The economy may still not be heating up yet, but the luxury hotel sector is betting on it eating up.
Every month of this year, into the summer at least, there will be at least one major restaurant opening in a new (or thoroughly renovated) hotel.
For the Four Seasons London at Park Lane, just reopened after a two-year, £125-million refurbishment, that’s Amaranto - a suave and stylish fine-dining room that manages to be opulent without being overbearing.
The floor is black marble, the walls dark wood and leather, chairs and alcoves red; one end of the room, with floor-to-ceiling windows, is a conservatory that opens on to a garden terrace and lightens the room, day or night.
The menu is an elegant pastiche of Italian cookery, rearranged, polished, and rebooted to fit comfortably on a refined level. It’s a long way from its origins, but it’s also ingenious, imaginative, and precisely executed.
Some examples: Braised octopus in hot and spicy arrabiatta sauce on a soft bed of white polenta, and creamy aubergine risotto with taleggio fondue spiked with aged balsamic vinegar, each mix and match ideas and ingredients from different regions, but both dishes emerge triumphant.
Baked baby sole with a tangy green-olive crust would be no surprise in Liguria, but the deliciously assertive tartare of anchovies, capers, and green tomatoes with it seems Sicilian.
The wine offering is equally sumptuous, signaled by a pair of massive wine walls at the entrance to the restaurant, displaying bottles behind floor-to-ceiling plate glass.
There are nearly 300 wines listed, mainly Italian, mostly stellar. Besides the expected range of Barolos, Brunellos, Chiantis, and Super-Tuscans, there are numerous offerings from various other grape varieties and regions.
In a notable first for London, nearly every wine on the list is available by the glass, provided at least two glasses are ordered. Several sommeliers are on hand to advise.
Amaranto, The Four Season Hotel, Park Lane, London W1J 7DR. Tel: +44 (0)20 7319 5206; http://www.fourseasons.com/london/dining
Written by Brian St. Pierre