1-7 Lancaster Gate,
London W2 3LG
Most of us like swimming and the majority of us enjoy crisps yet few would consider combining the two. Ditto Yorkshire terriers and oral sex. So it was with some trepidation that I arrived at Bel Canto, London’s premier opera-dining establishment.
The idea was imported from Paris by founder, Jean-Paul Maurel, in 2008. Over there the restaurants are thriving; here in Lancaster Gate rather less so. In theory Bel Canto is a charming concept: the diner tucks into a three-course menu of French cuisine whilst being serenaded by a host of talented and attractive young opera students who get to hone their skills whilst waiting the odd table. Most of the students are sourced from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and according to Maurel get paid more than your average waiter. Cute idea.
Shortly after receiving our wine we were supping to the strains of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Both the quality and loudness of the singing were impressive, especially if like us you are near the front. Not that the singers remain static. They walk from table to table, in their twos, threes and fours, acting out their parts just as they would inside Covent Garden. Every fifteen minutes you must prepare yourself for a five-minute interlude from the likes of The Magic Flute, The Marriage of Figaro and, erm …(checks Wikipedia) Madame Butterfly.
It was fun.
I started with the opera salad, while Joan had the fois gras (don’t tell Morrissey). Said salad featured a line-up of baby leaves, pine nuts, shaved parmesan and sun dried tomatoes. It was, and I quote, delicious. Joan’s fois gras was a tad cold but still a guilty pleasure. Both scored an 8.
To follow I chose the scallops and king prawns. Cooked la plancha (grilled on a metal plate) and served with a spicy garlic sauce on a bed of basmati, this was a truly sumptuous dish. The scallops were of a perfect consistency, the prawns juicy and manifold and the sauce a perfect compliment. Joan’s leg of duck served with white beans, smoked pancetta and rosemary jus was a little on the heavy side, especially as we failed to order vegetables, but the meat was very tasty. To end we shared a panna cotta, which in my experience is always deliciously sweet and refreshing.
So … the singing was excellent and the food top drawer but do the two go together? Sadly because I liked the place and the food and singing and the staff I’d have to say ‘no’. At the risk of repeating myself, reading can be enjoyable and so can listening to the radio, but one tends to get in the way of the other. It is also important to add that the restaurant is located inside the Corus Hotel, lending the place a rather clinical, corporate air.
Bel Canto was an enjoyable one-off experience and I’d certainly recommend it to those with a taste for the unusual. It is the kind of establishment that large groups might lap up, and some couples may find romantic. But I cannot imagine many visitors returning not because of a lack of quality in any direction, but because it is neither one thing nor the other. It is a novelty and should be enjoyed thus.