title, with himself owning 3 Michelin starred La Pergola in Rome. After spending several years at La Pergola, amongst other venues, Heros De Agostinis was deployed in early 2018 from La Pergola to carry the Beck flame at Browns hotel for Italian cuisine. I have now been there four times such is the appeal from my first visit and based on this thorough examination, not only is it clear as daylight to me that this is operating in the 1 Michelin starred tier, but I have yet to have better Mediterranean food anywhere else in the UK at time of writing. Set lunch is a cracking deal at £29 for three courses including extras and the acoustics and spacing of the tables within the restaurant combined with the honest service make this a winner of a place all round. I was delighted to see on this last visit that the wine list has been altered to be more inclusive. Although it may look overly grand, it has never been stuffy on any of my visits. I highly recommend this restaurant.
A selection of crudités in ice started the proceedings to munch on and were, as usual, vibrant and pleasant to dip in the olive oil, balsamic and creme fraiche. Other snacks included Gillardeau oysters with matcha tea jelly & yuzu, smoked salmon, potato cream & horseradish tarteletts (my favourite among the snacks) and mini tacos with buffalo mozzarella & tomato. Nicely done and a pleasant way to start.
Roasted octopus, pecorino romano cheese & infusion of green pea was a first starter with the peas doing a lot of the talking in being such good quality (actually more of a talking point than the octopus). An absolute favourite of mine here is the Fagottelli alla carbonara – delicate pasta parcels with pecorino, parmesan, egg yolk and (shhh!) a tiny dash of cream. Although some protest at cream in a carbonara, I do not care, this makes it sheer savoury liquid heaven (as its purpose) and with the dried crispy bacon shavings on top, frankly it is worth coming here just for this dish (now on the tasting menu only). It’s also important that I mention that this is one of the stand out dishes of the 3 Michelin starred La Pergola and as far as I can tell, there are only minuscule differences between how this Fogattelli compares in the two restaurants – that’s not bad!
Roast leg of milk-fed lamb, coastal vegetables, yoghurt & spices was very nicely done, the lamb having good flavour and perfectly cooked. The combination with the spiced yoghurt, already well balanced, with pleasing veg and finely presented Hasselback, or potato fan. Risotto with Robiola cheese, spiced pork salumi & courgette flowers was nicely moist, had a good stock and with well-chosen textures to add a welcome crunch. The cheese board covered most of Europe and came with pleasant chutney additives and additional rye bread.
Usually this would be it in terms of the write-up, but the raspberry gel petit fours are so good here that they are worth their own mention. It’s very rare you find these at the right softness and taste – I find they are either the right flavour but with the texture of a squash ball, or squidgy enough but with levels of sweetness that feel like they could dissolve your teeth in a matter of minutes. These however, are the absolute best of both worlds, so soft and lightly sweet, with just enough fine, caster sugar, it is actually a talking point. The salted caramel truffles and raspberry macarons are also notably good here as petit fours.
All in, this was approximately £100 per person which, with some very upgraded wine by the glass, is not that bad at all for the quality and setting. If you are a member of the Luxury Restaurant Guide, you also get a free glass of champagne at your meal if you order from the a la carte menu and this is a superb offering as well. For all the above reasons, I think this is a truly great spot in London, serving some carefully chosen and well-executed Mediterranean and Italian food that I have yet to find being trumped anywhere in the UK for this cuisine. In conclusion, frankly I have no idea what the Michelin Guide GB & Ireland are holding out for here. 2020….?
Food Grade: 81%
For background details on Beck at Browns, please see my latest review. Suffice to say I was utterly treated by my friend for this lovely occasion and was a double pleasure to be able to catch Mr Heinz Beck on a chance visit to his restaurant and Head chef at the same time. Clearly, the Fagottelli had to be done by someone, but new dishes tried on this visit were the Veal sweetbread and strawberry dessert. The sweetbread Milanese was served with salsa tonnato (a tuna mayonnaise sauce traditionally served with veal) & garden vegetables which all worked very well together with the sweetbread being moist. The strawberry variation dessert was served with a softly whipped cream, couli, strawberry shard and breadcrumbs; no absolute frills, but as pleasant a classic strawberry combination as one can have. The petit fours still held their own and were pleasing to the whole table, which held all living generations and I was delighted that Beck at Browns seemed to fit the occasion perfectly. The party was in very good hands throughout, as was I in such good company.
