Restaurant Review: Apero Restaurant & Bar in South Kensington, London
Apero is a subterranean restaurant/bar off Harrington Road, just a stone’s through from the South Kensington Tube. First opened in 2012, it occupies a 19th century vault below the smart boutique Ampersand Hotel. Hotel guests will find it at the bottom of the stairs, a right turn just before the library. For the rest of us, there’s an inconspicuous door from the street, which opens automatically as you approach it as if by invisible commisionaire. A walk down a flight of stairs takes you to what appears very much like a welcoming mediterranean kitchen but with less of the manic bustle, more of a vibrant buzz from diners and the rumble of the underground. The restaurant is small (40 covers) and it’s simple but stylish – from the white tiled, exposed brick walls to the aproned waiters in their uniform of smart blue jeans and shirts.
I took along my partner as a dining guest – as a vegetarian, we wanted to see what the restaurant could offer him. On arriving we received a friendly welcome – even when I realised that I’d come a day early (and announced that my other half was a veggie) – and we were seated without a fuss. The atmosphere was relaxed and there was a mixed crowd in that evening – from tourists to locals enjoying cocktails in the bar.
Apero means aperitif and, in honour of that French tradition, we began the evening with cocktails. All the drinks on the menu are inspired by historic South Ken residents, which I found cheesy but charming. I tried the Vintage Marmalade (£9.50) – a long drink dedicated to actor and theatre manager Sir Nigel Playfair, made with blood oranges and El Jimador Bianco tequila. Scotch and film lovers alike should try the Adventure Malagache (£9.50) in honour of the master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock. The drink is an unusual but incredibly clever taste combination of Jura Superstition whisky and…wait for it… smoked popcorn. The bar area was certainly the most buzzing part of the restaurant that evening – I think the cocktails must be a popular post-workday draw for the locals.
The food menu doesn’t overcomplicate ingredients but still manages to produce fantastically strong flavours. Head Chef Mark Woolgar is relatively new to the post but brings with him a wealth of experience from Australia, Thailand and the UAE.
The best dish of the entire evening for me appeared the simplest on the menu – Burrata, a delicious cheese made with mozzarella and cream that melts in the middle. This was served with a beautiful tricolour of flavoursome Isle of Wight tomatoes and an avocado puree (£6.50). The menu is designed to be shared but it was hard to part company with this dish.
We also opted for the aubergine, tomato and smoked mozzarella roll (£7.00), followed by Gnocchi with rainbow chard and butternut squash (£7 or £13.50) I tried the oven baked cod with black olive crust and saffron fondant potato (£14) but then had no room left for the menu’s meatier offerings – including braised ox cheek with truffle and parmesan potato puree (£16.50), guinea fowl with soft polenta and gremolata (£14.50) and Dingley Dell Pork Rib-eye (£15).
We did, however, find a small space for the desserts designed by Apero’s Pastry Chef Ji Sun Shin, who began her career with Marco Pierre White at Mirabelle before moving to Nobu in Park Lane and then Apero. Her latest creations include the theatrical almond and peanut praline mousse with banana cake and Jack Daniels wood chip ice-cream (£7). The dish comes to the table in an air-tight jar that, when opened, releases an incredible whiskey smoke.
We also chose the extraordinary vegan cacao cube, avocado and lime cream, blackberry vinegar and beetroot reduction, with the most delicious redcurrant sorbet I have ever tasted (£7). The elements were neatly contained in a ‘chocolate sphere’ which cracked satisfyingly under my spoon like an egg shell.
Lastly, a quick note on the wines, which are either of the French, Italian or Spanish persuasion and are reasonably priced between £19.50 and £54.
Apero offers fine dining without pretension. It’s certainly worth a visit whether you’re looking for a ‘foodie’ experience or just a good drink.
Address: Apero, 2 Harrington Road, London, SW7 3ER