Alistair MacQueen takes a culinary grand tour of the Mediterranean, cosseted by the inspiration of renowned aesthete, Anouska Hempel.
The problem with rejuvenated restaurant interiors is that they often tend to overshadow what is meant to be the primary purpose of your visit: the food.
However, perhaps recognising an ever-emerging trend that hotel restaurants can become supreme destinations in their own right, Blakes has allowed Anouska Hempel to display her self-assured flamboyance and talent for capturing international cultures and flavours and redesign its restaurant/bar. A curator for the true aesthete if ever there was one, here she has twinned visions of the Bosphorus with Mediterranean artefacts and her inspiration ploughs a similar furrow to head chef Peter Del Campo’s menu.
Filled with a plethora of choice that takes in the subtlest of Italian, Greek and Turkish dishes, it treads a welcome line between the indulgent and creative, without ever feeling overtly fussy. Oenophiles will be pleased too, with the thoroughly extensive wine list, which even features its own ‘Prestige’ section for occasions befitting the popping of a £300 bottle.
Opting to start with the burrata was on hindsight an unwise choice as, perfectly commendable though it was, served with balsamic oil, basil and heritage tomatoes, my guest opted for the charcoal grill octopus, complemented with a fine heritage potato and cooked to perfection. Sensing the opportunity for a showcase, the chef gave us a taster dish of his buffalo ricotta ravioli with norcia black truffle. Suffice to say that my guest, an avowed formaggio-hating gourmand, was forced to try one and devoured it whole. And it wasn’t surprising: its al dente pasta casing enveloped the delicate ravioli that, when twinned with the black truffle, imparted a silky bitterness to the dish.
Despite the menu’s varied choices, of lobster paccheri pasta, slow roasted lamb and veal fillet paillard, only the courgette spaghetti stir fry felt slightly incongruous, an appeasement to the trend of spiralising virtually anything perhaps?
Plumping for the black cod seemed like a sagacious decision then with its accompaniments of a courgette flower, miso and tahini. Indeed, it proved to be so: a lightly charred exterior gave way to the tender, velvety flesh of the cod, enhanced by the tahini’s subtle zing. The sides had almost been given as much care as the main dishes themselves. A smoked aubergine mint tzatziki was no mere dip, instead its whole flesh was finely threaded and insatiably moreish, while the charcoal roasted sweet potato offered up a piece of unbridled joy with every mouthful.
Bookending the meal with a bowl of cherries may read like heresy for some, but when they’re sourced from the Emilia Romagna region of Italy, one can be forgiven. Plus my guest chose the salted crème caramel and allowed me to sample more than a soupcon of its supple deliciousness.
So, all told, Blakes’ refurbishment has certainly been no bad thing, and Hempel has only augmented the restaurant’s wonderfully theatrical nature – perhaps the only negative was its decision to play AOR rock in the restaurant/bar area, something which didn’t jar with me personally, but then other diners might not share my passion for Creedence Clearwater Revival. Otherwise, the service was softly attentive and never rushed, with adequate pauses left between courses. As we left, the songbirds located in the reception chirped happily in their cage, as if in some lush Grecian courtyard, and while we weren’t there physically, at least our palates had been.