Food Grade: 80%
For background details on Beck at Browns, please see my latest review. This was a Birthday celebration lunch on New Year’s Eve and was actually a nice way to do it when the streets are still relatively clear and then escape before the carnage. Different dishes had on this occasion included roasted foie gras, ravioli and linguine. The roasted foie gras was served with artichoke puree, artichoke crisp and raspberry jus which was a good combination, the artichoke working surprisingly well. The clam linguine with zucchini was reportedly very good however, the tomato ravioli was in last place by all accounts; nothing poor, but the pasta was a fraction too hard beyond al dente and low impact as a dish overall. Fagottelli raised the bar sufficiently to forgive this dip and all put to right thereafter. A repeat of the wonderful tiramisu was also clearly needed owing to being such a light and enjoyable winner all round. The bill came to £135 for three with glasses of wine (three of which were courtesy of membership to the Luxury Restaurant Guide again – a winning discount here!) and this, again is a very fair deal. Another very satisfying visit.
Food Grade: 79%
For background details on Beck at Browns, please see my latest review. This was my first visit to this restaurant and I was heartily pleased to be back where I had heard Heinz Beck had actually inserted his 3 Michelin starred Fagottelli from La Pergola which I have previously done. I was delighted to see and taste that there were only micro differences between the dish served in Rome and this one. Please see my latest review on why I think you should go here just for this dish. Otherwise, I got a hard-hitting impression from this first meal that not only is the environment alluring whilst being non-snooty at the same time, but it somewhere you can see yourself going back to time after time. Is there any other result you would want for a visit to a restaurant and for the restaurant itself?
Snacks were had in the bar which consisted of oysters with tarragon and tomato gels, mini tacos with beetroot and avocado cream and crostinis served with butter and anchovy, lemon cream and caviar. These were certainly a very strong first impression just to nibble on. I have had snacks and canapes in Michelin starred restaurants that these would put entirely to shame.
Sea bass carpaccio was served with cannellini beans, vegetable crudités and white truffle of Alba and lime. All the supporting parts went well with the fish which was not too marinated as a carpaccio which was good to see (some can be doused too much, making them more as they should be as a ceviche). Dressed crab, grilled cabbage, carrot and lemon dressing was another beautifully fresh starter. The carrot sauce was sweet and worked very well with the crab which was also 100% shell free which seems to be a rarity these days and a considerable bonus for this visit(!). Scallops came from Scotland and came with potato crisps and pickled Tropea onions (red, long and sweeter onions from Tropea, Southen-tip of Italy).
Veal tartare was served with parmesan cream truffle, rosemary bruschetta and sandwiched in between two thinly sliced pieces of sourdough that were shallow fried. Yes, this was as sumptuous as it sounds and the veal tartare itself perhaps gaining a significant hand from its accompaniments, but boy were they a welcome hand! You could probably hoover this dish in a matter of seconds if there were no restrictions.
However, the absolute crown of the meal went to the Risotto. By the time this came, we were actually getting a little full, and I vividly remember thinking that it was going to be too much when I saw it. These thoughts utterly disappeared and were replaced with the thought there might not be enough of it as it was genuinely that marvellous. Aside from the superb veal stock that had clearly gone into it, the delightful textures from the stock and the light crunch of the artichoke crisps were complimented by one of the greatest truffle balancing acts I have ever had. In terms of a risotto the only that could compare from memory was that served in La Calandre, a 3 Michelin starred restaurant in Padua, 20 minutes south of Venice where their liquorice and saffron risotto is well known in the food explorer’s world. I actually think as a risotto, this was perhaps even better and left me smiling for the rest of the day.
The finale to the meal was trying what could clearly be the only thing to try for an Italian meal and with only a tiny amount of space left, which was the tiramisu. The modern take on this was nicely done in serving it affogato (traditionally espresso poured over vanilla ice cream) and this was an espresso and chocolate sauce over the tiramisu which was as light as a cloud and a genuine pleasure.
This meal was not the cheapest (see receipt for why) and in terms of either having a sensational glass of the Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia at £75 each, or something average, the answer in our heads was, “Well, it’s Christmas!”. Overall this made for a pretty hefty £250 each, but in the surroundings, service and offerings that were had, I am far more happy paying this for these sorts of pleasures than an average meal at even a third of this price which, can very often be the case.
A brilliant first visit, revealing a confirmed little gem.
Food Grade: 86%
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